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Around now, a good month into summer, I know many people feel like they're running short of grilling inspiration. They've cooked and eaten their fill of burgers, sausages, steaks and chops, accompanied by all sorts of grilled vegetables. Of course, they've grilled some of their favorite seafood, too. And all of these are delicious.
But I've seen home grillers hit the wall. "Wolfgang," they'll tell me, "grilling is really just a cooking method, and grilled foods don't feel like recipes." Then, puzzlingly, they'll turn around and ask if I have any new grilling recipes, anyway!
I understand, though. When you grill, you're not creating sauces from pan juices, simmering ingredients in a pot, or baking foods slowly in a covered casserole, like you do when cooking indoors. Even if you marinate the food you're grilling, or season it with a rub, or baste it with barbecue sauce, the process might not feel that creative.
There's another way, though, to bring creativity to grilling, and that comes with how you accompany, garnish and serve the main ingredient. Take my recipe for Grilled Salmon Sandwiches as an easy yet thoroughly delicious example.
I begin with skinless salmon fillets, though you could use any other fresh fillets you like. Ask the person behind your local seafood counter to guide you to the best options, choosing fish that looks bright, clean, moist and firm, and that has the fresh, clean scent of the sea, with no off odors.
Then, I season the fish with olive oil, dill (or you could use another fresh herb you like), salt and pepper, and grill it over a hot fire until cooked through but still moist in the center. Sounds simple so far, doesn't it? And the recipe stays that easy, even as it gets more creative.
Next, I prep sandwich bread -- here, good French bread that I split in half horizontally. On the cut sides, I spread some homemade Russian dressing, made in minutes, which complements the flavor of the grilled fish just like a classic tartar sauce does; and the other sides get quickly toasted on the grill, which crisps the bread while adding a little smoky flavor.
Finally, I add to each sandwich a layer of baby arugula -- or other small, tender, flavorful greens. The result is a combination of flavors, aromas, textures and colors so appealing, you'll find it hard to believe that -- apart from heating up the grill -- these sandwiches took well under half an hour to prepare.
Which makes them an ideal choice for a quick midsummer lunch. But why limit yourself to just midday? You'll enjoy them just as much at dinnertime.
GRILLED SALMON SANDWICHES WITH RUSSIAN DRESSING AND ARUGULA
4 skinless salmon fillets, each about 4 ounces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 loaf French bread, cut into 4 pieces, each 5 to 6 inches long, or 8 thick slices of another bread of your choice
4 tablespoons Russian dressing (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon drained capers
4 very thin slices red onion
2 cups organic baby arugula, baby lettuce, or watercress leaves, washed and dried
Preheat an outdoor grill, an electric countertop grill, or a stovetop ridged grill pan to medium-high heat.
Rub the salmon fillets on both sides with the olive oil and sprinkle them evenly on both sides with dill, salt and pepper. Grill the fillets until opaque throughout but still moist in the middle when the tip of a small, sharp knife is inserted between the flakes at the thickest part, 3 to 4 minutes per side, turning them carefully.
Meanwhile, use a serrated bread knife to cut each piece of French bread horizontally in half. Spread both cut sides, or one side of all the slices of other bread if using, with the Russian dressing. Sprinkle capers evenly over the dressing on the bottom halves of the French bread, or on half of the other bread slices.
When the salmon is done, remove the fillets from the grill to a plate and cover with foil to keep them warm. Place the 8 pieces of bread, dressing side up, on the grill and cook until toasted golden brown, about 1 minute.
Transfer the bread slices toasted side down to a cutting board. Place a salmon fillet on top of the caper side of those 4 slices. Top the salmon with onion slices and some arugula or other greens. Place the remaining bread slices on top, dressing side down.
Push two long sandwich picks down through each sandwich, placing them each a third of the way along the sandwich's length. With a sharp knife, cut each sandwich crosswise in half between the picks. Transfer to individual plates or a platter and serve immediately.
Makes 1-1/4 cups
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon chopped cornichons or sweet pickles
1/2 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
2 tablespoons store-bought tomato-based barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
In a mixing bowl, stir together all the ingredients. Store in the refrigerator in a covered bowl or jar for up to 1 week.