Sumac & Sancho Pepper Grilled Salmon with Summer Squash & Grated Tomato Vinaigrette

Staghorn sumac is a popular seasoning in much of the Mediterranean. Sumac adds a lemony citrus perk to any dish. It plays beautifully with the salmon in this recipe as well. Coupled with Japanese Sancho pepper, which is peppery with a nice citrus note, this recipe reinvents the classic “lemon pepper” seasoning of my childhood pantry. The addition of shaved summer squash adds a nice freshness to the dish.

Let’s talk about grated tomato vinaigrette! It’s delicious. Often, chefs unfortunately toss out the tomato seeds. Don’t ask me why, but they do…especially at fine dining restaurants. Part of a beautifully ripened heirloom tomato being thrown away? Not in my kitchen! Waste not, want not. That’s the rustic refinement of Farm2ChefsTable speaking. We’re going to cherish that whole tomato.

Tomato quality is important. So is fish quality. Be very picky. Ask your fish monger for center-cut, skin-on salmon — because crispy salmon skin kissed by the smoke of the grill is a wonderful thing.

Day 1: Preparing the Sumac & Sancho Pepper Seasoning

Sumac & Sancho Pepper Seasoning

Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes | Drying Time: Overnight

I recommend linking up with a local forager, such as Deep Forest Wild Edibles, to get your hands on staghorn sumac, which grows all over the Hudson Valley. If you’re located elsewhere, try SOS Chefs for some of the more exotic spices, such as sumac and Sancho pepper. Don’t forget to check out the blog post Spice up your life: the importance of having spices in your pantry.


  • 1 lemon
  • 3 teaspoons dried sumac
  • 3 teaspoons whole Sancho peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup flaky sea salt

Step by Step

  1. Juice the lemon and set aside in a small bowl, then finely grate the skin
  2. In a mortal and pestle or spice grinder, grind the sumac and Sancho pepper into a fine powder
  3. Next, add the lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
  4. Let stand for 5 minutes so the flavors mingle
  5. Next, add sea salt to the bowl and give it a stir
  6. Now you need to let the spice mixture “salt out”. Let the salt mixture sit overnight uncovered on the counter. The juice from the lemon will absorb into the salt and then the mixture will dry out, leaving you with flavored salt.

Day 2: Prepping the Salmon Filets

Salmon Filets

Prep Time: 5 to 10 minutes | Drying Time: Overnight


  • 4 salmon filets (center cut with skin on, about 5 oz. each), or as many filets as you’d like
  • Sumac and Sancho pepper seasoning, to taste

Farm2ChefsTable Tip: What does “to taste” really mean? When seasoning fish, I like to think of it in percentages. I aim somewhere between 1 to 2% of seasoning per weight of fish. It really depends on your salt tolerance, but 1% is usually a good estimate to meet most people’s definition of “add seasoning to taste”. The best way to calculate this is to weigh your salmon, multiply by .001, and that is your starting point for seasoning to taste.

Step by Step

  1. On a cutting board, pat the salmon dry with a paper towel
  2. Sprinkle the sumac and Sancho seasoning on the salmon
  3. Place the salmon on a plate, skin side up, uncovered so the salmon skin dries out
  4. Refrigerate overnight

Day 3: Grill the Salmon, Prep the Summer Squash, Make the Grated Tomato Vinaigrette and Enjoy!

Today’s the day! It’s time to invite your friends or family over to enjoy a nice summer meal and catch up on good times.

Grilled Salmon

Prep Time: 30 minutes | Cook Time: 10-15 minutes | Grill Temperature: 400F degrees

All you need to do now is temper the salmon (allow it to come to room temperature) while you get your grill hot.

I like to use wood charcoal because it imparts a nice smoky flavor. But not all wood charcoal is created equal. For lighter meats like chicken breast and fish, I prefer fruit woods. Apple wood, cherry wood or peach wood are good choices. For slightly more hearty meats like chicken thighs and pork chops, I like to use nut woods such as pecan or even maple. You can also mix and match fruit woods with nut woods to get a well-rounded flavor. For assertive smoke flavor and a slower burn, I shoot for hickory, mesquite or oak. I even recommend “branching” out and trying woods such as grapevine, mulberry or olive branches for a more unique taste.

Remember, at the end of the day, it’s about your taste preference.


