Recipe Evolution

Many years ago, I tried wrapping fish in potato slices, sautéing it, then finishing it in the oven. It was "the thing" at the time. It never worked because the potato and fish never finished cooking at the same time. To me, it wasn't worth having overcooked fish just to have a nicely browned, fully cooked potato crust. Or undercooked fish wrapped in bland shoe leather.

I let go of the idea - which wasn't mine in the first place - and almost twenty years passed by.

Then I saw a recipe in a Provençal cookbook that wrapped fish in paper-thin slices of courgettes - or zucchini. Hmmm.... another way to use zucchini...

Several things about this appealed to me. For one, zucchini tastes wonderful raw (as in the Zucchini, Feta, and Mint Salad last week) so, no matter what, I wouldn't need to overcook the fish. Second, I figured the green striping would be quite pretty. Third, I find fish/seafood and seafood with zucchini is a great combination. (Remember those Shrimp and Zucchini Fritters from last month?)

The cookbook recipe called for frying the wrapped fish, which I did the first time. It tasted fine, but was difficult to manage; the zucchini shrank in the frying process, leaving gaps, and making for a not-so-attractive presentation. Also, it was very difficult to turn neatly, and the browned zucchini wasn't as pretty as I thought it would be.

And, let's be honest, pretty is very important when it comes to food. We all eat with our eyes, right?

Aside from the aesthetic aspects of the dish, I actually found the flavor of the dish a bit dull. It needed oopmh. And, thus, the evolution of this recipe started.

The plain goat cheese stuffing was bland, so I added grated lemon zest and herbes de Provence, using the grinder my friends Patricia and Philip gifted me. I brushed the tops with some Australian lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil for extra moisture, and then sprinkled crushed Australian pepperberries over the whole for added flavor. These last two ingredients were sent to me by John of He Needs Food in Sydney. If you haven't visited his blog, do yourself a favor and click the link - stunning photography and recipes, as well as great travel articles!

I recalled another favorite salmon dish I make - Salmone al'Arancia - which is cooked en papillote. I didn't think this salmon dish needed that level of individual preparation, but the concept of steam-baking made sense. For the next version, I simply set the wrapped salmon portions on a rimmed baking sheet, brushed them with oil, sprinkled them with pepperberries, and baked them covered with foil. It came out beautifully and looked good, too.

However, when serving, the fillet looked lonely on the plate, and really needed some color. In its next incarnation I smeared a puddle of tomato sauce on the plate and gently slid the salmon bundles on top of the sauce. In the final recipe you see today, I included some chile flakes in the sauce for some background zing, and a final flourish atop each serving of chopped or sliced kalamata olives.

I have now made this dish for several friends, all of whom survived - and reported enjoying it! My thanks to them for their bravery!

As part of my monthly series on food paring with Provençal wines, I served this with a 2015 Tavel from Château de Ségriès. To read more about this food and wine pairing, visit the Provence WineZine.

~ David

Salmon with Herbed Chèvre Wrapped in Zucchini

4 skinless salmon fillets, about 4-5 ounces each
4 ounces chèvre, chilled
herbes de Provence
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 medium zucchini, washed
lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil (or olive oil)
8-10 Australian pepperberries (or black peppercorns), crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes, or to taste
3 cups strained or crushed tomatoes
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
10 kalamata olives, chopped or sliced

Wash the salmon well, and make sure all the pin bones have been pulled. Using a very sharp knife, slice a pocket in the side of the salmon fillets, as shown.

Slice the chèvre into 4 equal pieces. Coat both sides of each cheese slice liberally with herbes de Provence, then mold the cheese to fit the slits in the salmon. Before placing cheese in the salmon, sprinkle each piece of cheese with a quarter of the lemon zest. Stuff the cheese into the slits, and set aside.

Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler (I used the latter), make 28-32 thin ribbons of zucchini from the two zucchini; reserve any leftover zucchini pieces for another use.  Place 7-8 slices on a cutting board, overlapping them as shown in the photos. Place a stuffed salmon fillet, skinned side up, in the center of the zucchini. Starting at one end, fold the left end up and over, trimming if necessary, then the right side. Press gently; the moisture of the zucchini will act as an adhesive. Repeat with all the zucchini slices, then turn over and place on a lined baking sheet. Brush the zucchini with the lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil (or olive), and season with salt and crushed pepperberries (or black pepper).

After all the fillets have been wrapped and seasoned, cover the baking sheet with foil, being careful not to let it touch the zucchini on top. Set aside in the refrigerator while you make the sauce. (Both can be done several hours ahead of time and kept chilled.)

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and sauté the shallot until clear. Add the chile flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-7 minutes until slightly darker and thicker. Season sauce with salt, then strain into a clean saucepan; stir in the butter and set aside. (If you prefer a more rustic sauce, don't bother straining it.)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring fish to room temperature while the oven heats. Place the tray of covered fish in the oven and roast for about 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon.

Reheat the sauce and divide among 4 plates, tilting and gently swirling to make a circle. Place salmon on the tomato sauce, garnish with olives, and serve.

Serves 4.

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