In the raw: Try a dish that highlights fresh fish at its finest
In my early years as a chef, one of the most basic, and best, lessons I learned was to taste ingredients raw. Experiencing even a little bit of food in its uncooked state is a perfect way to get a sense of its flavors and textures, so you'll always keep in mind the inherent qualities you want to highlight in the finished dish.
Sometimes, taking that initial raw taste might also inspire you not to cook a particular ingredient at all, or to cook it only briefly. That is certainly the case with many kinds of seafood, which over the past couple of decades many people have learned to enjoy raw or very lightly seared.
Just a few decades ago, food lovers in western countries might still have been wary of eating raw seafood -- apart, of course, from longtime traditional specialties like raw oysters and cold-smoked salmon or lox. But the rising popularity of sushi dramatically changed people's attitudes and also made people more receptive to other styles of raw or barely cooked premium fresh seafood, such as the citrus-marinated ceviche served in Latin American countries or the crudo (literally, "raw") of Italy.
Such raw seafood specialties make wonderful summertime appetizers. Cool, light and refreshing, they're perfect to serve as a first course or light lunchtime main dish. Take, for example, my recipe for seared salmon and sea bass crudo with avocado.
Inspired by casual dishes I observed and prepared myself as a young chef working in the South of France and Monaco, this recipe relies upon the freshest, finest raw fish fillets you can find. Fortunately, many markets today sell such seafood labeled as "sushi grade" to indicate that it's of the highest standard suitable for serving and eating raw. Of course, you should also let your eyes and nose confirm that the fillets are in perfect condition, looking firm and bright in color with no aromas other than a fresh clean scent of the sea.
My recipe gives you the option of preparing the fish either in its most pristine raw state or, if you or your guests might prefer just a hint of cooking, searing the fillets lightly first. Either way, the fish is then cut into thin slices that are briefly marinated with a simple dressing of olive oil and citrus juice or vinegar, the acidity of which firms it up a bit just as light cooking would. Draped over thin wedges of avocado and garnished with fresh herbs, the crudo makes a beautiful presentation as refreshing to look at as it is to eat.
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I hope you'll try this recipe soon, and discover for yourself the pleasures of the freshest seafood in its most pristine state.
SEARED SALMON AND SEA BASS CRUDO WITH AVOCADO
9 ounces (280 g) absolutely fresh sushi-grade salmon fillet, skin removed