Life on the East Coast has been Just Plain Weird lately. I don't get it. 70 degrees in January? Are you kidding me? It snowed (flurries) four days later. Wardrobe dilemmas aside, it leaves my tastebuds dazed and confused. Do I want the hot cappuchino or the iced latte? Hearty soup or refreshing salad? Ice cream or apple pie for desert? (Maybe both?).
Yesterday's venture into recipe avenue also led me astray. It started out with a location and all the best of intentions. I felt tired of hearty, heavy food and wanted something satisfying but relatively light that was not Yet Another Salad. I began perusing epicurious.com for interesting salmon recipes, whereupon I discovered "Poached Salmon with Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes". It received absolutely wonderful reviews from everyone who had made it. It looked fresh, filling, and easy. Best of all, the flavors were delicate - a nice change from my recent adventures with mushrooms.
Now, I have a thing for salmon that goes beyond this particularly hilarious poster. My dad makes the best salmon around - grilled, fresh, with lots of garlic on top and sometimes a bit of Lawry's Seasoned Salt and bits of char where the grill marks are. Oh, I have never had better Salmon than the dinner he grills up. It is a versatile fish, because although it is somewhat fatty and sweet, it can hold up to a robust sauce in a way that other moist fish like Tilapia can't. Best of all, Wild Alaskan Salmon is one of the most environmentally responsible fish choices out there, because of the well sustained and responsibly harvested fish population in Alaska (don't be fooled by Atlantic Salmon, which is an overfished population, or farmed salmon, which is not as Earth Friendly as one might think).
If you haven't had wild salmon (look for varieties like Sockeye and Silverbright), you haven't had salmon at all - the real stuff simply does not compare to its relatively flavorless, mushy, and environmental-damage-inducing neighbor, farmed salmon. The first time I cooked wild salmon, I had to get Greg to agree that the fish was actually cooked - the color is vibrant, the texture is different, and the taste is strong and delicious. All taste aside, the development of a natural, thriving salmon population in Alaska is really something every saavy citizen should think about when choosing which fish to buy.
The recipe of interest thus follows... salmon is poached in a broth of white wine and then served alongside a creamy mayonaise based sauce with fresh taragon, chives, parsley and shallot. White wine viniger and Dijon round out the acid flavors in the sauce. The sauce was to be the true star of the show: tangy, zippy and fresh. I made up my shopping list and walked to the store with the following experience:
- The tarragon was wilted and dull (It's January. What on earth was I expecting?)
- Chives were nowhere to be located
- The store didn't carry shallots
- For some reason I came home with a bag of spinach
Given the above difficulties (why would anything like cooking dinner ever be simple?), I decided on a substitution that is perhaps an obvious but Not Quite Right match: green onion and garlic for the chives and shallot. The general flavors of onion, garlic and that undefinable "fresh" were there, true, but green onion and garlic are very harsh flavors whereas chive and shallot would have been subtle, mellow and, well, perfect, had they been available. I was worried that the sauce would have too much bite, although it turned out later that I needn't be. Seeing as I had some spinach (and no idea how it got in my shopping basket) and an impatient mood on my hands, I decided on a few more modifications:
- Panfry the salmon
- Substitute pasta for potatoes, and make a quick sauce of sliced onion, capers, lemon and butter
- Wilt in some spinach at the end so as to not feel entirely silly about bringing it home without a purpose.
And, thank goodness, it all worked out great. This was a wonderful meal, a completely different flavor from my more recent salty choices, and it was not very time consuming to prepare. The pasta was a bit tart and might not suit everyone's personal taste (be forewarned), but I really wanted that burst of flavor and I appreciated having a contrast to the mayonaise based sauce. I wouldn't call it a polished recipe, but it worked for what I was craving that night. The tarragon sauce, however, is a definite keeper. The recipe listed makes quite a bit extra (more than one cup for my two serving recipe!), but it's the right flavor to dip almost anything in. Literally, I think it would make overboiled cabbage taste good. In fact, we had it over eggs and toast for today's breakfast, it'll be poured on top of lettuce as a dressing for today's dinner, and I think tomorrow I'll toss in some warm diced new potatoes with whatever's left for a little upbeat potato salad.
Thank goodness for "Spring" in January, right?
Salmon with Tarragon, Green Onion and Garlic Sauce
Recipe adapted from Epicurious
1 large bunches fresh tarragon
4 stalks green onions
3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1-2 pound salmon fillet(s)
Heat oil in pan and add fish. Sear lightly on each side (1 minute per) and add 1 cup water. Cover to steam fish and finish cooking (approximately 5-10 minutes, depending on the thickness of fish). Plate fish and empty pan, reserving 2 tbsp cooking juices. Wilt spinach in juices over low heat (approximately 1 minute) and spoon over salmon with previously prepared tarragon sauce with freshly grated pepper.
Fettuchini with Lemon, Capers and Onion
1/2 onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup capers
1 medium lemon
Pasta for two servings (~150g - I used Fettuchini)
Parmesan to serve over the top
Bring large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Meanwhile, add onion, capers and 1 tbsp butter to pan and cook gently over low heat until onions are soft and cooked through. When the water boils, cook pasta according to package directions. Add the juice of 1 lemon and 2tbsp pasta water to the pan. Reduce by half, stir in remaining butter and capers. Toss with drained pasta and serve with freshly grated parmesan.