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French in a Flash: So-Easy Red Pistou Salmon

[Photograph: Kerry Saretsky]

My grandmother, Mémé, makes a highly renowned salmon dish universally dubbed Moroccan Salmon. She makes it at every family dinner, and people from far and wide demand to know her secrets. Even my boyfriend Mr. English recently confessed to me: "Mémé's Moroccan Salmon is better than your Moroccan Salmon." Well, if a relationship can't be based on trust and honesty....(my napkin quickly devolved into a tissue).

Most of the time I order my salmon raw, or simply seared or grilled. It has such a distinctive flavor and texture that it doesn't need much more than a faint char. But Mémé's version is at the opposite end of the spectrum: flavored with paprika, olive oil, preserved lemons, parsley, sometimes olives, other times carrots, maybe bay. It's intensely flavored, and yet the salmon is the perfect vehicle and still shines.

I love today's French in a Flash recipe because it has the aggressive taste of Mémé's salmon with the effort of the simply charred salmon. In the south of France, as I have said so many times in this column, there is a fantastically garlicky paste called pistou. Pistou comes in two versions, which I like to call the PG and the R: PG for perfectly green, and R, for red. But they're like movie ratings in that the green pistou is extremely common, made from basil, garlic, and olive oil. The red version has tomatoes, sun-dried tomato, or tomato paste beaten into the mix, and this additional tannic sweetness punches up the flavor. Sometimes you'll see it just twirled around strands of pasta, but for this super easy 15-minutes-or-less recipe, I start with sun-dried tomato pesto—very similar to rated R pistou—and coat the salmon in it.

The olive oil in the pistou acts as the cooking agent, and the salmon gets seared and crusted in this gorgeous, crisp, pungent coating. All you have to do is rub the pistou on the salmon and put it in the oven. The garlic and tomatoes and basil infused the salmon and give it a strong, heady flavor. Mémé would be proud.

About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way.

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