06/26/13 • SALMON WITH CREME FRAICHE
Well folks, it’s been nearly two weeks since my Achilles’ surgery and I’m happy to report that I’m pain-free and back in “the boot.” This is an infinitely more appealing option than the splint I left the hospital in as it allows for the possibility of airing your foot out once in a while, and of wearing something other than gym shorts and sweatpants. Regrettably, however, I’m still required to keep all weight off my right foot, which, of course, means crutches. These have taken some time to get used to, and though I’m still feeling pretty limited in my movements, I’ve actually gotten pretty adept at navigating the world on them (even stairs!). Of course, mastering the crutch walk also means learning to slow yourself down, recognizing that things which used to take maybe two minutes (brushing your teeth, putting a shirt on a hanger, loading a plate in the dishwasher) are now potentially hazardous activities and will therefore take roughly four times as long—if you’re lucky. Still, life has resumed a degree of normalcy, even if the most complex cooking tasks I’ve taken on have been limited to protein shakes and green salads. I’m hoping that in the coming weeks I’ll become sufficiently adept on the crutches (and comfortable standing on one foot for longer periods of time) to tackle more demanding dishes—and to photograph the process, as I must do for this site. Until then, however, I still have a few shoots in my inventory to work with—done in the weeks immediately preceding my tennis mishap—like this one for roasted salmon with crème fraîche and tarragon.
The recipe is actually a long-time favorite, pulled a decade or so ago from the pages of Fine Cooking. In fact, I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to bring it to you. The only explanation I have for this is that the dish is one I tend to be drawn to in spring and early summer, and as such represents a fairly small window within which to act. Of course, there’s nothing to keep you from making it at any time of the year—none of the ingredients are seasonal or challenging to find—it’s just that there’s something about the soft pink of the salmon and the bright flavor of its accompanying crème fraîche sauce (given a little zip thanks to the addition of vermouth, sautéed shallot, lemon juice, and tarragon) that makes it seem particularly well suited to these gentle, celebratory days of early summer. In both flavor and temperament it’s a dish that brings to mind one of those mainstays of the season—salmon with béarnaise sauce (a sauce that features many of the same ingredients).
It’s also considerably easier than this classic, with none of the potentially hazardous challenges of making a butter sauce. That’s due in large part to the fact that this version essentially prepares itself in the oven, while cooking alongside the salmon. To start you simply whip the crème fraîche with the lemon juice and tarragon, then sauté the minced shallot in a portion of the butter and the ½ cup of vermouth. Once the butter/shallot combination has cooked down to something thick and shiny (a few minutes will do it) remove the pan from the heat and gently lay in your salmon filets, which have previously been salted and peppered. Pour the crème fraîche mixture over the salmon, cover with a buttered round of parchment paper (buttered side down, to ensure the fish stays nice and moist during its stay in the oven), then slide into a 350˚ oven for 20 minutes or so (or slightly less, depending on how fast your oven is—this is not a dish you want to overcook).
Once the fish has lost its translucent quality, remove the pan from the oven and gently place the filets on a plate (one of those extra large fish spatulas comes in super handy here), keeping them warm under tented foil. All that remains is to thicken up the sauce slightly over medium heat (again, a few minutes will do it), whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and you’re done. Garnished with a little fresh dill or chives, and served alongside some sugar snap peas, and you have the perfect warm weather meal. A dish worthy of a special occasion, for sure, but also one with the ability to simply make a warm summer evening that much more special.
—3 tbs fresh lemon juice
—2 tsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
—8 oz ( scant cup) crème fraîche
—1/4 cup unsalted butter; more for the parchment
—2 tbs minced shallot
—1/2 cup dry vermouth
—4 skinless salmon fillets (6 to 7 oz), preferably center cut
—Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
—Minced fresh dill or chives for garnish
—Heat the oven to 350˚.
—Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside a large ovenproof skillet, sauté pan, or flameproof baking dish. Lightly butter one side of the parchment.
—Combine the lemon juice, tarragon, and crème fraîche in a small bowl and set aside.
—Melt 2 tbs of the butter in the pan or baking dish over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and vermouth and reduce to a glaze; remove from the heat. Season the fillets with salt and pepper and arrange in a single layer in the pan. Pour the crème fraîche mixture over the salmon, cover with the parchment butter side down, and bake until the salmon is just opaque throughout, 18 to 20 minutes. Don’t overcook!
—Transfer the salmon to a plate and keep warm. Put the pan over medium heat and reduce the sauce until it’s thick enough to lightly coat a spoon. Remove from the heat, whisk in the remaining 2 tbs butter, and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
—Put each salmon fillet on a warm dinner plate and spoon the sauce over each. Garnish with dill or chives.