You pronounce it “sal-more-EEL-ee-yo.” Now that’s out of the way, what is it? It’s a fabulous Italian lemon and olive oil sauce, marinade and dipping condiment for fish, chicken and just about any vegetable. Once you make it, you’ll be totally hooked and wonder where this miracle of a food has been all your life.
That’s what happened to me, and I had lived for a whole year in Italy without ever learning of salmoriglio! A few days ago I had been pondering what to write about for this week’s food column when I came across the sauce in an email. Hmm, I thought. Later that day, chatting about salmoriglio with my food writer friend, Julia della Croce, she said, “And don’t forget to add a splash of sea water.”
How was I going to do that in Montana? However, some web research led me to the sauce’s history and etymology. It turns out that the sauce’s name is derived from salamoia, a Sicilian word which means salty brine. Aha! The recipes I found all called for salt, but seawater is typically only 35 grams of salt in every liter. That amount becomes about 1 gram (¼ teaspoon) salt in every 2 tablespoons of sea water. The recipe I settled on makes 1 cup of salmoriglio. That’s 16 tablespoons, or 8 times what I estimate would be in a “splash” of seawater. So even though a splash of seawater is a great addition if you live by the sea, that’s not nearly enough salt you’ll need to make salmoriglio.
What sets salmoriglio apart from typical salad dressings is its acidity: 2 parts oil to 1 part fresh lemon juice versus 3 to 4 parts oil to 1 part acid for vinaigrettes. Salmoriglio just seems to magically wake up the taste in foods and brightens their flavors like a shot of sunshine. You will love it!
Grilled salmon and vegetables with salmoriglio sauce
For the salmon, I cook up farmed steelhead fillets. I recommend buying a whole side of fish so that you can cut the fillets to any size you like. Six-ounce portions, with the skin on, are good dinner-size servings. If you have a fine mesh grill basket, it’s ideal for cooking the vegetables. Serve with a crusty bread to sop up the juices. The vegetables here are just suggestions. Grill whatever you like. Asparagus would be terrific.
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crumbled
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
The fish and vegetables
Makes 4 servings.
4 6-ounce steelhead fillets
½ pound button mushrooms, wiped clean
1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded, cut into long strips
½ pound green beans, blanched in boiling water for 1 minute and drained well
Salt and pepper for the vegetables
1. To make the salmoriglio, whisk all the ingredients together vigorously in a medium bowl until the sauce has a slightly creamy consistency. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. As the sauce stands, it tends to thin out a bit. Just re-whisk to make it creamy.
2. Brush a little of the salmoriglio on the salmon flesh and set the fillets skin-side-up on a hot grill. Toss the prepped vegetables with a tablespoon or two of salmoriglio in a bowl and grill them alongside the fish in a mesh basket.
3. Grill the fish for about 3 minutes, then carefully turn the fillets skin-side-down onto the grill. Cook another 2 minutes or so until the fish is cooked to your liking. Remove from the grill and discard the skins.
4. Grill the vegetables for about 5 minutes until cooked and charred slightly. Season with about ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
5. To serve, arrange the fish and vegetables on 4 dinner plates and spoon salmoriglio sauce over them.