Labor Day generally gets people thinking about grilling up the last of summer's burgers and steaks. Allow me to suggest setting aside tradition in favor of a leaner alternative, namely, a full-bodied fillet of salmon. And topping it off is not a slice or two of cheese, but a robust, chunky, vegetable-packed vinaigrette.
You won't be sorry. And you won't miss the burgers and steak.
Salmon's richness always cries out for a little acid, even if it's nothing more than a squeeze of lemon. This recipe's gazpacho vinaigrette ups the ante. Gazpacho is a cold Spanish soup with many variations, but the basic recipe is a refreshing tomato-based vegetable soup. Here I've added extra-virgin olive oil and sherry wine vinegar, thereby repurposing the soup into a chunky vinaigrette dressing.
It was delicious. And unlike a traditional vinaigrette, it didn't need much oil.
Vinaigrette is a balancing act of oil and acid, usually with a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar. As a salad addict, I'm always searching for ways to lighten a dressing. One of the best tricks is to swap in a strongly flavored ingredient for at least some of the oil. In the past I have used chicken and vegetable broths quite successfully, as well as buttermilk and tomato juice. Here, I let those beautiful late summer tomatoes do the job.
As for the salmon, even if you don't plan to eat the skin (it's delicious!), you should grill it with the skin on. It crisps beautifully on the hot grates and acts as a buffer between the grill and the flesh. As long as the skin's on, the fish won't stick to the grill and the meat remains succulent. I cook the salmon for the majority of the time on the skin side and then give it a just few minutes on the flesh side to pick up grill marks and flavor.
How do you know when the salmon is done? You stick a paring knife through it. If you feel heavy resistance at the center, it needs more time. If you feel just a little resistance, it is still slightly undercooked. I take it off the grill when I feel just a little resistance and let it sit for a few minutes. The residual heat will finish cooking it.
Your labor complete, you can plate up your fillet, pour yourself a cold beer or a dry white wine, and soak up just a little more summer before it disappears again for a year.
GRILLED SALMON WITH CHUNKY GAZPACHO VINAIGRETTE
Start to finish: 30 minutes (20 minutes active)
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 pound ripe tomatoes (about 2 medium tomatoes), diced
4-inch piece English cucumber, diced
1/2 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Four 6- to 8-ounce pieces center-cut salmon or arctic char fillets, skin on
Olive oil cooking spray
Chopped fresh herbs (such as basil, chives, tarragon, cilantro or parsley), to garnish (optional)
Heat the grill to medium.
In a medium bowl, toss together the pepper, tomatoes, cucumber and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix well, then spoon half of the mixture into a blender.
To the blender, add the garlic, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and the olive oil. Puree until smooth. Add the puree to the bowl of diced vegetables, stir well and season with salt and pepper.
Use paper towels to pat dry the salmon fillets. Spray the fillets all over with the olive oil spray, then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Arrange the fillets, skin side down, on the grill grate over direct medium heat. Cover and cook until the flesh right next to the skin looks opaque, 6 to 7 minutes.
Flip the fillets and cook until just cooked through, another 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the fish from the grill using a wide metal spatula.
To serve, divide the sauce between 4 shallow bowls, then set a piece of salmon over each, skin side up (you can easily peel off and discard the skin at this point, if desired). Garnish with chopped herbs, if desired.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 450 calories; 260 calories from fat (58 percent of total calories); 29g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 115 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 40 g protein; 1 g fiber; 360 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."