A menu for Memorial Day

Entertaining: Lighter, fresher foods set the tone for the summer season

May 23, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

For many of us, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer even though the calendar says it arrives several weeks later in June. This holiday certainly signals to me that the warm-weather season is upon us. By late May the temperature in New England, where I live, finally reaches the 70s, our lawn transforms itself from winter tan to a brilliant green, a profusion of flowers decides to bloom, and my herb garden comes to life. As a cook, I am reminded by this change of season that it's time to swap heartier menus for lighter, fresher ones.

With that thought in mind, I've planned a meal for this holiday weekend. As a main course, I'll grill fennel-and-tarragon-crusted salmon fillets, and serve them with a watercress and cucumber salad along with grilled asparagus spears. Strawberry and blueberry shortcakes garnished with rum- flavored whipped cream are my dessert choice.

The salmon fillets are a new dish in my repertoire and one I'm particularly enthusiastic about for several reasons. This simple entree takes only a few minutes of prep time. While the fish marinates in lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings, the crusty coating, which is made of crushed fennel seeds, tarragon, lemon peel, salt and pepper, can be quickly assembled. Then the salmon needs to be grilled for about 10 minutes.

These fillets win on the flavor front as well; they are juicy and succulent with a crispy exterior and are bursting with delicious tastes. This dish also is versatile and can be served to small as well as large crowds. Although the following recipe is for six, it can be doubled easily for a larger Memorial Day gathering.

Entertaining: Lighter, fresher foods set the tone for the summer season.

Grilled Fennel-and-Tarragon-Crusted Salmon Fillets

Serves 6

6 salmon fillets, 6 to 7 ounces each

5 tablespoons lemon juice

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

4 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or 2 teaspoons dried

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra for grill

4 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed (see Note)

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

6 tarragon sprigs for garnish, optional

Run your fingers over salmon and remove any bones you touch with clean tweezers. Arrange fillets, flesh side up, in shallow glass or ceramic dish that will hold them comfortably in single layer.

In small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Pour mixture over salmon in dish and then turn salmon so flesh side is down. Cover dish with plastic wrap and marinate, refrigerated, at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours.

Meanwhile, in small bowl prepare topping. Mix together remaining 1 teaspoon salt, remaining 3/4 teaspoon pepper, remaining 2 tablespoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dried tarragon, fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons lemon zest.

When ready to cook, prepare grill. Oil grill rack and arrange 5 inches from heat source and preheat grill.

Remove salmon from marinade. Pat equal amount of topping over flesh side of each fillet. Cook salmon, flesh side down, 3 to 4 minutes to brown lightly and set coating, then turn and cook until flesh is opaque and flakes easily when pierced with knife, 5 minutes more or longer. Watch carefully, as cooking time will vary depending on thickness of fish and on type of grill used and intensity of heat.

When done, remove salmon to serving platter. Drizzle each fillet with some of remaining lemon juice and sprinkle with some of remaining lemon zest. Garnish each portion with fresh tarragon sprig.

Note: Crushing fennel seeds releases more flavor. Simply place seeds in small plastic bag and, using meat pounder or rolling pin, crush them until they resemble a very coarse powder.

These fillets can also be cooked on the stove. Heat enough oil to coat large stove-top grill pan or large skillet with thin film of oil. Saute salmon, flesh side down, about 5 minutes, then turn and cook until flesh is opaque and flakes easily, 3 to 5 minutes more. Don't overcook.

Pub Date: 05/23/99

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