Neil Doherty, the executive chef at the Marker in Houston’s Adam’s Mark Hotel (2900 Briarpark Drive) was something of a child prodigy. By 21, he was already a head chef in his native Ireland, where he learned the value of cooking with local ingredients such as seaweed and nettles. He has been in the U.S. for seven years, and he finds Houston an ideal, if improbable, venue for Gaelic cooking, mainly because cooking with locally grown produce is popular here too. This whiskey-cured salmon is a hot-weather dream come true—no cooking required. The mellow paper-thin salmon slices, served with caper cream cheese and soda bread, are a cool entrée for a large party. See recipe, page 187.

Neil Doherty’s Whiskey-Cured Salmon

1 1/2 cups kosher salt
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cracked black peppercorns
4- to 5-pound salmon, deboned and fileted by butcher
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh sage
1 cup Irish whiskey
Walnut oil, as needed

Mix salt, sugar, and pepper together. Place half of salmon skin- side down in deep pan. Top with half of rosemary and sage, pour half of salt mixture over herbs, then place remaining herbs on top. Sprinkle with cup of whiskey. Cover with second side of salmon, skin-side up, and top with remaining salt mixture. Place another pan upside down over salmon, and put heavy weights on top of pan to press salmon. Cure for 48 hours in refrigerator. Turn fish over every 8 hours, and spoon liquid over salmon.

Before serving, remove herbs and excess salt, and brush salmon with walnut oil. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes. Slice paper thin with extremely sharp knife, and serve with soda bread (recipe follows), caper cream cheese, pickled asparagus, sliced sweet tomatoes, and diced green onions.

Variations: Instead of using rosemary and sage, which give the salmon a woodsy taste, try dill and tarragon for a sweeter flavor or rock samphire for a lemony-pine flavor.

Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup caraway seeds
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix together flour, sugar, salt, and soda. Cut in shortening, add buttermilk, and mix until smooth. Blend in caraway seeds. Place dough in 9-inch cake pan, and cut a cross shape on the top. Combine egg yolk and milk; brush egg wash over bread. Bake for 30 minutes. After removing from oven, cover with damp cloth for 10 minutes