Salmon Marmitako

by Ginny on March 9, 2011

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Nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between the Northern border of France and Spain lies a land of flavor: The Basque Region. My interest was first piqued in this area while working as a cheese monger at a designer grocery store in Seattle. In order to be able to talk about and sell the cheeses we carried from around the world, I tasted hundreds of varieties of imported fromage. My palate was bathed in dairy bliss, as I learned the nuances of cow, sheep, and goat milk, as well as the distinct terroir (i.e. characteristics of the land) that came from each cheese-making region. The iconic nuttiness of Le Marechal, came from the Swiss alpine meadows on which the milk cows were grazed. The caprine creaminess of Chabichou du Poitou held a 1,200 year history of goats grazed in lush French pastures. But my favorites, my little darlings, the ones I took home little hunks of  along with a bottle of wine and a fresh baguette, were the sheep’s milk cheeses from The Basque Region:Sweet and creamy P”Tit Basque, melting and fruity Ossau-Iraty* (see note), smoky Idiazabal, and hazelnutty Etorki. Traditionally paired with a thin smear of black cherry jam, Basque sheep cheeses are but one facet of the region’s good taste and natural abundance.

Coming down from the mountains, one finds a hearty fishing heritage along the Atlantic coast. Long ago, in the galley of a Basque Tuna boat, a stew was created using staples on hand: peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, and of course, tuna. Marmitako translates to “from the pot” and the simple and hearty one-pot stew quickly became an iconic dish of the Basque fishing fleet. I adapted this version of Marmitako, while living in Alaska, to reflect the bounty of the local waters, replacing tuna with wild Alaskan Salmon. Although the two are interchangeable in this recipe, I prefer salmon, but for tuna lovers who are avoiding both mercury and over-fished species, young, troll or pole (NOT long-line) caught Albacore from Pacific U.S. or Canadian waters is another good choice…if you can find it. Here in Montana, my heart aches when I recall our salmon-filled years in Juneau, but I’ve found frozen Wild Alaskan Sockeye to be an easy to find, high-quality, and affordable alternative when I can’t find fresh.

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Recipe : Salmon Marmitako

This recipe was originally published in the Juneau Empire, Sept. 13, 2009.

In this vibrantly flavored stew, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and peppers, are brought to life with a splash of sherry, a sprinkle of capers, and the magic flavoring dust known as smoked paprika. Pair this with a crisp and light-bodied white or rose wine like Sauvignon Blanc, a dry Riesling, or Pinot Gris.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds salmon fillets (or tuna), skinned, boned, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced ½-inch thick
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • One 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • ½ cup dry sherry
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • One 14-ounce can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
  • Best quality olive oil, for garnish
  • 1 artisanal loaf of crusty bread

1. Sprinkle the cleaned and cubed fish with ½ teaspoon sea salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2. To roast the bell peppers: Heat the broiler and cut the bell peppers into large, flat segments. Place pepper pieces skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet in the upper ⅓ of oven. Watch closely as skins of peppers begin bubble and darken. Remove from oven when pepper skins are evenly charred, 5 to 10 minutes. Place in a small mixing bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap so the peppers can rest in their own steam. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove blackened skin and discard** (see note). Cut the roasted peppers into 1/2″ squares and set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 350. In a large (5 quart) roasting pan or oven-proof casserole dish, toss potatoes and onions with 2 tablespoons olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt, and spread evenly. Place uncovered in preheated oven, 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife.

4. In a medium (1½ quart) sauce pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add minced garlic and cook, stirring 1 to 2 minutes or until garlic is fragrant. Add shallot, sherry, cayenne and smoked paprika and cook 2 minutes more to allow some of the alcohol to evaporate. Add remaining ½ teaspoon salt, sugar, crushed tomatoes, diced roasted peppers and chicken broth. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, uncovered.

5. Pour tomato mixture over potatoes. Sprinkle evenly with capers.

6. Cover and place in oven 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Meanwhile, tear the loaf of bread into serving-size pieces, brush lightly with extra virgin olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet.

7. Remove stew from oven, uncover and nestle the cubed fish evenly atop the stew. Cover and return to oven, along with oiled bread, for 5 to 7 minutes. Fish should be moist and barely opaque. Do not overcook.

8. Sprinkle stew with chopped parsley, drizzle with olive oil and serve hot in shallow bowls along with toasted bread.

SERVES 6 to 8

*Note: Our appreciation of and access to fine cheese has come a long way in the U.S. in the last decade. Both P’Tit Basque and Ossau-Iraty are now commonly available at of all places, Costco!

**Note: Rinsing roasted peppers under running water to remove the charred skin is quick, convenient, and NOT reccommended. As you rinse away the blackened skin, you also rinse away the deep, roasted flavor from the peppers. Try to resist the temptation of this shortcut, and use only your fingers and your patience instead.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks March 11, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for the mini-cheese tutorial. Wish I had samples. I agree, its sacrilege to wash away all that flavor on roasted vegetables. Depending on the use of the roasted peppers (frequently chiles, in my case) I leave some, if not most on, for salsas to give them that smokey flavor.

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