Another memorable presentation when you are entertaining is to serve a whole roast salmon stuffed with a farro pilaf. The stuffing can be cooked several hours or even a day ahead, then cooled and set aside or refrigerated until it is time to stuff the salmon. This will ease last-minute preparations for the cook. Though farro looks a lot like spelt, and many cooks consider them interchangeable, they are not. Look for imported Italian farro, primarily from Abruzzo and Tuscany. It has a sweet, nutty flavor and a more tender texture. Although the farro package calls for soaking the grain, it is not necessary for this recipe. Accompany the salmon with a steamed or sautéed green vegetable—green beans, Brussels sprouts, broccolini—and an easy and satisfying holiday dinner will be at hand. Have drinks and nibbles while the salmon bakes, or start with a soup or salad course.
4 cups canned low-sodium vegetable broth
2 cups water
2 cups farro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic minced
1 yellow onion cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 yellow bell pepper seeded, deribbed, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup pine nuts toasted (see Cook’s Note, page XX)
3 tablespoons capers rinsed and blotted dry
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano chopped
Vegetable-oil cooking spray
1 (5 to 7 pounds) whole salmon cleaned and scaled, with head and tail left on
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup dry white wine
fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish Chopped
To make the farro pilaf, in a 6-quart saucepan, bring the vegetable broth and water to a boil over high heat. Add the farro, reduce the heat so the liquid just simmers, and cook the farro until soft but still with a bit of firmness at the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the farro in a sieve placed over a heatproof bowl, reserving the liquid. Place the farro in a bowl and set aside.
In a 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, heat the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until soft but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and sauté until well coated with the oil and the pepper softens slightly, about 2 minutes longer. Add the farro, 2/3 cup of the reserved liquid, and the salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add the pine nuts, capers, lemon zest, parsley, and oregano, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400ºF. Line a large rimmed baking sheet (11 by 17 inches) with aluminum foil. Spray the foil with the cooking spray. Place the salmon on the pan, positioning diagonally if necessary to make it fit. If the fish is still too large, use a sharp chef’s knife to cut off the head. Squeeze the lemon juice all over the fish, and then tilt the fish on its back, open the cavity, and squeeze lemon juice inside. Lay the fish back on its side and spoon the cooled farro pilaf along the length of the cavity, mounding it and allowing some to tumble out. Place any remaining pilaf in a buttered baking dish and heat separately. Pour the evenly wine over the fish. Spray a second sheet of foil large enough to cover the fish with nonstick spray and place it, sprayed side down over the fish to cover completely.
Place the pan in the oven and bake the fish for 30 minutes. Remove the foil from the salmon and bake the fish for 10 minutes longer. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the fish, avoiding the spine; when it registers 125° to 130°F, the fish is done. My preference is for the fish to be closer to 125°F, when it’s moist and just beginning to flake.
Remove the pan from the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes. Using 2 large spatulas, transfer the fish to a large, warmed platter. Scatter the chopped parsley around the sides of the platter for garnish. (Alternatively, if you would rather carve the fish and plate the servings in the kitchen, instead of presenting the salmon whole at the table, leave the fish in the pan.)
To serve the fish whole, peel off the top skin or leave it on. (This decision is up to the chef—you either like salmon skin or you don’t.) Using a carving knife, cut along the seam running lengthwise down the middle of the side of the fish, then make cuts crosswise into serving-sized portions. Using a knife and serving spatula, loosen the pieces of fish. This will make it easier for your guests to serve themselves. When the top fillet has been served with generous spoonfuls of the farro pilaf, spoon the remaining stuffing to the side so you can lift off the backbone and ribs. Cut the bottom fillet into crosswise portions and serve with the pilaf.
If you are plating individual servings in the kitchen, follow the same procedure, portioning the salmon and pilaf onto each warmed plate. Garnish with the chopped parsley.