Salmon Marmitako

Totally  unexpected. After 6 months living in the Bay Area, lately I find myself day-dreaming less about the sunny Mediterranean bustling streets of my Barcelona, but more about the hilly green landscape of the Basque Country.

Throughout the 15 years I lived in Spain, our visits to the Basque Country were mostly to San Sebastian (we even spent I.'s 30th birthday there, eating our hearts out at the famous Arzak restaurant), which still stands, in my opinion, as the most beautiful Spanish city of all.

We also took a couple of memorable road trips through the more rural parts of Navarra and Euskadi (a.k.a. Basque Country), and whenever I see Aran's pics of her visits to her homeland, I yearn for the palette and mountainous air of that landscape. 

This recipe is based on one from Aran's book, which I finally bought after a long time as a follower of her blog. Although she lived in Florida when she wrote the book (she now lives in Seattle), she is clearly proud of her origins as the heiress to a culinary tradition in her family and the Basque community; the book waxes Basque throughout.

The food I miss most from Spain is the fish. Living in Barcelona I had very easy access to the freshest, most varied fish and seafood at my local neighborhood market, Mercat de Fort Pienc. My kids went to school right next door so it was easy enough to stop by on a daily basis, or just when I was passing by and the catch of the day caught my eye. Antonio and Maricarmen knew my tastes well; being a regular customer always has advantages.

I made this recipe for a World Cup watching; our friend C. bought the best wild salmon he could find, one if the tricks in making it as delicious as possible, together with a flavorful, homemade fish fumet (which I had prepared beforehand). Marmitako is a traditional stew made with tuna, but tuna is not sustainable (Dan Barber's new book explains this in detail) and its use is frowned on by conscientious foodies in this part of the world. I miss it, too, but the wild salmon is a pretty decent substitute:)

In her recipe, Aran mentions a trick I learned from my neighborhood fishmonger in Barcelona, whom I visited regularly, knew me by name, and was always happy to suggest ways to prepare the freshest fish available at the market on that particular day: cut the potatoes not on a cutting board but in your hand, by holding a paring knife between thumb and forefinger and angling towards yourself until you snap each piece off. Do this on top of the pot, and drop them in as you go. You will end up with uneven chunks that -so they say- release starches much better for stews and fish soups.

Salmon Marmitako
Based on Aran Goyoaga's recipe
Ingredients for 4:
1 quart fish fumet (made with 1 quart water, fish bones and heads, 1 yellow onion, 1/2 cup white wine, 8 peppercorns, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 carrot, 1 celery stalk or leek, 2 bay leaves).
1 tomato
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 green bell pepper, in small squares
1 red bell pepper, in small squares
1/2 t sea salt
1 pound baby Yukon potatoes, with skin, cut into chunks
1 t smoked paprika
2 lb wild salmon, cut into 1.5-inch cubes
fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Peel the tomato by making an x on the bottom with the tip of a sharp paring knife and dropping it into a small saucepan of boiling water for 30 seconds. Cool with cold water and peel, then chop into chunks and reserve.
in a 5-quart pot, heat the olive oil and add the onions with a pinch of salt. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, peppers, and another pinch of salt. Cook 5 minutes stirring every now and then. Add the tomato and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add potatoes (cutting them over the pot as explained above) and paprika. Stir and cook another minute, for flavors to meld. Add the fumet or fish stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cover. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Add the salmon chunks, stir a bit and turn off the heat and cover. Adjust seasoning, sprinkle with parsley and serve in bowls, with some fluffy aromatic rice or a good quality bread on the side.