Grilled salmon resides eternally in the upper echelon of unbeatables, along with The Matrix, the early 90s Blue Jays, and any video with Rob Ford in it. This week passion fruit is on sale at our IGA, so I took absolute advantage and threw it together with my final fetish ingredient of the liquorice triad, fennel.
Although the erotic name, the intense yellow colour, and the wonderful snap of its caviar-like seeds should be enough to make this fruit instantly identifiable, it also known for its enchanting flavour. The olfactory power of this South American native is mainly the work of the chemical β-ionone. This highly aromatic molecule is also found in high amounts in flowers such as violets and roses, making it a darling of the perfume industry. You may tend to think of passion fruit as more of a dessert ingredient, but the piercing citrus zing makes it very well suited to fish dishes as well. Cue my excitement when I saw the red sign above the shiny purple fruit in the display stand.
Preparing a passionfruit coulis wasn’t too much of a challenge for me since the good people at La Guilde Culinaire in Montreal had already shown me the basics during a wonderful course on Thai cuisine I attended a few weeks ago. I decided to inject the sauce with a bit more of its latin origin so I added a squeeze of lime and a small amount of dried and powdered guajillo chilli. I consider myself an old hand at grilling salmon, but I was a bit intimidated by the fennel that I had decided would be the accompaniment to the dish. Having had mixed results with raw and baked fennel in the past, I squared my jaw and decided to go for something slightly different this time; a fennel purée. I the usual steps of researching recipes online and in my recipe books, settling on a version I had found at Urban Cookery. Following the recipe closely (and admittedly altogether too narrowly) I made it almost to the end before my heart sank and a queue of curse words started to form in my throat. There was a tragic error, one that resulted in the loss of almost all of the flavour so desirable in the vegetable. And it should have been entirely avoidable. If only I had used some science!
The problem with the original recipe was that the fennel and other vegetables were braised in heavy cream for approximately 20 minutes. This cream is 35% fat, and that means there is a lot of oil in there that the aromatic compounds from the fennel, onion, and garlic quickly dissolve into. This would be fantastic if we were actually using all of the cream in the final purée, but the next step after the braising separates the milky white mixture from the vegetables and only a few spoonfuls are used later while the vast majority is thrown away. If water had been used instead, much of the flavour would still remain and a small amount of cream could be added later in a second step. As it stood, I was left with a beautiful purée, but one where the distinctive liquorice odour that would normally come from the chemical anethole, found in the fennel, had almost completely disappeared. The recipe would need to be retooled. Science would prevail!
I managed to do all the shopping, cooking, and photography for this in under 3 hours, which is a pretty good indication that you will be able to put it together straight out of the shopping bag in under 45 minutes and get an Instagram photo to boot. Here is the final recipe.
Passion fruit coulis
2 whole passion fruit
28 g (2 tbsp) sugar
squeeze of lime
1/4 tsp powdered chilli
Cut open the passion fruit and scoop the yellow pulp and seeds into a bowl. Add the sugar, lime, and chilli powder. Stir until the sugar dissolves and set aside.
500 g fennel (one large bulb)
100 g yellow onion (one medium size)
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil
ca. 400 mL water
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
ca. 45 mL (3 tbsp) heavy cream
You will either hate or admire the fact that I weigh almost everything I measure. If you are of the opinion that accuracy, and thus science, helps make a better recipe then you love it. If you don’t own a scale you hate it. GO BUY A SCALE. You need one, take my word for it. Do you think Heston Blumenthal or Ferran Adria leisurely pose for selfies as they toss ingredients into a bowl? No. It is a must for baking, and once you get used to it you will wonder how you ever managed to whip up as much as a slice of toast without a proper scale.
Yes. So then take 500 g of fennel and roughly chop it along with the onion and 3 cloves of garlic. Place the vegetable oil in a wide saucepan or deep, lidded skillet on medium heat and add the vegetables, sautéing lightly for a minute or two without browning. Now add the required amount of water. The water should come more or less to the half the height of the vegetables, and once a light boil is achieved you can lower the heat to low, cover, and continue cooking for around 20 minutes until tender. Drain through a colander and transfer the mixture to a blender. Add the parmesan, pepper, and salt and begin to blend. Add the cream until a thick texture is obtained, which depending on how firm the vegetables are should be around 3 tbsp. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste if needed.
500 to 600g of skin on salmon fillets.
I like grilling my salmon with the skin on. Rinse and pat dry the fillets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Now you have two choices – either apply a light coat of oil to your salmon, or to the grill. No matter which route you choose, this will help to ensure half the animal does not remain attached to the BBQ when you try and remove it later on.
Prepare your grill on medium-high heat (around 475ºF). Place your fillets skinless side down on the grill, cooking for 6-10 minutes for each inch thickness. The fillets will let you know when they are ready. They should be an orange-brown, and with a bit of encouragement should detach from the grill without sticking. Place on the skin side and cook for another minute. Remove.
Prepare your plate and serve. Is it a winner?