Now that it's full-on summer, we've been hosting Friday night dinner parties on our deck pretty often. We usually start before the sun sets, but it grows dark pretty quickly; fortunately, I picked up a couple vintage votive holders at the Lucketts Fair that provide just the right amount of light. (If you live in the DC/VA area and haven't been to Lucketts, go. It's an antiques fair with hundreds of vendors, set on fair grounds out in VA. Beautiful furniture and plenty of carnival food. A great way to spend the day.)
Dinner parties are so much easier in summer, when it doesn't get dark until late and I've got plenty of time to prep between work and dinner. There's a formula for these parties, at least this year. Before work on Friday morning, I whip up a cold soup. Cold pea soup is my new favorite: 1 package thawed frozen peas, 1 serrano pepper, 2 tomatillos, 1/2 cup cilantro, salt: all in a blender, and really: that's it. It takes no more than 10 minutes. I pour the soup into jars, stick them in the fridge, and head off. After work, I pick up fish from Cannon's and head home. I prep the fish, toss together a salad, and quite often make my easiest cake ever as well. Schedule permitting, I may also saute some mushrooms or roast some tomatoes. These days, the produce is so fresh and flavorful, it's best to keep things simple.
For an embarrassingly large number of these dinner parties, the main course has been molasses roasted salmon. What can I say? It's fast, it's easy, and it's delicious. And it's not as though our guests know that I'm a total one-trick pony. (Until now.)
Not for nothing, the finished dish is also really beautiful. The salmon is a mix of bright orange and deep dark brown, and glossy from the heat. Bringing the salmon to the table whole makes for a dramatic presentation.
You can make this salmon in the oven year-round, and I do. But when the weather's nice, I'll fire up the grill and make it there. Molasses and wood smoke are quite the pair.
Molasses Roasted Salmon Serves 4-6
When buying salmon, aim for one long piece instead of a few smaller pieces. Look for fish with firm, bright flesh and well-marbled fat. Depending on where you buy your fish, it may have color added; don't be deceived by neon-orange flesh; just look for fish with color that looks authentic but not dull, and you'll be fine.
2 lbs. good quality salmon, in one long piece if possible 2 teaspoons smoked paprika 1 teaspoon cardamom 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or ground chipotle pepper 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/8 cup molasses 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees and set a rack in the bottom third of the oven
Pat the salmon dry and set skin-side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle evenly with the salt.
In a small bowl, mix spices together. Add molasses and stir with a fork until combined.
Use a pastry or silicone brush to brush molasses mixture evenly over the salmon. Make sure you get the ends, too.
Drizzle olive oil over the fish, and put baking sheet into the oven and cook for 15-20 minutes, depending on the salmon's thickness, until the thickest part is just cooked and no longer translucent within. Cool for 5-10 minutes, and either serve, or refrigerate for at least 2 hours and serve chilled.
Sometimes, I whip up a quick yogurt sauce to go with the salmon. Recipe below.
1 cup greek yogurt juice 1 lemon 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill a few grinds of pepper
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Serve chilled.