The Fourth of July is the time for unabashed displays of patriotism: flying oversized flags on the beach, donning star-spangled swimming trunks or eating classic, all-American food. But when creating a party menu, which dishes best evoke the essence of the United States once you get past barbecue, burgers and apple pie?
“It’s different for every person, but for me it’s pride in your own roots and heritage as an American person,” explains chef Patrick O’Connell. “As Americans, we’ve had for way too long this sort of inferiority complex of our native foods and our home cooking, but I think it deserves as much praise as any other nation. It’s time to be proud of the foods that we grew up with.”
O’Connell built his lofty reputation by taking classic dishes from his childhood and giving them inventive, sophisticated twists. Since creating rural Virginia’s culinary destination Inn at Little Washington more than 35 years ago, the chef-owner has championed the use of fresh, local ingredients to create modern iterations of nostalgic dishes. And he has celebrated U.S. cooking and traditional foods in his books, such as Patrick O'Connell's Refined American Cuisine.
He urges home cooks to embrace the recipes of their youth, as well. “They may be of Italian-American descent, they may be African-American descent, but they had an ethnic cuisine that was part of their family life and it deserves to be kept alive and preserved. It’s who we are, so it’s just sort of celebrating that, as I see it.”
For his version of the all-American Independence Day meal, O’Connell suggests a light, simple preparation for grilled salmon. His recipe eschews heavy, premade sauces in favor of fresh herbs and seasonings that “give the salmon a lot of wonderful flavor and just feel like summer.”
If you’re unfamiliar with deboning salmon, O’Connell advises purchasing it with the head, tail and bones removed, but with the skin on, and divided into two long fillets. Once coated with the mustard seeds and dill, it should be grilled until medium-rare, as it will continue to cook once removed from the heat. Check its doneness by inserting a knife into the thickest part of the flesh. “You don’t want it raw in the center,” he advises, “But you don’t want it well-done either because it will lose some of the lusciousness.”
The salmon can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance, covered in plastic wrap, left to cool in the refrigerator and served chilled the next day. “You can fully do it the night before, and it doesn’t lose a thing in terms of flavor or texture,” O’Connell explains. He recommends letting the fish warm a bit before serving, so that it isn’t icy cold, but still cool to the touch. “The Fourth of July is always too warm,” O’Connell says. “You don’t really want to eat hot food unless you go for hot dogs or grilled chicken or something like that, but people really want to eat outdoors and they prefer something cold. So this makes the ideal buffet dish.”
When asked for a wine pairing, O’Connell exudes the enological confidence befitting a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. “Well it would be simple. We’d have my favorite picnic wine in the whole world, which is Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé. It’s soft, and absolutely luscious and lets the salmon shine.” While Bandol typically offers rosés with more substance and depth than average, O'Connell says that any quality rosé from the south of France would suffice and recommends choosing one in a slightly lighter shade than the salmon itself.
As an alternative, he also suggests a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc with a snap of acidity, perhaps the Peter Michael L’Apres-Midi from Knights Valley in Sonoma. “It would work well because of the mustard seeds and the fresh herbs in the dish. But it has a somewhat piquant quality that would balance nicely.” Below, we provide a list of recently rated Bandol rosé and California Sauvignon Blanc bottlings, priced from $12 to $40, for any type of party.
Recipe courtesy of Patrick O’Connell, chef-proprietor of the Inn at Little Washington
1. Lay the salmon flesh-side up on your work surface. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Coat with the mustard seeds, then the dill and onion slices, and sprinkle with the oil.
2. Remove the rack from your grill and ignite the charcoal. If desired, sprinkle hickory chips on the fire, letting the flames subside to glowing embers. Lay the grill rack on top of the fish. Quickly flip the fish over and place the fish over the fire with the skin side facing up. Close the lid on the fire and cook for about 10 minutes, until medium-rare.
3. Remove the fish from the fire, using tongs or oven mitts to lift the rack with the fish in place off of the grill. Set on a large metal tray or baking sheet to cool. Gently remove the skin.
4. To serve, place a serving tray or platter on top of the fish and, holding the rack in place, flip the fish over onto the tray. Pick off and discard any burned bits of onion or dill. The salmon may be served whole or cut into sections about 2 inches wide. Note: The salmon can be covered and left to chill in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, then taken out shortly before the meal and served cool. Serves 8.
DOMAINES TEMPIER Bandol Rosé 2014
Bright and high-pitched, this features a talc note that gives way to rosemary and white cherry hints, while the finish races along with sea salt and blood orange details. Long, chiseled and pure. A delicious rosé that should unwind further with some cellaring. Drink now through 2016. 2,275 cases imported.
DOMAINES BUNAN Bandol Rosé Château La Rouvière 2014
Densely layered rosé, with lots of savory and rosemary notes mixed with peach pit, bitter orange and dried strawberry flavors. Long finish lets tea and rose water fill in, along with a brisk mineral note. Mourvèdre, Cinsault and Grenache. Drink now through 2016. 1,000 cases made.
DOMAINE DU GROS NORÉ Bandol Rosé 2014
A pure, minerally style, with brisk watermelon seed and sea salt notes driving the core of white cherry, rose water and white peach flavors along. The long finish ripples wonderfully. Drink now through 2016. 1,022 cases imported.
DOMAINE LA SUFFRENE Bandol Rosé 2014
Very pure, with a brisk sea salt note imparting lovely cut, while the flavors of dried strawberry, watermelon seed and peach play out through the lengthy finish. A precise rosé. Drink now through 2016. 3,000 cases made.
DOMAINE DE TERREBRUNE Bandol Rosé 2014
Features a brisk edge of peach pit, while the core of white cherry, watermelon rind and verbena notes fills out through the pure, lacy finish, lingering nicely. Drink now. 1,140 cases imported.
KUNDE ESTATE Sauvignon Blanc Sonoma Valley Vineyard Block 4SB20 2013
Bright, aromatic and distinctive, offering a lush mouthful of rich, ripe pineapple, honeysuckle and lemon-lime flavors, set on a light and silky body, with mouthwatering acidity. Shows nice balance and intensity. Drink now. 640 cases made.
CLOS PEGASE Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley Carneros Mitsuko's Vineyard Musqué Clone 2013
Lovely, with succulent peach accents to the core of crisp lemon, apple and melon flavors. The acidity is refreshing without being bracing. Floral and herbal tea accents echo in the background. Drink now. 1,200 cases made.
CHATEAU ST. JEAN Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2013
A whiff of toast mingles with the lemon verbena and green apple notes, balancing the aromatics with a big mouthful of juicy citrus flavors. Drink now. 16,000 cases made.
QUIVIRA Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley 2013
This crisp white offers a distinctive mineral edge and floral details, set on a light and juicy body, with touches of pear, apple and citrus and a lingering finish. Drink now. 7,590 cases made.
HUSCH Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino 2013
Extremely fragrant, with buoyant honeysuckle aromas and notes of peach, nectarine, melon and citrus. The flavors are more crisp than ripe, delivering a refreshing finish. Drink now. 10,222 cases made.