Summer Sweet

Sunday, July 24, 2011

   I have a mid summer's gift for you- it's cool, crunchy, delightfully green and a master of flavor. I give you- bok choy!


   This really shouldn't surprise you, given that this humble green is a member of my most favorite plant family, the mighty and majestic brassica. I love this plant for its oh-so-cute and bright leafy greens atop a crunchy, clean stalk, for its sweet and earthy flavor, for how easily it fits into a wide variety of my old standby recipes.  I also love it because, so many, many years ago in China, it was cultivated for its healthful, medicinal qualities and has survived to this day on its own moxy.

   The recipe I'm going to share today was inspired by the most memorable dishe I had the pleasure of tasting at a favorite restaurant of mine while living in Buffalo. I used to frequent this place with one of my closest friends from medical school. We liked to take breaks from the hectic academic life we were living and cozy up to the intimate tables, hiding from the bitter cold outside with glasses of rich wine and plates of comforting food.

   One such night, I ordered the salmon on a bed of sweet potato and spinach. The chef had slow cooked onions until they achieved sweet nirvana, added cubes of yam and topped it off with wilted spinach and a buttery, vegetable stock scented sauce. I forget if the salmon was any good- I couldn't stop eating that bed of sweet, savory greens and yam! Yam and sweet potato often are used interchangeably, however, true yams are darker orange with a thinner, dark red skin and contain more dense nutrients than their larger, paler cousin, the sweet potato. Yams aren't always in season, and either can be used in this recipe with equally fantastic results.

   Although I've always made this the original way I tasted it, with spinach, I'm sharing the variation Steve and I tried last night, with bok choy, because we loved it so much and I think the texture and flavor of the bok choy is perfect amidst this summer heat.

   Steve and I first made this dish at the very beginning of our relationship, and I thought it was very fitting to have for dinner on a day we realized just how much we've acomplished and seen in the time we've been together. We toasted to the future and our amazingly good fortune over this meal, as we hope you toast yours!

  Oh yes, and today was Sticky Bun Sunday...


Salmon with Sweet Potato and Bok Choy Saute 
   Serves 2

Note: I find bok choy to be almost as difficult to completely de-silt as leeks, and therefore I recommend the following: trim the base off and peel each stalk away, individually cleaning them. This way, you can ensure no sneaky bits of suspicious crunch make their way into your silky final product.
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes or yams, diced to 1. 5 centimeter cubes (you will need approximately 2 1/2 to 3 cups of the sweet potato)
  • 3 baby bok choy or one full sized, cleaned as described above, and sliced
  • Highest quality vegetable stock
  • Two 4 ounce salmon fillets, skin on
  • Coarse kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper 
  • Olive oil
   Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the salmon in a baking dish, drizzle with olive oil then generously sprinkle with salt and pepper.

   Add the onion, olive oil and one tablespoon of the butter to a large, deep, saute pan that has a cover. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon fresh pepper. Allow to cook over low heat at a bare sizzle, stirring occasionally, until the onions are completely translucent and slightly browned and caramelized.
   At this point, slide the salmon into the oven. I cook mine for 25 minutes in a very hot oven because I like the color and crust it gives, if you prefer your salmon rare, adjust cooking time accordingly.
   Add the potato cubes, cover, and cook, stirring once in a while, for 10 minutes. At the end of this cooking time, there should be some color clinging to the bottom of the pan and the potato should be fork tender but NOT mushy.
   Add the sliced bok choy all at once, sprinkle with a little more salt, and cook, uncovered, for about five minutes, stirring it around occasionally.
   Now add 1 cup of the veggie stock and the second tablespoon of butter. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the stock has thickened into a sweet sauce, the consistency of good gravy (this takes 5-10 minutes). Pierce a piece of bok choy stalk to make sure it is fork tender. Taste, and season with more salt if needed.
   Serve the salmon over a bed of the saute. Although traditionally fish is enjoyed with white wine, I like this with a glass of Cotes du Rhone.

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