Growing up, I was fascinated watching my mother cook in the kitchen. My interest in food was magnified when I discovered cooking shows on TV, when I’d watch Saturday morning cartoons in our basement rec room (or “wreck room, with a W”, as Mom used to say). It was full of well-worn couches that had been decommissioned from the formal living room when we got new furniture in the mid 80s. When the Saturday cartoons were over I’d flip through the channels, generally looking for kung-fu movies. One time, instead of finding a Bruce Lee action flick, I came across a show called Wok With Yan, featuring the effervescent Martin Yan.
Yan had – and still has – a hyperactive style of cooking and speaking. He used a Chinese cleaver for everything, and would count off how many times he chopped something in a rapidfire “onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten!” and then use the same cleaver quickly scoop up whatever he’d chopped and put it into a prep bowl or straight into the wok. I was hooked within minutes.
Eventually I’d also watch The Frugal Gourmet, hosted by Jeff Smith (now deceased). Both shows appeared on our local PBS station. I was fascinated by the sounds of food cooking and the lively personalities of the hosts.
One of the Frugal Gourmet episodes I remember most is one where Smith travels to Venice, Italy, and films a cooking lesson with Fulvia Sesani, who would give lessons in Venetian cooking in her home. She shows him how to make foil-baked salmon, simply seasond with salt and thin strips of fresh tomato, then drizzled with high-quality olive oil. It’s all crimped shut in a foil packet, then baked in the oven.
As a teenager I attempted this recipe and the result was very bland salmon. In retrospect I realize this is because in Venice Fulvia would have used high-end extra virgin olive oil, which is hard to get here in the U.S., and certainly in the early 90s when olive oil was becoming commonplace in American kitchens. But the olive oil at our disposal was not the same quality as what Fulvia would have had access to. In fact, I remember on the show Fulvia gave strict instructions to use Tuscan olive oil. We do have good EVOO available, but not with the kind of spiciness and fruitiness of quality olive oils available in Italy. So with some modifications to add extra flavor, here’s my verson of the recipe which is still delicious.
Foil Baked Salmon with Sun Dried Tomatoes & Tarragon
4 individual – serving sized salmon filets
Sundried tomato strips, julienned – about 8 per filet
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 400° F
- Using either store-bought foil pouches or 12-inch squares of aluminum foil, place a sprig of tarragon in the middle and put the salmon filet on top.
- Season with salt & pepper, then place about 8 thin strips of sun dried tomato on each piece of salmon.
- Add 8-10 fresh tarragon leaves over each and drizzle with high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Seal the foil into a tight packet so no juices run out.
- Place the packets on a Pyrex baking dish or rimmed baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the packets from the oven and let stand for 3 minutes before serving. Serve the packets directly on each plate.