Local and Seasonal: Salmon with Avocado Sauce

Californians have been known to put avocado on just about everything, from toast to soup to sushi. We adore the creamy fruit, and we take great pride in the nearly 200,000 tons of avocados grown each year in our state. Earlier this year, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom ordained avocado as the state fruit, officially recognizing our favorite ingredient.

Though there are several varieties of avocado grown in California, only one reigns supreme. The Hass variety (whose name actually rhymes with pass, not moss) accounts for approximately 90 percent of the state's crop. Its thick, pebbly skin, which turns purple-black as the fruit ripens, easily peels away to reveal pale green flesh. But if it weren't for a postman named Rudolph Gustav Hass, we might never have tasted this beloved treasure.

Mr. Hass began working for the Pasadena Post Office as a mail carrier in 1925. Using his saved wages, he purchased a small 1½-acre plot of land in La Habra Heights and planted several avocado seedlings, the varieties of which were unknown. It is common practice among avocado farmers is to select one plant for strong, healthy roots and then to graft a prolific variety to that first plant. After two years, only one of Hass's seedlings continued to reject the grafting process. Mr. Hass, thoroughly frustrated with this young tree, intended to cut it down. A professional grafter persuaded Mr. Hass to let the tree grow, and it was this stubborn seedling that grew to become the first Hass avocado tree.

Because avocados have the unusual ability to hang on trees without ripening for up to sixteen months, they are available year-round. Their quality, however, can vary depending on the season. During the summertime, look for Hass avocados from Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties, where growing conditions favor exceptionally creamy and nutty fruits.

Pan-Roasted Salmon with Avocado Sauce
During California's Hass avocado season, wild Pacific salmon appears in fish markets for a few brief weeks. The two are natural partners -- both are full-flavored but the richness of the avocado complements the leanness of the wild salmon.

Serves 2

2 wild Pacific salmon fillets, 1/3 pound each
½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons parsley leaves
2 small, ripe Hass avocados, peeled and pitted
1 lime
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Season both sides of each salmon fillet with a pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper.

Place basil, cilantro, and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. Add avocado, the zest and juice from the lime, ¼ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper. With the blade spinning, slowly pour in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Continue processing until the avocado sauce looks smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning, and add another pinch of salt or splash of lime juice, if needed.

Heat a cast-iron skillet (or equivalent oven-safe pan) over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Swirl in the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and then allow the oil to heat up for about 30 seconds. Carefully place the fish into the skillet, skin-side down. It is tempting to nudge the fillets around and peek underneath them, but resist this urge so that the fillets can cook while the skin crisps for 3 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast salmon (still skin-side down) for another 4 - 5 minutes.

Spoon approximately 2 tablespoons of avocado sauce in the center of each plate. Place the fish, skin-side up, on top of the sauce.

(*Note: You may have some avocado sauce left over. It is equally tasty spooned over grilled vegetables or spread like mayonnaise on sandwich bread. Store the sauce, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to several days.)

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About the Author

Maria Zizka is a Berkeley-born food writer and cook. She writes recipes and stories from a little cottage near Santa Monica Beach.
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