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Why Marcus Samuelsson Loves Salmon

June/July 2017 Issue
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Growing up in Sweden, Marcus Samuelsson ate a lot of salmon. As he explains in Marcus Off Duty, his cookbook about what he cooks at home, salmon in Sweden was a “weeknight dish that every family had almost every week.” One might think that such regular exposure would make him tire of the rich, full-flavored fish. Quite the contrary; he still loves it. Over the years, the multiple James Beard Award-winning chef has consistently celebrated salmon on his menus, starting at Aquavit in New York City, where he made his name as a bold young head chef more than 20 years ago. Under his helm, the three-star Nordic restaurant at times featured no fewer than eight different salmon dishes.

There’s more. Before he and his wife married in Ethiopia, where both were born (he moved to Sweden when he was adopted as a young boy), they had a big prewedding party in Smögen, a tiny island town he still regularly visits. Samuelsson admits he left most of the party planning to his wife and his Swedish mother, except for one thing: curing a huge salmon to serve as part of the smorgasbord. It was a nod to tradition; he grew up eating the silky slices with pumpernickel and mustard. These days, he’ll just as often forgo the traditional dill-seasoned cure for a cilantro-and-ginger-cured lox or serve it accompanied by the Ethiopian bread injera.

A global approach to cooking is part of what keeps Samuelsson excited about salmon—and his salmon dishes exciting. When Samuelsson found himself “trying out” for the chance to cook for Barack Obama’s first state dinner, in honor of the Indian prime minister, he included tandoori salmon among the dishes meant to impress. (It did; he got the gig.)

These days, Samuelsson continues to explore new ways to showcase salmon. At Red Rooster, his flagship restaurant in Harlem, where he now lives, it’s featured in poke, the wildly popular Hawaiian-style raw-fish salad taking the country by storm, and fillets are fire-roasted to serve with sauerkraut and spicy boiled peanuts. We’ve included here some of his other favorite ways to enjoy salmon, including grilled and glazed, and steamed and served in an amazingly aromatic broth.

As he continues to travel and open new restaurants, there’s no doubt Samuelsson will come up with more wonderful ways to serve salmon, a fish that will always remind him of his adopted home. “Food is part of the grounding that defines who we are,” he explains. “Growing up in Sweden, seafood was ours.” Lucky for us, that seafood included salmon.

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