  • Seasoned salmon filets from yesterday
  • Olive oil, as needed

Step by Step

  1. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature for 25 to 30 minutes as you get the grill or charcoal started
  2. Bring the grill or charcoal to 400F degrees. If you’re using charcoal, once the charcoal is ashed over and glowing red, form it into a pyramid pile on the grill bed. Check the temperature by placing your hand about 10 inches over the coals. If the heat becomes unbearable after 4 seconds, your grill is roughly 400F degrees, or medium hot. Let the grill grate hover over the coals for 5 to 10 minutes so it gets hot, too.
  3. Once the salmon is at room temperature, add oil to all sides of the filet
  4. Place the salmon on the grill, skin side down, directly over the charcoal pyramid pile since that is the hottest part of the grill. We want the skin to get crispy.
  5. If you notice the salmon is burning, simply move it a little to the side of the grill. If you have a grill grate that moves up and down, you can raise the grate up and away from the coals to control heat and temperature.
  6. Cook the salmon on the skin side until it’s about 80% done. As the salmon cooks, you’ll see the color change from orange to a pale orange-pink color along the side of the salmon. Think of it like a built-in thermometer for fish cooking!
  7. After the salmon has cooked 80% of the way on the skin side, flip it over on the grill and finishing cooking for the remaining 20% of the way
  8. Once the salmon is cooked, transfer it from the grill to a plate, skin side facing up, so the skin stays crispy

Grated Tomato Vinaigrette

Prep Time: 10 to 15 minutes

This vinaigrette is all about celebrating tomatoes at their prime. It’s best to get them from a local farmer when they are ripe on the vine. An unripe tomato won’t do — They’re simply not as juicy.

This recipe is a more rustic version of sauce vierge, a classic from the “nouvelle” (new) cuisine of France. Sauce vierge (literally, virgin sauce) was created by one of my favorite French chefs, Michel Guerard. The lighter nouvelle cuisine rebuked old French classique cuisine, which was overly rich and heartily flavored. A breath of fresh French air breathed through the kitchen, if you will. Sauce vierge, like this grated tomato vinaigrette, emphasized light, fresh ingredients.


  • 1-1/4 lbs, very ripe heirloom beefsteak tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled, lightly smashed and finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chervil, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chives, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil

Step by Step

  1. Cut each tomato into equal halves
  2. Using a box grater with large holes over a wide bowl, grate the cut sides of the tomatoes until only the skins remain, yielding about 2 cups of tomato pulp in the bowl
  3. Next, finely chop the “fine herbs” and add them to the bowl
  4. Mince the garlic and shallot, then add them to the bowl
  5. Squeeze 3 tablespoons of lemon juice into the bowl
  6. Add the remaining dry ingredients
  7. Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil
  8. Let the vinaigrette stand for 15 minutes to marry the ingredients together

Shaved Summer Squash Salad

Prep Time: 15 to 20 minutes | Marinating Time: 15 minutes | Special Equipment: Mandoline

As you stroll through the summer farmers markets, you’ll see all sorts of summer squash. Everything from the classic green zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan to zephyr squash and other heirloom varieties. This dish can be made with any type of summer squash. The trick is to slice them thinly and let them marinate for 15 minutes so they are tasty and not too firm.


  • 1 lb. summer squash
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (using the same lemon you zested)
  • 2 tablespoons mint leaves, roughly torn
  • 2 tablespoons basil leaves, roughly torn
  • 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo chili powder (about a pinch)
  • Flaky sea salt, to taste

Step by Step

  1. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave the summer squash into long, thin strips
  2. Place the strips in a medium bowl and toss with the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, and a few pinches of salt
  3. Let it marinate for 15 minutes until softened and flavorful
  4. Finally, toss the roughly torn mint and basil leaves into the bowl, along with the Aleppo chili powder

Assembling the Plate

Prep Time: 5 minutes


  • Grilled salmon filets (recipe above)
  • Grated tomato vinaigrette (recipe above)
  • Shaved summer squash salad (recipe above)
  • Flaky sea salt

Step by Step

  1. Place the salmon on a large plate or platter, skin side up
  2. Spoon the grated tomato vinaigrette rustically over the salmon and the plate
  3. Arrange the summer squash ribbons all around the plate, leaving random gaps so the salmon and tomato peak through
  4. Enjoy with your friends and family!