Eat more salmon

Posted: Friday, January 22, 2010

While fishing in my freezer recently, I noticed some sockeye salmon lurking. I hadn't eaten salmon for a while, so I pulled out a package for dinner.

I shouldn't have to tell you that wild salmon is good for you. The American Heart Association says we ought to eat two ser vings per week of "fatty" fish, and salmon qualifies. It's an excellent source of protein, it's low in saturated fat, and it's high in omega-3 fatty acids. A "serving" is about the size of a deck of playing cards and weighs 3.5 ounces.

We have the good fortune of living where wild salmon are readily available. The more ways we know to prepare this healthy, nutritious food, the better.

While my vacuum-packed fillet was thawing in cold water, I thought about how I might cook it. I settled on poaching it and serving it with a homemade salsa.

I started making salsa to eat with fish about six months ago. Until then, I'd always made sauces with cream, butter or mayonnaise, and I put on a lot of poundage during those years of debauchery.

I've found that one painless and effective way to lose some of that luggage has been to change from sauces to delicious, low-calorie salsas.

Things I've learned along the way:

* Salsas can be made hours ahead of time.

* It helps to own a sharp chopping knife and know how to use it.

* Cook books, Web sites and TV cooking shows help stimulate ideas.

* If you never make salsa the same way twice, it's never boring.

* Use your senses to build a salsa, not a measuring cup or spoon.

* Go for contrasting colors, shapes, flavors and textures.

Before I start indiscriminately whacking away, I like to have a salsa "plan." My plan for the salmon above was "sweet, sour, hot, red, green, yellow and crunchy." For my "sweet" and "yellow," I chopped up a mango. My "sour" was a tomatillo, a kiwi fruit and lime juice.

A jalapeno pepper gave me "hot" and "green." My "red" -- just for color -- was a bell pepper. A sweet onion served as my "crunchy." I also added about a tablespoon of chopped cilantro, which I like in most salsas.

Salsas can be raw, cooked or some of each. If a salsa isn't sweet enough, I might add sugar or honey. If it isn't spicy enough, I'll add more chopped pepper or a little cayenne. For color and crunch, I'll sometimes cut carrots into inch-long, match-stick strips. For extra tartness, I often sprinkle the fresh zest of a lemon, lime or orange over fish before serving it.

I'm always checking to see what's new and ripe at grocery stores. Besides what I've already mentioned, any fruit will do -- pears, apples, apricots, cherries, pineapples, mandarin oranges.

Peppers range from mild to wild. Tomatoes can be canned, fresh or sun-dried; onions can be green, sweet or red. Herbs can be dill, basil, mint, taragon or whatever you like.

When corn is in season, I like to cook an ear on the grill, then slice off the kernels and use them in a salsa with black beans.

A piece of poached salmon on a plate looks pretty bland, but the same fish with colorful salsa atop and around it looks irresistible. I served mine with steamed yellow and zucchini squash, and it looked like something you'd see in a 5-star restaurant. Eat your heart out, Bobby Flay.

Les Palmer lives in Sterling.

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