Like most top Oregon chefs, Maggie Trujillo was inspired by the seasons and ingredients around her.
Every summer, it’s the salmon that are jumping.
“We love having salmon on our menu,” she said. “We’re hitting peak season for king, sockeye and coho.” So steady yourself for a summer of salmon — from pan-fried to smoked, blackened to simply cured and turned into gravlax (see recipe below).
After a springtime of mostly fresh, wild Alaskan salmon served up at local restaurants, Oregon salmon starts coming around in June. July and August are peak season, then it starts to dwindle in September. During the winter, top restaurants in Oregon typically serve sustainable salmon from other regions.
For nearly a half-decade, Trujillo was the executive chef at Larks Restaurant at Inn at the Commons in Medford. Her mission was pure and simple: To showcase the beauty of the ingredients themselves.
“We try to be able to utilize the whole fish if possible,” said Trujillo, who had also been the executive chef at Caldera Brewing in Ashland, where Larks Restaurant at the Ashland Springs Hotel is located. “We’ll save the bones and everything, to make fish stock. We always try to take the trim and utilize that for great smoked salmon.”
Trujillo and her team would change up the menu every quarter and more as necessary to cater to what their local purveyors — farmers, cheesemakers, mushroom foragers and ranchers — were offering that week.
Salmon is a blank slate for so many types of flavors and preparations, she said. Some of her favorite preparations included a blackened salmon with a Creole cream sauce, cheddar polenta, fennel and arugula; and a pan-roasted salmon served with pepper jelly, herb couscous pilaf and summer squash.
If preparing salmon for guests at home, it’s a good idea to invest in tweezers or fish pliers to remove the pin bones from fillets, Trujillo said. Also, don’t shy away from the salmon skin. “People don’t realize the skin is really good for you — get it nice and crispy and serve it,” she said.
Whenever she needed inspiration, she looked to her two favorite cookbooks: “Culinary Artistry” and “The Flavor Bible,” both by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. She also relished the outdoors — running, hiking and camping with her husband and two dogs in the Medford area — like most Southern Oregon locals who know getting outside is the best way to build up an appetite.
Smoked Salmon and Gravlax by Chef Maggie Trujillo
- 2 cups salt
- 1 ½ cup sugar
- 1 ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 T coriander, whole
- 1 T fennel seed
- 1 tsp black peppercorn
- zest of 2 lemons
- 4 sprigs of thyme
- 2 sprigs of tarragon
For the cure: Toast and grind the pepper, fennel, and coriander. Roughly pick the herbs. Combine all ingredients.
For smoked salmon: Coat salmon, including trim, in the cure for 4-6 hours, depending on thickness. Smoke at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
For gravlax: Coat the entire side of salmon in the cure. Wrap the cured salmon in cheesecloth and douse with vodka. Store in a 2-inch large pan with plastic wrap. Place another pan over the top of the fish. Add some canned vegetables to weigh down container. Cure for 24 hours, then flip the fish and allow to cure for another 24-36 hours, depending on size of the side. Remove from cheesecloth and thinly slice to serve.