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Grilled Salmon with Lemon-and-Thyme-Scented Salsa Veracruzana

Fish cooked Veracruz-style features a chunky tomato sauce enriched with olive oil, balanced with a little tang and spice from olives, capers and chilies, and perfumed with herbs. In this contemporary version, salmon fillets replace the classic whole snapper.

Everything about this dish says "make ahead." The sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator, well covered. In fact, the whole dish can be made a day ahead without much compromise in quality—simply wrap it and refrigerate. Let the fish and sauce come to room temperature before serving. If you prepare the dish early on the day you're serving it, refrigerate it if allowing it to stand for more than 2 hours.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for
      oiling the salmon
  • 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 lb. ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped into
      1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme or lemon thyme,
      plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped lemon zest
  • 1 cup roughly sliced pitted green olives,
      preferably manzanillo
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed
  • 3 store-bought or homemade pickled jalapeño
      chilies, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt, to taste
  • 6 salmon fillets or steaks, each 7 to 8 oz. and
      about 1 inch thick

Directions:

In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the 1/4 cup olive oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it is just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, 1 minute more. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes, chopped thyme, lemon zest and half of the olives, capers and chilies. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until some of the liquid evaporates, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the water, return to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes more. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, prepare a medium-hot fire in a grill. When the grill is hot, reduce the heat on one side to medium-low if using a gas grill. If using a charcoal grill, push all the coals to one side.

Brush or spray both sides of the salmon fillets with oil and season with salt. Lay the salmon over the hottest part of the fire and cook until nicely browned underneath, about 4 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully turn the salmon over onto the cooler side of the grill and continue cooking until the salmon is slightly translucent in the center for medium-rare, 2 to 4 minutes more, or until done to your liking.

Spoon the sauce into a serving bowl or deep platter and nestle the salmon in it. Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour to bring together the flavors of the salmon and the sauce.

Just before serving, sprinkle the salmon with the remaining olives, capers and chilies and garnish with the thyme sprigs. Serve immediately.
Serves 6.
Adapted from Mexico: One Plate At A Time, by Rick Bayless (Scribner, 2000).