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Vines & Vittles: An alternative take on fresh salmon

By By John Brown
For the Sunday Gazette-Mail
JOHN BROWN | Courtesy photo
Salmon Italiano uses a brine, a dry rub and then charcoal grilling to cook the salmon. It’s a little time consuming, but worth the effort.

If you live in or around Charleston and you enjoy fresh seafood, I know you’ve shopped at Joe’s Fish Market on the corner of Brooks and Quarrier streets. Two brothers, Joe and Robin Harmon, have been providing our area with fresh treats from the sea for decades.

I venture into Joe’s at least once a week when I’m jonesing for salmon. I’m not a fan of poaching the fish, but I really enjoy grilling or smoking salmon and basting it with various concoctions.

I actually do a riff on Joe’s hot smoked salmon, but I have to admit it’s hard to beat the original version Robin prepares each week on his smoker behind the market.

At Joe’s, the hot smoked salmon is brined in water, salt, brown sugar and garlic for a few hours and then smoked for up to an hour over applewood. They also use farm-raised salmon and recommend it over wild-caught salmon (like king, coho, sockeye, etc.) which tends to dry out if you’re not careful.

Try a slab of Joe’s hot smoked salmon, and maybe you’ll be inspired, like I was, to experiment with different methods of preparing this exceptionally versatile fish.

I created this a Salmon Italiano recipe, which involves using a brine, a dry rub and then charcoal grilling the fish to delicious perfection. It’s a little time consuming, but really easy and definitely worth the effort. This recipe uses a charcoal, but you can use a gas grill by cooking the fish indirectly and using a smokebox.

And, of course, I’m recommending wines that will enhance your dining experience. In this case, you may select either a full-bodied white wine or medium-bodied red to pair with the dish:

n 2014 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($30): This is a rich, yet perfectly balanced, chardonnay that has hints of vanilla on the nose and a creamy mouth feel with ripe apple flavors and refreshing acidity that marries well with the salmon.

n 2013 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino ($27): Fruit forward, rich and medium-bodied sangiovese (Baby Brunello) that is full of dark cherry flavors with just a hint of oak on the finish. Great accompaniment to the Salmon Italiano.

Salmon Italiano

1 salmon filet with skin (usually 2 to 3 lbs)

1/2 bottle of dry white wine (sip the rest while grilling)

3 quarts of cold water

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup light brown sugar

4 garlic cloves minced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon fennel seed and

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 cup applewood chips

Make a brine (in large pot) of the salt, sugar, water, wine and half the garlic.

Stir and dissolve the brine ingredients and pour into a gallon baggie.

Place salmon filet in brine, making sure the liquid covers the fish.

Put bag into the pot and place in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.

Soak wood chips in warm water for same amount of time.

Remove salmon from brine and pat dry.

Saute the fennel seed in a dry pan until slightly toasted.

Grind in a food mill (or use a large knife) to crush the fennel seeds.

Rub olive oil all over fish and place on aluminum foil in a long oven pan.

Rub the garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, oregano and fennel evenly onto filet.

Make a charcoal fire and divide coals evenly on either side of the grill.

Drain wood chips and place in and on charcoal fire.

Place pan with salmon between the two piles of charcoal and put lid on grill.

Keep grill vents wide open on top and bottom of the grill.

Grill salmon for 15 minutes. Salmon is done when slightly firm to the touch

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