Previous blog posts notwithstanding, we don’t spend every free moment careering about the back roads of rural France and Italy, pausing every few hours for an under-the-olive-tree feast. Truth is, we almost never go on picnics unless we’re on vacation or on a biking trip. Trying to find time when everyone’s schedule meshes during the day is like trying to plot when when three or four different orbiting satellites will pass within shouting distance–not impossible, but requiring more math and determination than any one of us can muster. We’re as overbooked as you are. Which is why when we do manage to find the time, having something special – other than what’s on offer from a gourmet deli – becomes all the more important. Enter Poached Salmon with Chipotle Yogurt. This is a bare bones poaching recipe, not just stripped down, but also dead easy (way easier than, say, frying chicken and then chilling it for an al fresco adventure). I’m not sure why Americans don’t poach more often – it’s really very simple.
If you give a mouse poached salmon he’s going to want some sorrel or tarragon mayonnaise to go with it. The tart lemon flavor of sorrel is great with salmon, and tarragon’s perfumed flavor evokes anise to my mind, a quality I had presumed was due to my romantic culinary imagination, until I later learned it was due to the presence of a chemical compound in tarragon called estragole, a compound that tastes like anise. Anyway, you could whip up some homemade mayo, and flavor it with either of these herbs, but as I said, this is bare bones recipe, so the idea is to create a condiment that works like mayo without the effort* hence the yogurt with a smoked pepper (chipotles are smoked, FYI). For the record, I have never been one of those people who spreads yogurt on sandwiches and tells themselves (we’re allowed to use that now, themselves) that it’s just like mayo. It’s not. But flavored yogurt can still be a great condiment. The pepper in this one takes things in direction far from the delicate herbiness of sorrel or tarragon, but it makes sense. A smoky condiment with a cold fish that is itself often smoked. No problem. The salmon can be served warm, allowed to cool to room temperature and then served, or chilled as I’ve suggested, for a picnic. If you’re planning on serving the salmon any way other than chilled, make the yogurt ahead of time. Until the ingredients have had time to rest, the sauce will taste rawly of garlic, with a fiery ending. After a few hours the flavors of lime, garlic and chipotle in adob0 permeate the yogurt; the garlic edge fades and the flavors start to play together instead of remaining sharply distinct.
A related piece of linguistic serendipity: unlike many English and French expressions, which mirror each other in concept and often even in vocabulary, the English cold fish has no French equivalent. An emotionally unexpressive French person is simply froid, or cold. Nothing fishy at all about it. I can only imagine French picnickers looking up from the cold salmon of their déjeuner sur l’herbe with expressions of puzzlement on their faces. A cold fish? What is bad about that? Nothing when it’s poached salmon, nothing at all. Enjoy. Ken
*I could argue that homemade mayo requires almost no effort at all, but unless you’ve done it you won’t believe me. Go here to give it a try.
Poached Salmon with Smoked Pepper Yogurt
Note: You will need a circle of parchment paper trimmed to fit a large sauté pan (see photo).
- 2 limes
- ¼ cup white wine
- ½ small onion, sliced
- ½ stalk celery, sliced
- ¼ teaspoon peppercorns
- ¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed, stems reserved
- Kosher salt
- 4 5-ounce pieces salmon, pin bones removed (see photos)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 chipotle pepper in adobo
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 scallion, sliced paper thin
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Zest and juice one of the limes. Cut the second into quarters for garnish.
- In a deep-sided sauté pan, combine the white wine, lime juice, onion, celery, peppercorns, fennel seeds bay leaf, thyme sprigs and basil stems. Add 3 cups water. Season with salt. Put on the stove and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Put into the pan, skin side up. The liquid should come just to the top of the fish. Add a bit more water if necessary. Cover with a circle of parchment and cook until done, 15 to 20 minutes. The fattest part of the fish should still be springy to the touch. You can reserve the poaching liquid in the refrigerator to use another time.
- While the fish is cooking, remove most of the seeds from the pepper and chop fine. Put into a bowl with the lime zest, yogurt, and grate the garlic clove into the yogurt. Season with salt and the sugar. Stir to combine, then allow to chill for a few hours if possible.
- When the fish is done, remove it from the pan and pat dry. Serve it skin side down with the yogurt. It can be eaten warm, at room temperature, or cold. Tear the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the fish with the scallions. If always like a little drizzle of little olive oil.
Sugar, olive oil and a second lime are missing from this photograph. Sigh…
Use your fingers to feel for pin bones. Extract them with needle nose pliers, holding the nearby flesh in place so it doesn’t tear. If you’re dividing one large piece into smaller portions, be sure to trim away the thin edge of the filet (it’s the strip in the photo) – it’s mostly skin and bones.
First of all, I apologize for adding ingredients to the recipe after the mis en place photo was taken. Ken’s a stickler for accuracy, and it drives him nuts when I do that. I added another lime, a pinch of sugar and some olive oil. We realized after we tasted the dish that it needed it.
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are ready to go, straight from the can, with a big punch of umami, spice and smokiness. I’d use them more, but they have a tendency to take over dishes, which means you have to be a little judicious with them, especially with an acidic ingredient like yogurt. Although salmon’s a bold-flavored fish, poaching it makes it a bit milder, so I knew I was taking a chance with this combination. I loved the result. In life you have to take risks.