Make the most of best fish

Posted: September 20, 2007

Shop carefully for seafood that's been harvested in a responsible manner, then make the most of it by giving it star billing in boldly flavored dishes such as these from Paul Johnson's "Fish Forever" (Wiley, 2007, $34.95).

GRILLED LEMONGRASS SHRIMP AND RICE NOODLE SALAD

For the marinade:

3 to 4 stalks lemongrass, white part only, peeled

2 garlic cloves, chopped

8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, minced

2 tablespoons

mild-flavored oil

2 tablespoons fish sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

For the nuoc cham dipping sauce:

2 garlic cloves

1 or 2 Thai bird, Fresno or other red chilies, seeded and minced

Juice of 2 limes (shells

reserved)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup water

For the shrimp:

1 1/2 pounds medium to large shrimp, with shells (most American shrimp are

considered sustainable)

8 ounces dried thin rice-flour noodles (vermicelli)

Leaves from 2 small heads

tender lettuce, chopped

2 cups fresh bean sprouts

1 cup julienned or shredded carrot

1 Japanese or European

cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 cup chopped roasted peanuts

To make the marinade, use a mortar and pestle to crush the lemongrass. Add the garlic and pound to a paste, then add the basil and pound to bruise. Whisk in the oil, fish sauce and sugar until well combined. Set aside.

To make the nuoc cham sauce, use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic and chili to a paste. Add the lime juice, then scrape the pulp from the lime shells with the tip of a knife and add. Stir in the sugar, fish sauce and water, mixing until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

With a pair of scissors, cut the shrimp up the back so that they can be easily removed from the shell after cooking. (You may shell the shrimp instead if you wish, but cooking them in the shell improves the taste.)

If desired, remove the veins from the shrimp. Toss the shrimp in the marinade, massaging some of the marinade into the shell. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

After 30 minutes, prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat a gas grill to 375 degrees. Soak 6 wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes.

Soak the rice vermicelli in cold water for 20 minutes, or until pliable. Blanch the vermicelli for 30 seconds in boiling water, then drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain well and set aside.

Arrange the chopped lettuce on four serving plates, topping it with the rice vermicelli, bean sprouts, carrot and cucumber.

Thread the shrimp on the skewers and cook on the grill 5 or 6 minutes, turning frequently, until they turn evenly pink. The sugar in the marinade will color quickly, so be careful not to burn them.

Arrange the grilled shrimp on top of the vermicelli, then scatter with mint, cilantro and peanuts. Serve with the dipping sauce. Serves 4.

CHARCOAL-GRILLED WILD KING SALMON WITH CHERRY TOMATO-BASIL RELISH

For the relish:

1 pint cherry tomatoes

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

For the salmon:

Four 6-ounce wild king salmon

fillets or steaks

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Olive oil

To make the relish, cut the tomatoes in half if they're small or in quarters if they're large.

In a wooden bowl, mash the garlic and salt to a paste with a pestle, then stir in the vinegar. Whisk in the oil, then add the tomatoes and basil, gently tossing everything together. Set aside.

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill. Season the fish with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Oil the grill rack well and lightly brush the fish with oil. Grill the fish, turning halfway through the cooking process, for a total of 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness, or until slightly charred on the edges and still slightly translucent in the center. Serve with the relish. Serves 4.

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