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On the Town: Common Ground

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Matt Lee (left) prepares crispy-skin salmon with a buttermilk mint sauce, roasted cauliflower, and seasoned greens for a healthy family meal. Photographs (2) by Peter Frank Edwards

April 19, 2017

Common Ground
Cookbook author Matt Lee has a lot on his plate—luckily, he has helping hands in his kitchen

written by Lauren Johnson & Marion Sullivan

When asked to describe his job, Matt Lee simply says, “freelancer.” It’s a boiled-down title for a career gumbo that mixes cookbook author, food writer, cooking show host, and co-owner (with his brother Ted) of The Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue. He’s also husband to Gia, a realtor, and father to three boys under the age of seven. Due to the family’s busy schedule, dinners at the Lee household often need all hands on deck to succeed.

Though Matt makes a living writing about Southern cuisine, his family’s home menus are worldlier. Gia’s Italian heritage inspires marinara and Bolognese, while tortillas transform leftovers into tacos. The couple also has an affinity for spicy Asian dishes, spiking everything from spaghetti to salmon with chili oil. Their experiments sometimes get upturned noses: “If the meal is too wild for the kids, they might have frozen pizza,” says Matt, “especially if Gia and I have planned an ambitious dinner that we want to savor.”

For the pragmatic parents, mealtimes are about balancing healthy eating with common sense. “We buy organic when possible, but we also have a block of Velveeta in the pantry,” Matt jokes. While he prefers to purchase sustainable, wild-caught salmon, he shares a “dirty little secret”: a fatty farmed filet is much more bulletproof in the home kitchen. “It can be slightly overcooked and still be fall-apart tender and delicious,” he explains. Matt likes to crisp his fish skins and then top them with buttermilk mint sauce—a versatile dressing that works with anything from seafood to butterbeans and pork chops.

Here’s his recipe:

Crispy-Skin Salmon with Buttermilk Mint Sauce
(Serves 4)

  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves (from about 8 sprigs)
  • 1/2 cup whole or low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb. skin-on salmon filet
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place the mint, buttermilk, sour cream, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender; process until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Add two teaspoons of the olive oil to a large cast-iron skillet or broiler pan and place it under the broiler so that the bottom is about five inches from the heat source. Turn the broiler on.

Score the salmon skin crosswise in three places to roughly portion the fish into four pieces. Rub the remaining teaspoon of olive oil over the skin; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.

When the oil in the skillet begins to smoke, lay the fish skin-side up in the skillet. Broil the fish until the skin is blistered and charring, about 5 1/2 minutes for medium-rare.

Cut the salmon along the scoring lines into four portions and serve it, skin-side up, with the sauce and Gia’s Chili Oil (for the recipe, click here).

For more of Lee’s recipes—including his flavorful Tuesday Greens and a crunchy cauliflower dish—click here.

To check out the rest of the April issue, click here.