One of the things I love about Northern California is the prevalence of farmer’s markets brimming with local produce and seafood. Last weekend one of the vendors had fresh salmon bellies from fish that had been caught off the coast that morning. Salmon bellies along with the salmon collar are flavorful and melt in your mouth. Since there is a higher fat content, they are also easy to grill without them drying out. They also carmelize and develop a beautiful crunchy crust when prepared this way. I prefer to use a charcoal grill, but if that is not available, you can grill them under a hot broiler or even on a hot cast iron skillet.
I had a few pomelos left over from the previous weekend and decided that a Vietnamese herb salad would go really well with salmon. For a dressing, I just made a quick nuoc nam dressing. I prefer a dressing that is a bit sour. If you want to cut the tartness, feel free to add some additional sugar. The key to making a balanced dressing is to keep tasting as you prepare it. This dressing should be hot, salty, sour, and sweet. I think it combines really well with the richness of the salmon, and the sharp flavors of all the fresh herbs and the perfumed sweetness of the pomelo.
1 lb salmon bellies,
1 large bunch each of mint, cilantro, and holy basil
1 large pomelo
1 seedless cucumber, sliced into half moons
4 – 5 shallots thinly sliced
Enough vegetable oil to fry the shallots in a small sauce pan
2 Tablespoons palm sugar (you can also substitute for brown sugar or cane sugar)
4 red or green Thai chilies, finely sliced. Add more if you like a lot of heat
3 garlic cloves finely minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
3 Tablespoons fish sauce
- Rinse the salmon bellies and remove any large bones that may be remaining. I like to salt it in advance of grilling it which helps remove extra moisture and contributes to a crispy crust when you grill it. Put the salmon aside and let it rest while you prep the herbs.
- Rinse the herbs and pull off the tender leaves, discarding tough stems. I like to use a salad spinner to dry the herbs at the end because I find that the dressing adheres better to the leaves when they are dry. Toss the herbs together on a serving platter.
- Segment the pomelo. I find it easiest to remove the thick pith and skin using a knife. I then use my fingers to pull the pulp away from the thick skin on the inside of the pomelo. The pomelo fruit should pull away in little pearls of fruit. Sprinkle the bits of pomelo over the herbs.
- Heat 1-2 cups of vegetable oil in a small saucepan until it is hot enough to fry the shallots. I like to use a wooden chop stick to test. If the dry tip of a chopstick bubbles vigorously when dipped in the oil, it is ready for the shallots. Carefully add in your thinly sliced shallots. Be careful, the oil tends to bubble up when you do so. Make sure the pan is deep enough so that the oil doesn’t go over the side. Fry the shallots for 4-5 minutes until it turns golden. Strain from the oil and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Create the dressing by mixing the sugar, Thai chiles, garlic cloves, lime juice, and fish sauce. Taste to check the balance in flavors and adjust accordingly.
- Grill or broil the salmon bellies. I find that depending on the thickness, the salmon broils fairly quickly. I like to develop a little char on the outside. This usually begins to happen in 4-5 minutes depending on the thickness of your salmon. Cut into smaller pieces and let cool slightly before placing on the bed of herbs.
- Drizzle the platter with the dressing and garnish with the fried shallots. Enjoy