Photo by Curt Norris
Michael Doctulero is no stranger to the Orange County dining scene. As the longtime executive chef at Scott’s Restaurant and Bar in Costa Mesa, Doctulero showcased his culinary wizardry by creating some of the most irresistible seafood dishes around. The restaurant shuttered last January and in March, he took over as the new executive chef at Waterman’s Harbor in Dana Point.
From Seared Hawaiian-style Ahi to Calamari Provencal to Japanese Hamachi, he continues to display his talent for balanced flavors, concoctions that let the super-fresh seafood shine through. Many of Waterman’s dishes utilize fish that is caught by local fishermen, bounty that is delivered to their dock on a daily basis.
But rather than focusing on locally caught fish, I was eager to tap into his mastery of salmon, fish that home cooks can easily access. He shared his recipe for Baked Salmon with Soffritto and Shaved Organic Vegetables, a luscious dish he prepares year-round at home. A colorful mix of raw thin-cut vegetables, mixed baby greens and juicy salmon, it’s draped with soffritto (a diced amalgam of slow simmered fresh herbs, fennel and a classic mirepoix of celery, onion and carrot). The tasty soffritto can be prepared in advance and refrigerated up to a week, making the dish an easy-to-prepare entrée for home entertaining.
He prefers wild rather than farm-raised salmon because it is leaner, using skin-on fillets of wild king salmon from Charlotte Island in British Columbia. They were baked surrounded with lemon slices and a smidgen of water (to keep the salmon moist). Cooked to perfection, he positioned the fillets atop a bed of baby greens and shaved vegetables, the whole shebang napped with that delicious soffritto.
Have a look at the video. It’s guaranteed to make you hungry. And, more than likely, Chef Doctulero’s welcoming smile and generous spirit will quickly win you over. He is a born teacher, offering helpful insider tips at every turn, along with an alluring dose of joie de vivre.
Special Talent: He has honed the skill of hoʻoponopono (ho-o-pono-pono), the ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. It’s a talent for healing, finding solutions and making things right, whether at the family dinner table or in a professional kitchen where lots of egos are in play.
Favorite Eatery: Chef-restaurateur Michael Chiarello’s Spanish-themed restaurant Coqueta, the Embarcadero, San Francisco is his fave. He says that the service is spot-on and that they offer tapas and family-style plates that are consistently perfect.
Few People Know: Before he became a chef, he was a hair stylist in San Francisco between the ages of 17 and 20.
Master of Other Arts: He teaches kali eskrima silat, a rather obscure form of martial arts.
Baked Salmon with Soffritto and Shaved Organic Vegetables
Yield: 4 servings
2 to 4 arugula leaves
2 fresh dill sprigs (or fresh tarragon sprigs or fresh oregano sprigs)
4 fresh basil leaves
1 medium carrot, peeled, cut in 4 crosswise pieces
1/2 fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, quartered
1/2 brown onion, trimmed, quartered
Extra-virgin olive oil, enough to almost cover
1/2 large celery stalk, quartered
4 center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each), skin-on preferred
3 lemon slices
Freshly ground black pepper
Shaved vegetables: 1 Persian, pickling or baby cucumber, 1 yellow crookneck squash
4 cups salad greens: mixed baby lettuces, or mixture of baby kale, baby spinach and Egyptian spinach
Himalayan salt, to taste
Optional garnish: blood orange slices, thinly sliced red Fresno chili
1. Prepare soffritto: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. To a medium-sized deep skillet, add arugula, tarragon, basil, carrot, fennel and onion. Add enough oil to almost cover vegetables and herbs by two-thirds. Place on medium-high heat and bring to simmer; reduce heat and gently simmer until vegetables and tender-crisp, cautiously tossing occasionally. Set aside to cool. Scoop out vegetables and herbs, reserving oil. Dice and return to oil. Can be prepared in advance up to 2 weeks and refrigerated well sealed. Bring to room temperature before using.
2. Bake salmon: Place salmon fillets in a single layer in large ovenproof skillet. Add about 1/8-inch water and lemon slices. Season the fish with pepper. Place in preheated oven until just barely cooked through, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. (Beads of whiteness that come to the surface are an indication that the fish is done, or you can have a peek by separating the flesh in the middle of one fillet with a fork or knife – it should look almost opaque throughout.)
3. Salad: Shave vegetables on mandolin into thin slices (or cut very thinly with a sharp knife); toss with baby greens. Divide mixture on 4 plates. Top each with salmon. Drizzle soffritto over salmon and salad, including the oil, using enough to lightly coat; season with Himalayan salt. If desired garnish with a few thin slices of fresh red Fresno chili, blood orange slices and lemon wedges.
Source: Michael Doctulero, Waterman’s Harbor, Dana Point
Waterman’s Harbor, 34661 Golden Lantern St, Dana Point, 949-764-3474
(Chef Doctulero says that there is a specific way to humanly kill fish to best preserve its flavor. To see how, go to Ikijime.com.)