When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. When life hands you fresh fish, make dinner.
The husband of a friend of mine takes a biennial fishing trip to Alaska with his buddies and returns with many, many pounds of fresh fish, especially salmon. The fish is cleaned, cut and frozen aboard the boat; he brings it home and stuffs it in his freezer.
When there’s too much fish to fit in the freezer, everyone in the neighborhood gets lucky because Mr. Fishing Trip and his lovely wife dole out gifts of frozen fish that’s of a superior quality you absolutely cannot find in the supermarket. This year my gift was at least five pounds of fabulous king salmon, cut into steaks and filets.
When a friend hands you fish at 7:30 a.m., you instantly know what’s for dinner that night.
I didn’t have time to shop for groceries that day but fortunately I was able to use what was already on hand to prepare a healthy summertime dinner: king salmon filets, topped with spicy fruit salsa and grilled, plus cucumber salad and zucchini cornbread, the latter also a gift, from another friend with an abundance of zucchini from her garden and an urge to bake. We are very blessed lately in the Friends-Bearing-Food department.
When life hands you fish, try making this for dinner:
For the spicy fruit salsa: *
Mix chopped sweet onion (about half an onion), 1 chopped mango, 1 chopped fresh jalapeno pepper, a generous sprinkling of cumin (to taste), salt to taste and 1/8 to ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice.
(The onion and mango came from Costco; the fresh jalapeno from the Canyon Lake Farmers market.)
Let this mixture sit in the fridge most of the day so the flavors will blend and the jalapenos’ spiciness has a chance to seep into the other ingredients.
To grill the (thawed) fish: Spray a large piece of foil with olive or canola oil. Place the fish in the center of the foil, each piece on its own foil. If it’s a filet with skin, place the skin side down. Spoon the salsa over the top of the fish. Wrap the foil around it to form a packet, with the seam of the foil facing up. Place packet on a preheated grill, with the seam side down to start. Grill on medium-to-low heat for about 3 minutes, then turn packet seam side up. Grill another 3 minutes. If the filets are fairly thin this may be enough cooking. Thick ones will take another minute or two per side. If you’re not sure, take one packet off the grill, open the foil and poke the fish with a fork. If it flakes easily – meaning the fish just falls apart in chunky flakes of meat – it’s perfect. Take it off the grill. If it’s still solid and a bit raw in the middle, grill a few minutes longer. If it’s tough and has a somewhat white, chalky appearance, you’ve overcooked it. Make a mental note for next time to set a timer and check the fish sooner. Fish goes from perfect to overcooked really quickly.
Move each packet from the grill to a plate with a grill spatula. Give them a few minutes to allow the foil to cool enough to let you open them with your fingers. Watch out for steam. You can serve individual portions, one packet per person – or, if the filets are large, as ours were, split each portion between two people. Carefully remove the filet from the foil packet with a spatula to place it on dinner plates; divide the filet with the spatula. The fish will be a bit messy, so work carefully with your plates close at hand. And if your salmon is straight off the boat like these filets, there might be a few stray bones in there despite the fileting, so be careful when eating.
* I mixed these particular salsa-like ingredients together because they were what was available to me that day. Ideally I would have preferred to use red onion instead of sweet, some pineapple in addition to the mango, lime juice instead of lemon, and a large dose of chopped cilantro. But the salt and cumin added flavor that otherwise would have been bland without the lime juice and cilantro. Salsa is forgiving stuff, especially if you’re using it as a marinade or a topping to be cooked, as in this case, rather than as a dip for chips. And salmon pairs well with all kinds of strong flavors – anything from curry to barbecue sauce – so use what’s available to you. Just avoid overcooking the fish.
I served a cucumber salad with this, again using just what I had on hand, and the zucchini cornbread from my baking friend. Together this all made a fast, easy, healthy summer meal that seemed very luxurious.