I love the flesh color, the high oil content, the delicate taste and texture of Alaskan King Salmon. The cost of the wild fish is high right now since the season has just begun. Two weeks ago this fantastic salmon cost a whopping $29.99 per pound at Sanders Fish Market in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Then I noticed that Harbor Fish in Portland, Maine offered the Copper River King as a Memorial Day Week-end special at $20.00 per pound. Not a bad price, relatively speaking, so I splurged and prepared a special spring dinner: crispy salmon with a sauce made of butter, white wine, lemon and creme fraiche.
The sauce was inspired by a Pierre Troisgros classic that includes fish fumet, but the sauce is delicious and much faster to prepare without the splash of fish stock. Troisgros also used sorrel in his sauce. This lemony green is lovely with salmon, but if, like me, your sorrel supplier is nowhere in site, you can substitute baby spinach. Spinach is everywhere.
Valerie, my darling guinea pig, is not enamored with the smell of sizzling salmon and she had never eaten crisped salmon skin before I presented it to her–so to see her lapping up the sauce and enjoying the crackling skin gave me a thrill. The recipe I present to you does not require that you use Alaskan King Salmon. A responsibly raised, antibiotic free Scottish Salmon will do. In fact, some people prefer the taste of farmed salmon. Here are a few important tips to remember when making this dish:
1. Crispy skin is easy to create if you have an extemely sharp knife and are willing to score the skin of your fish. Remember to create parrallel and superficial slashes in your skin. Then your seasoning will really penetrate your fish and the fish skin will not curl. Be very careful not to cut too deeply into the delicate flesh!
2 .Make sure you use a lightly oiled nonstick pan and get the pan smoking hot before you add your fish, skin side-down. Once the fish is in the pan, turn the heat down to medium and don’t touch the fish until three-quarters of the fish has turned white. Then gently flip the fish onto the fleshy side and let it cook for another minute or so. Refrain from overcooking your fish.
3. While the fish is resting, create your sauce. If you let most of the wine evaporate and allow the sauce to thicken slightly it will be luxurious.
4. Creme fraiche is richer, fatter, more buttery tasting than sour cream. It also will not curdle when you raise the heat.
5. Most experts agree that a refreshing Sancerre is the perfect wine for salmon. Use some in the sauce and then serve it with your meal.
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- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt and crush pink peppercorns for seasoning the salmon
- Sea salt for seasoning the sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)
- 2 large shallots, finely diced
- 1/2 cup white wine, preferably Sancerre
- 20 ounces creme fraiche
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
- 2 cups baby spinach, washed, dried and loosely packed
- 4 salmon fillets, skin on, scored (about 5 ounces each) *See Note
- Season the skin side of the scored salmon fillets with sea salt and crushed pink peppercorns. Turn salmon over and season the fleshy side of the salmon with sea salt.
- In a 14-16 inch nonstick pan, heat olive oil until smoking.
- Carefully place the fillets in the pan, skin side down. Turn heat down slightly and cook without disturbing for 6 minutes or until two thirds of the salmon flesh has turned white.) Now gently turn each fillet with a fish spatula and cook on the flesh side for 1 minute. Remove the salmon fillets from the pan, place on a tray and allow to rest for 3 minutes while you create the sauce.
- On stove in a medium saucepan melt 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter. Add shallots and cook until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add wine and cook till wine almost evaporates (about 3 minutes). Add creme fraiche, and boil until slightly thickened about 2 minutes. Add last tablespoon unsalted butter and swirl into mixture.
- Add spinach and cook for 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat. Season with lemon juice and salt. Spoon sauce and spinach into the center of a plate. Top the sauce with crispy salmon fillet, skin side up.
- Scoring the salmon skin prevents the skin from curling. It also allows your seasoning to better penetrate your fish. You can either ask your fishmonger to do this task for you or, if your knife is really sharp, you can create 3 or 4 parallel shallow slashes on the skin side of your fillet. Make sure your slashes barely penetrate the flesh. You do not want to cut too deeply into your fish fillet.