I think it has something to do with the way I learned cooking.
Of course, the real learning happened at home, with my mother and grandmother and other grandmother. And on my own, figuring out what works and what doesn't.
But I am talking about learning new things; dishes and techniques that just didn't happen at home.
And that was invariably when I was on holiday, somewhere abroad.
One of my earlier memories concerning actual cooking and not just food is of a camping site somewhere in rural France. Armed with nothing more than a camping gas cooker and a pan, Odette was making Crêpes for us. (Us in that case being the bunch of kids running around.)
Standing in the meadow in front of their caravan, turning the pancakes with her inch-long, lacquered fingernails, she made the best Crêpes in the world.
Another memory that is still vibrantly clear comes from another vacation to Greece. We had tiny fishes, maybe sardines, grilled on sticks on a smokey driftwood fire on a summernights beach. They were tiny, crisp, slightly burned with head and tail and all the fishbones, and they were so gorgeous I still remember them even though I couldn't have been much more than five or six years and didn't really like fish that much.
I love good food. I love pretty food. But what I really cherish is when a dish is all that and simple to prepare on top. With simple I do not necessarily mean easy or fast, but when it doesn't rely on special gadgets or a lot of constant attention.
For many years, I have been a boy scout. Cooking outdoors is something special, all the more so if you have fifty to sixty kids age six to eighteen to feed and keep happy.
And it teaches you to be grateful for the ameneties of modern life. I am rather sure all of you have at least once tried making you own mayonaise. (You're reading a foodie-blog, so I think I am allowed that assumption.)
Have you ever tried to make a batch of 12 litres?
It was a humbling experience.
But we managed, and those burgers & fries we made afterwards were the best I ever had.
I have learned a lot about cooking 'in the field', and even though I now have a very normal kitchen at home, some of those lessons have left their mark. I prefer food without frills, I don't mind if it challenges my skills, but it has to be something that works reliably, even when I have little time and a lot of other things to do.
Which brings me to this weeks maritime charmer:
This is an adapted version of a recipe that, once again, the wife came up with. It started as fish with soysauce, orange-juice and maple syrup, which she loved. I thought it was revolting.
But I really liked the way of cooking that fish: marinated and skin-side up under the oven-grill it didn't need any care except for an occasional basking and half an hour of time.
So I wrote the original recipe in my little brown book and started working: A bit more of this, a bit less of that, and one day, ta-daa! it wasn't only quite delicious, no, it was pretty. For the soysauce and the sugar in the marinade had coloured the skin of the salmon we used, and had turned it into the most lovely, appetizingly amber shade of gold.
Instantly, that new darling of the family had found its name:
The Golden Salmon
Sure, it's just another braised salmon. But the slight acidity of the applejuice together with the dark, salty flavour of the soy-sauce are great additions to the sometimes bland fish. It is the way they add to the natural flavour of the salmon, making it more complex and interesting, without overpowering the original tast.
At least in my kitchen, the golden salmon is a keeper. And guess what: here's the recipe.
(for 4 people)
1 Side of a Salmon, roughly a little less than a kilogramm
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
4 tablespoons of applejuice (unsweetened if possible)
2 tablespoons of maple syrup (less if applejuice is sweet, rather take too little than too much)
Mix the liquid ingredients.
I don't add salt usually, as the soy sauce will be salty enough for my taste.
Wash the salmon and pat dry, eventually check the skin for remaining scales.
In a large oven dish, turn the salmon in the marinade until it is evenly covered. Grind the pepper onto the meat side, then turn around one last time so the skin is up and the pepper (mostly) underneath. Leave to marinate for a few moments.
Put in the cold oven and switch on the grill or upper heat only, at about 150°C. Grill for 20-30 minutes until the skin turns crisp and golden.
If you want, you can pour some of the marinade onto the skin somewhere halfway though the time, it adds to the color.
Watch out, the salmon only stays golden for a short while, afterwards it'll turn dark very quickly.
Actually, it turns dark SO quickly you definitely haven't got the time to go upstairs and tell your mother-in-law that dinner will be ready soon. For she just might seize the moment and tell you why on earth she thinks she needs spring-green curtains at the beginning of autumn, and when you manage to escape and come down you'll find you've missed the moment.
This is to say: Sorry it isn't as golden as usual, but on the lower right corner you get an idea of how it might look like when you manage it. It'll still be lovely, but won't get full marks in the looks department.
Works great with a salad and some bread.
Leftovers are great the next day with more salad but on bread.