I may or may not be just a little obsessed with these gorgeous vacuum sealed slabs of Northwest gorgeousness from Troller Point Fisheries. That and the chervil, delicately taking over my garden right now. It's finally spring here at the homestead- the wisteria has buds, the peonies are growing- daffodils everywhere - green grass ! And green, green, green all over the garden. The garden was, as it usually is, my inspiration for this dish, which comes together beautifully for company, but is relatively easy to prepare. The herb salad cuts richness of the buerre-blanc, and is the perfect antidote to the crispy salmon skin.
I'm a recent convert to the salmon skin - proof it's never too late. Through all my years of eating salmon I thought of it as no more than a delicious treat for the pups (blasphemy!) But at some point earlier this year- perhaps after watching my friend's 5 year old daughter climb on the table to get her hands on the salmon skin - I decided it was time to reconsider. I'm glad I did. The trick is getting the skin crispy, and when you do, you'll be rewarded with soft, lightly flakey flesh with a crispy, savory, salt studded crust.
Skin like this is the perfect foil for butter (which, apparently people are whizzing into their coffees these days). I stand completely unabashedly proud of my butter habit. And the fish deserve it. One by one they're brought into the boat, carefully cleaned and processed, and quickly frozen to seal in the sea salty moisture. Give them butter. Give them loads of butter.
And cut it with herbs. If an herb salad sounds foreign to you, as the salmon skin once did, reconsider. Salad doesn't have to mean lettuce. In fact, tossing out the lettuce altogether and showering your salmon (or steak, or pork, or beans) with a handful of mixed herbs tossed in vinaigrette will take it to another level. I'm salivating thinking of the juicy steaks I enjoyed in Argentina, dressed with parsley and vinegar chimichurri. If you don't have access to delicate anise-scented chervil (it's easy to grow), you can substitute parsley, or ideally, parsley with a bit of tarragon. The sorrel is hard to replicate- it looks similar to spinach but it's somewhat pungently acidic, from oxalic acid. You can substitute spinach and extra lemon juice. If all else fails and herbs evade you, toss a bit of arugula in lemon and olive oil and call it a day.
I love how bright and colorful this dish is - evocative of spring but also a testament to the fish. The fishermen tell me that Coho salmon like colorful lewers and require their own set of special gear to attract them. I hope I've done them justice, dressed in butter, and topped with spring.
Pan Seared Coho with Chervil Butter Sauce & Sorrel Herb Salad
Pan searing is a great way to showcase all the delicious bits of the salmon - particularly the skin, which is nearly as good as the fish itself when seared to a crisp. Cooking the salmon with the skin-on also insulates the less fatty coho from overcooking. The buttery sauce helps balance the meatier fish (as opposed to King) and the herb salad adds acid, dimension, and freshness. I indulged and served over creamy leeks (recipe below) that had overwintered nicely in my garden but a bed of buttery mashed potatoes would do just fine.
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons minced shallot
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup chervil leaves
2 tablespoons high heat oil (I used avocado)
1 1lb 8oz Coho salmon side cut into 4 5oz filets (net weight after trimming was alb 4oz)
3 tablespoons sorrel leaves, stems removed, cut in thin chiffonade
2 cups chervil leaves, stems removed, lightly packed
1/4 cup chives, cut to about 1/2 inch length
3 1/2 tablespoons tangelo juice (orange or grapefruit can be substituted)
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
Prepare your salmon. If you're using a whole side, you may want to trim it a bit as illustrated in the photo above. Trim the tail and top, and the long strip of belly meat, so that you have 4 even portioned filets. The trimmings are wonderful the next day in a scramble or Rustic Farm Egg Quiche with Salmon & Chives -whatever you do, don't waste them, they're delicious. Check the filets for pin bones- if you're using Troller Point salmon, you're unlikely to find them. Season the filets generously with medium coarse or flaked salt and pepper if you desire. Set aside while you prepare ingredients for the sauce and herb salad.
Combine the sorrel, chervil, and chives in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the tangelo juice, lemon juice, salt and honey. Drizzle in the oil and whisk to emulsify. Dress the salad lightly and set aside somewhere cool.
Start your sauce by combining the wine, shallots, lemon juice and salt in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Cook until reduced by half and remove from heat and set aside.
Preheat a large frying pan over medium high heat. Return to your salmon and press between paper towels to make sure they are extremely dry. Add the oil to the pan and heat until shimmery and almost smoking. Once your oil is very hot, slide in the salmon filets skin side down (don't allow them to touch if possible), and immediately turn the heat down to medium low. The switch to low heat is key - and will prevent the fish from cooking too fast and expressing all the white albumen. Be sure to press down on each filet with a flat spatula for the first 1-2 minutes, but don't move them around. This will help to encourage crispiness and prevent the skin from curling up and cooking unevenly. If you have a thermometer, now is a good time to pull it out.
Once the skin is nice and crispy (about 6 minutes --a good indicator is when it starts to move easily around the pan), you'll flip the filets for a final minute sear on the other side. If you like your salmon medium-rare, you're aiming for an internal temperature of about 115-120 degrees when taken off the heat- keeping in mind the fish will continue to cook somewhat after being removed. I like my salmon a little more done and prefer to cook to about 125 degrees but that's your call. Don't let it cook beyond 130 degrees otherwise you'll have a filet full of white albumen with chalky meat. Err on the side of undercooking if you're worried- you can always give it a quick sear to cook it more. Once your salmon is done, set it aside on a towel lined plate to rest.
Finish your sauce. Return the wine reduction to a simmer- and whisk in the butter in small pieces. Pour the sauce in a blender or food processor along with the chervil and blend until smooth. Give the sauce a minute to rest -- it will thicken as the butter cools. Serve, spooned over the salmon (skin side up), and drizzled on the plate. Top with a generous handful of herb salad.
Cream Braised Leeks
Serves 4 as a small side dish
1/2 cup cream
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons butter
2 lbs leeks, ends and dark green parts trimmed, cut lengthwise into quarters
Squeeze of lemon
Salt & pepper
Clean your leeks well in a bowl of water. If you've trimmed and sliced them already, this will be a cinch. If not, you'll want to at least slice them lengthwise in half before washing in order to get out any bits of dirt that lodged in while growing. Strain them to dry (a little wet is fine). Lay leeks flat in a 9-12-inch sauté pan. Cover with cream, water and butter. Bring to a boil and then quickly reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring gently once to distribute the butter, until the leeks are tender and the cream has reduced down by at least half. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon.