The Boulder Farmers' Market on Saturday, April 13, is one of those variable Colorado days when you're not sure whether to wear a coat, a jacket or a heavy sweater -- and you find yourself peeling off layers as the morning advances. JJ in his wheelchair and Raelene wearing her trademark cowboy hat hold down both ends of the one-street market, selling the Denver Voice.
This is a prime location for selling, says JJ, and he loves coming here even though he has to take the bus from Denver very early in the morning if he's to hold on to his spot. Locations at the market are highly prized because Boulder people are so friendly and generous, he tells me, and the market is such a celebratory event. When he gets bored, he'll roll over to the edge of the bordering park to watch the kids playing.
Hot coffee and a sugary snack are obligatory on this still-cool morning, and no matter how early you get to the market, there's always a line at the Udi's bakery stand. This morning Udi's is selling a new kind of pastry called a kouign-amman or -- as the vendor dubs it, ignoring the Breton origins -- a Colorado Queen. The thing is truly royal. It looks like a small, tight, squarish cushion and consists of layers of buttery dough folded and re-folded, with a crispy, sugary glaze on the outside. You can get it plain or chocolate, and either way it's delicious. (Also, according to the blogosphere which I consulted later at home, extremely trendy.)
Chef Eric Skokan, owner of the Black Cat and the Bramble and Hare restaurants, makes his first appearance of the year selling baby kale, among other leafy goods. All you have to do at dinnertime is wash the leaves and wilt them briefly -- low to medium heat -- in the water that still sticks to them. Add salt and pepper and a knob of butter. Or saute a sliced clove or two of garlic in olive oil for thirty seconds -- again, low-medium heat -- then add the damp leaves, wilt and season. Skokan also has lacy chervil, often hard to find, that's great with fish or chopped with parsley, tarragon and chives to top an omelette. He looks happy to be back, and he's one of the most generous chefs around, always willing to give detailed cooking advice or tell you how to use that strangely shaped vegetable or odd cut of meat you picked up.
Then there are eggs. When I was little, the farmers I knew took great pride in all the different breeds of chicken they raised. "There's my Lavender Orpington," they'd say proudly, as a bird ambled past. "And that's the Cochin. See the Dorking? She's been around since Roman times." The eggs we bought were equally varied. Then the small farms died out, and we got used to seeing boxes of identical white eggs in the supermarkets. Brown-shelled eggs became fashionable a few years ago, but these were still weeks old, and still from the same crammed, miserable, unhealthy hens. Here at the market, you find cartons of eggs in colors that remind you of Easter: pale khaki, light-blue, brown, speckled and pearly pink. Aaron Rice of Jodar Farm has duck eggs, too -- expensive at $9 a dozen (chicken eggs are $5), but worth it if you're addicted to them. Duck eggs are large and white, with thick shells that require a bit of effort to crack. They contain a lot of omega 3 fatty acids, and are supposedly more nutritious than chicken eggs -- and better for cancer patients. The whites whip up well, and make for fluffier baked goods. Just break one of these beauties into a pan when you get home and see the muscularity of that gold-orange yolk; then taste the egg, note the tongue-caressing velvetiness, and see if you don't get addicted, too.
Keep reading to find out about the salmon and how to cook it.
Matt Aboussie is a wrestling coach at Fairview High School, but here at the market he's a fishmonger. Aboussie began harvesting wild salmon in the Bristol Bay region of southwest Alaska five years ago, and goes back every year. His stand boasts chunks of smoked salmon on ice, along with deep pink-red glistening sushi-grade filets. Aboussie is an environmental activist and he'll be happy to tell you about the struggle of locals and fishermen against a proposed copper and gold mine that will be "seriously devastating to one of the last great fisheries we have in the United States, maybe the world. The threat is very imminent, and there's a vocal and adamant group of supporters against the mine, in particular the native people in the region." (For more information, see SaveBristolBay.org.) His own project helps protect the fishing industry as well as providing employment. But what he loves most is the fishing experience itself, which he calls "wild and powerful and my favorite part of the year." The salmon filets are very clean, have no pin bones and are easy to cook. But because they're such a deep red color -- where farm-raised salmon tend to be lighter and fattier -- and also very thin, it's easy to overcook them: Slide in a knife to check for doneness and the flesh looks as bright as when it's raw. So you have to have a certain amount of faith, and you might want to snatch the filet away from the heat a touch earlier than you'd expect. It's a crime to ruin a piece of fish as gorgeous as this.
Aboussie is as happy to talk about cooking as catching. He extols the virtues of dill. He mentions a Gordon Ramsay recipe for crispy salmon as one of his favorites. (Note: when Ramsay says fresh coriander on the video, he means cilantro.) Matt also likes to prepare the salmon with pesto: Put the filet skin side down in a baking dish greased with olive oil, salt and pepper it to taste, place a thick blanket of pesto on the top. Bake for about seven minutes, then flash the filet under the grill for about a minute longer until -- Aboussie says -- the pesto gets brown and crunchy. But watch like a hawk during this part, because the pesto can burn faster than you'd imagine.
I usually do something a bit similar. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Chop a mix of herbs in a bowl -- cilantro, mint, parsley, chives -- whatever you have on hand, but use a lot. Add a clove or two of minced garlic, maybe a tablespoon of olive oil and some lemon juice. There's no need to worry about the proportions because you can't really go wrong. Now place the filet skin-side down in a baking dish you've greased with olive oil, brush on a little olive oil and season. Pack the herb mixture on top -- like the pesto, it should be a thick blanket. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and slide it into the oven. Start testing for doneness at around eight minutes -- the difference between perfectly cooked and overcooked can be a minute with fish, and the filet will also continue cooking a bit once you've taken it out of the oven. This preparation should keep the salmon beautifully moist.
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Oh -- and you'll probably want to peel the flesh away and discard the limp skin (which our dogs love) -- whereas in the Ramsay recipe, the crisp skin is the best part.