Go Wild If You Can!
I remember when salmon was such a luxury. Forty, or even twenty, years ago there were no farm-raised salmon. Salmon were a springtime indulgence for those with an ample purse. I have mixed feelings about farm-raised salmon. Yes, I know that it’s bad for the environment and the wild salmon population and that it doesn’t taste as good and isn’t as healthy, and, and…. but I can’t help feeling that it’s better for a whole lot of people to have access to salmon, no matter how inferior, than just a few. Forgive me if I’m wrong.
It is the most adaptable of fish – you can grill, poach, steam or barbeque it, serve it hot or cold, smoke it, or make it into gravlax or tartare. In this recipe you brine it overnight, cook it on a ridged grill pan, put it on a bed of spinach and serve it with a tarragon butter. What could be simpler?
Salmon with Tarragon Butter on a Bed of Spinach
2 – 6 oz. salmon filets, skin on, preferably wild
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 oz. unsalted butter
1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, finely chopped
A large pinch of lemon rind (optional)
1 teaspoon olive oil
12 oz. fresh spinach, large stems removed
I like to brine salmon because I think it makes it more succulent and tender, but, if time is not on your side, it isn’t esssential. To brine: Spread the salt on the non-skin side of each salmon piece, and put the two salted sides together to form a sandwich. Place in a dish to just fit, cover with plastic wrap and put in the relrigerator overnight or for up to 24 hours.
Before cooking the salmon and the spinach, make the tarragon butter. Pound the tarragon leaves with a little salt in a pestle and mortar. Add the butter bit by bit until you have an unctuous green mass. Add the optional lemon rind.
To cook the salmon: Wash the salt off well and pat dry. Brush the skinless sides of the salmon with a smidgeon of olive oil and some pepper (it won’t need salt).
Heat a ridged grill pan until dangerously hot (2-3 minutes), adding a few drops of oil. Cook the salmon, skin side down, for 4 minutes. Turn it over and, depending on its thickness, cook for a further 2-3 minutes. It should be firm but springy to the touch and rare in the center. The skin can be served or removed easily with a knife or spoon.
In the meantime, wash the spinach, drain most of the water, and cook it over fairly high heat with the lid on, turning it over a few times until reduced and cooked (3-5 minutes). Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Add a little butter, salt and pepper. When the salmon is just about cooked, reheat the spinach.
To serve: Put half the spinach on each of two plates. Top with the salmon and a good dolop of the tarragon butter. Enjoy!
Variations: If you don’t have tarragon available, there are a zillion other butters you can make with herbs – basil, dill, chervil, chive and lemon, garlic and parsley, sorrel (especially good with salmon), mixed herbs – the possibilities are endless. In the case of garlic and parsley, you need to pound the garlic with the parsley before adding the butter and if you’re lucky enough to have fresh sorrel, you should blanch it briefly and pat it dry before adding the butter.
Herb butters are a wonderful addition to steaks, fish, chicken and fresh veggies. If you have extra herbs available, increase the amount of butter to 2-4 oz. and roll the end product in plastic wrap to form a small cylinder. Then freeze it and cut off slices as needed.
Sam adds: I am unfamiliar with sorrel, though I hear my mom mention it from time to time–I’m not sure it’s available in the U.S.? (I don’t remember ever coming across it, but maybe that’s just because I”m not looking for it!) In any case, you can find out more about it here, if you’re curious.
This dish is simply superb — emphasis on simple–and it has that wonderful combination of being healthy and delicious. People wonder why the salmon tastes so good. I’ve even made it with only 8 or so hours of marinating in the salt — 24 is better, but it still worked (I washed off a bit less of the salt). The herb butters are also good to have on hand.