I was reminded of a poached salmon dish that spontaneously came about when Simon Sampson, Yakima tribal fisherman and market vendor, brought over a sparkling-fresh salmon steak for me to cook. A market shopper who had seen the demo in action, then read about it in the blog, A Little Red Hen, said that I should post the recipe. More method than recipe, here’s what I did:
Trim any bones from the belly flaps of the steaks. (There are sometimes rib bones attached). Use a sharp fish boning knife and kitchen shears to carefully cut these away, leaving the belly flaps in tact. Leave the center (round) bone in place.
Place the fish bones in a pot and add aromatics. For 2 steaks, I used a carrot, a stalk of celery, a few thyme stems, a glass of white wine, a bay leaf, several peppercorns, some mushroom stems, a large pinch of salt, and a few leek trimmings (onion would work as well). Basically, you just use vegetables and spices that will compliment the fish you are using. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the poaching broth develop flavor over the next 15 or 20 minutes. Strain the broth.
Place the salmon in a shallow pot (called a sautoir – a sauté pan with high sides, see first picture above). If you want, you can pin the belly flaps of the steak together with a toothpick. That way, they will hold their shape and not splay out when immersed in hot liquid. Gently pour the liquid over the salmon and place the sautoir over a very low flame. The fish should not simmer, rather sit in a very hot bath of flavorful broth, just below the point of simmering. This slow cooking will allow the proteins to set softly, resulting in very silky, tender steaks. Think about eggs – when eggs are fried, the proteins set quickly and the whites are very firm, too fast and they are rubbery. When an egg is poached, the proteins coagulate much more slowly. The white is more tender. The same happens to the proteins in the fish. Slower baking or poaching equals softer set proteins. Grilled or broiled fish equals firmer flesh.
As a general rule, poach salmon 7 minutes per inch of fish. Test for doneness by gently tugging at the center bone (the backbone that is in the center of the steak). When it comes out with little effort, the fish is done. Remove it from the broth with a slotted spatula.
The poached salmon was paired with sautéed mushrooms, seasoned with garlic, ginger, green onions, and sesame oil. I tossed in some very fresh, crisp slices of bok choy from Deep Roots farm towards the end. Pierre-Louis, Monteillet owner and cheese maker, offered some wasabi chevre. It was welcomed to the dish, as it made a fine, as well as effortless “sauce” accompaniment.