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In the raw: Try a dish that highlights fresh fish at its finest

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

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.

I hope you'll try this recipe soon, and discover for yourself the pleasures of the freshest seafood in its most pristine state.


Serves 6

9 ounces (280 g) absolutely fresh sushi-grade salmon fillet, skin removed

9 ounces (280 g) absolutely fresh sushi-grade sea bass fillet, skin removed

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra if searing the fish

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, lemon juice or good-quality Champagne vinegar

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 ripe but slightly firm Hass-style avocados

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or tarragon

3 lemons, thinly sliced, seeds removed

If you plan to sear the fish, first heat a nonstick skillet large enough to hold both pieces of fish over high heat. Drizzle in a very thin coating of olive oil and, when the oil is hot enough to flow freely in the pan and just beginning to give off the slightly wisps of smoke, add the 2 fish fillets and cook them on both large sides for about 1 minute per side, just until seared brown, turn them carefully with tongs.

Transfer the fish fillets, whether seared or raw, to a clean cutting board. With a very sharp chef's knife, cut each fillet diagonally at a 45-degree angle into 6 paper-thin slices, as you would slice smoked salmon.

Arrange the fish slices without overlapping on a large platter.

In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Drizzle this dressing over the fish. Loosely cover the platter and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Halve and pit the avocados. With a large metal spoon, keeping its edge against the inside of an avocado half's skin, carefully scoop out the flesh in a single piece from each avocado half. Place the avocado halves cut side down on a clean cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut each half lengthwise into 8 thin, crescent-shaped wedges.

Arrange 4 avocado slices on each of 4 chilled serving plates. Drape a slice each of salmon and sea bass on top of the avocado on each plate. Sprinkle with chives or tarragon, garnish with lemon slices, and serve immediately.



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