Salmon: A Cookbook

by Diane Morgan

photographs by Diane Morgan and E.J. Armstrong

Published by Chronicle Books

192 pages, 2005



Something Fishy This Way Comes

Reviewed by Monica Stark


The image on the cover is like the most elegant, most simple, most beautiful jewel. A slab of salmon, raw, seemingly plopped on plain waxed paper. It appears artless and certainly without guile. Just a cut of salmon awaiting a bit of heat, a bit of seasoning, a bit of imagination.

Inside the book, on page 21, half of the page is given to what at first appears to be a fishing trophy. At first glance, your mind tells you that this is a fish that has been cut and stuffed and affixed to a board and is hanging in someone's study or over a fire somewhere. But look again. The board was right, but it's a cutting board. The fish isn't stuffed, but is instead ready for that heat, seasoning and imagination. Again, it's beautiful, simple and deeply inviting.

From this introduction, Diane Morgan's Salmon: A Cookbook is exactly as advertised and expected. Beautiful. Simple. Elegant. Add heat and bring an appetite: Morgan has already supplied the imagination.

The author of several cookbooks, including Delicious Dips, Cooking For the Week, Midnight Munchies, Dressed to Grill and others, Morgan clearly knows how to put together a cookbook that works. She did some homework, too. As she tells us in her introduction to Salmon, Morgan, her husband and a couple of friends made the trek to Cordova, Alaska to go sportfishing for salmon, all in the name of research. (Tough life!)

Other research trips are recorded: to Norway to visit The Norwegian Wild Salmon Centre and to Scotland to see a Scottish salmon farming operation in action. The whole farmed versus wild salmon issue is a tricky and controversial one and Morgan here walks a delicate line. Her book is not, after all, intended to be an environmental treatise: Salmon is a cookbook, make no mistake about it. It would be possible to read, enjoy and use Salmon without ever even noticing the gentle politics she's included.

As consumers, we have choices in the marketplace -- organic produce vs. conventionally grown produce, free-range poultry vs. cooped-up birds, artisanal breads vs. factory-produced loaves -- and now we have substantiated findings that alert us to the differences between farm-raised and wild salmon.

There's more, but you get the idea. Morgan opts for wild salmon, as any good foody would.

Morgan's recipes, however, will work for whatever salmon you decide on. And with salmon lore out of the way, then cleaning, gutting scaling and even shopping for salmon tidily dealt with, Morgan drops us straight into the main event -- what we all came for -- bring on the food!

Like the rest of the book, the recipe sections of Salmon are simple, elegant and beautiful. The food styling here is always less rather than more, everything is beautifully plated, photographed and styled.

The recipes themselves are, as expected, quite wonderful. In fact this is the best salmon collection I've seen since the publication of James McNair's wonderful Salmon Cookbook, published in 1987 (by the same publisher, as it happens) and now sadly outdated.

Salmon includes too many really wonderful recipes to make it easy to choose just a few favorites, but my family especially enjoyed the Bell Pepper and Vine Ripened Tomato Gazpacho with Blackened Salmon (it was the height of summer when I made it and provided a superb counterpoint to the heat of the day), as well as the Spring Salmon and Sorel Soup (though I have to admit: I used Pink Salmon. And everything turned out just as expected.).

I like working with salmon and really enjoy the flavor of this special fish, so I was delighted to find a really good selection of recipes for dishes that really feature and highlight -- and don't overpower -- that wonderful salmon flavor. Dishes like Reisling-Poached Salmon, Austin's Soy-Lacquered Salmon with Green Onions and Pan-Roasted Salmon with a Pomegranate and Fennel Salsa -- plus many, many more -- all provide a simple and beautiful foil for this incomparable fish. | September 2005


Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.