July 12, 2012

Summer Romance

It's funny how you fall in love with a season all over again, year after year.  Never has it been the case that I didn't love summer, (I'm a Leo after all, ruled by the sun) but somehow in the interceding months of the year, that little bit slips to the back of my brain and becomes more a faded memory than a sensory feeling.  But oh!  When the sun does come out, and the earth heats up and the air changes just so, it all comes rushing back.

We've been going to the farmer's market every Saturday morning for the past month, and you can see the signs of summer creeping in at every stall.  The bushes of little green berries in the park just up the hill from us have finally exploded into a mess of juicy, deep purple blackberries.  And if hope helps at all, these foggy mornings will more quickly turn into warm sunny days.

It's a new version of summer I'm adjusting to here in San Francisco, but it's still my favorite season.

This pan-seared salmon is part of that redefining.  Previously, it might have been a grilled version, with black markings from the grates and a subtle smokey flavor, but we no longer have a grill and most evenings are so thick with fog I'd hardly want to stand outside long enough for the fish to cook.  A nice and hot cast iron skillet followed by a brief trip into the oven is the new grill.  I love the textures this recipe results in.  The crisp bottom of the fish from a heavy skillet and high heat, the interior kept moist and tender from a slathering of mustard and finally the crumbly, herby topping.

I've been using an herbs de Provence spice blend in just about everything lately (so good on grilled vegetables with a little olive oil and balsamic!), so that's what I used here and I thought it went perfectly with the dijon mustard and salty kick of freshly grated parmesan.  Paired with lightly steamed tender green beans and the first of the season's tiny yellow tomatoes, it all felt very French countryside.

Mustard and Panko-Crusted Salmon

This dish is simple and perfect for just two. I used skin-on salmon fillets, which helped keep the salmon itself from sticking to the pan, but next time I think I'd prefer it without. The parts that did come into direct contact with the super hot pan and crisped up were my favorite bits. And in the spirit of summer, you could easily sub out the dried herb blend for a teaspoon of fresh thyme or tarragon, whatever sounds best to you.

2 servings

2 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon herbs de provence
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for pan

Preheat oven to 425F.

Pat salmon fillets dry, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, or small plate, mix the panko crumbs, herbs de provence and parmesan cheese and season with a little more salt and pepper.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over the whole thing and mix to distribute.  The panko crumbs should stick together slightly.

Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium high heat for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it smoke.

Divide the mustard between the 2 fillets and spread around to cover top.  Press the panko mixture into the mustard and on top of the salmon and then carefully transfer to preheated skillet.  Cook for 4 minutes to get the bottom crispy and then immediately transfer to the oven to finish cooking for 10-13 minutes more, depending on the thickness of your fillets.

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