It's hard to believe, but in August Bottega Americano will have been open for two years. I remember walking around the cavernous restaurant's shell while it was under construction as executive chef Dave Warner explained how there would be different stations lining the walls--one for pasta making, one for making pizza, another for charcuterie, still another for pastry. Once it opened, it was impressive to see the vision realized--both in the design and the high caliber of the food being served.
I've enjoyed a lot of terrific meals there and was happy to visit one recent late morning to meet with sous chef Jeremy Oursland to learn how to make a new dish on their spring menu. They just call it Salmon, but it's a seared salmon filet with caramelized fennel, gnocchi, sugar snap peas, and Swiss chard, dressed with a tomato fonduta--Italy's version of fondue.
Oursland has been with Bottega Americano since it opened. Previously, he had worked with Warner at JRDN in Pacific Beach following a two-year hiatus during which he had moved to Santa Rosa and gone to school. Before that he'd worked at Rainwaters on Kettner while helping out his grandparents. Oursland grew up in the restaurant business. His dad had been a chef at a country club and Oursland started out there as a kid working as a dishwasher. Like many who start with doing the dishes and sticking with it, he got a chance to cook, first making brunch and breakfast, then dinner.
"I learned about catering and banquets. I learned about fine dining from my five years working there," he said.
Everything was prepped and ready to go when I got to the restaurant. First, Oursland showed me how to make the fonduta, filling a saucepan with half a lemon, wine, garlic, shallot, fresh herbs, peppercorns, and a roma tomato. Cream had been warmed in another pot. Once the mixture was reduced and strained, he added the cream, tomato paste, and butter, which yielded a rich yet slightly acidic sauce. In fact, this makes enough so that you can use some to serve with the salmon and vegetables and have more to enjoy over pasta, other fish, chicken, roasted vegetables, or (Oursland's suggestion) cheese curds. Or use it as a dipping sauce for bread.
Then Oursland cooked the salmon. In your home, use the stove. At the restaurant, Oursland takes advantage of the searing heat of the pizza oven. First he heated the cast iron skillet in the oven. Then he carefully added some canola oil and slid a salmon filet, skin side down and away from him onto the pan before pushing it into the oven. He also prepared a version on the stovetop.
Oursland suggests purchasing skin-on salmon from a specialty seafood market or Costco. He prefers wild or sustainably farmed salmon. When prepping it be sure to pat the skin dry so that it will get crispy. And only salt the fish just before you put it in the hot pan. "If you season it and let it sit, the salt will pull the moisture in the fish to the surface and the sear won't be as crisp," Oursland warns. He suggested using a fish spatula because its thin edge makes it easy to get under the fish without tearing the skin or the flesh--and it's easy to clean.
He also makes sure he blanches the vegetables before sauteing them. "This seals in the flavor, adds crunch, and brings out vibrant colors," he noted. "Make sure all the veggies have a chance to dry thoroughly before sauteing," he said, adding, "Thomas Keller has a chapter in the French Laundry cookbook about big pot blanching. It's well written and a fun read. I enjoy preparing vegetables. It can be a little time consuming but if you do so with respect for the product it will show in your dish. I find it very relaxing and rewarding.
"If you pay attention to the minor details it makes for such a better result," Oursland said.