Monday, April 25, 2011

Irish-style Salmon with Mint-Watercress Sauce

Yesterday for Easter with most of the kids and the grand kids, we had roasted salmon fillets with a sauce I had previously developed for a St. Patrick's Day banquet we catered in Athens. It was not main-stream Irish, but more Irish inspired. Easter dinner was well received.

Here's the article I wrote in the Athens Banner Herald just before St. Patrick's Day. The only difference yesterday was that we roasted two whole salmon fillets because of the crowd.

Dondero: Salmon still a fine dish on Emerald Isle

Athens Banner-Herald

Published Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Centuries ago in British-ruled Ireland, poaching a salmon had quite different results depending who you were and which type of poaching you did.

For the nobility who owned the lands, the rivers and the game in them, their cooks poached salmon in the kitchen for delectable dining. By contrast, if you were an Irish peasant out poaching a salmon from the river - and the water bailiff caught you - you could be hanged as a thief or transported as a convict to colonial Georgia or Australia.

Salmon was, and still is, fine dining in Ireland. And now with Ireland's economy improved and feudal land ownership laws long gone, salmon - wild-caught or farm-raised - is more widely available.

The culinary technique of poaching involves simmering the fish in a "court bouillon" seasoned with aromatic vegetables, herbs, white wine and lemon juice. It's antiquated and requires an enormously long pan plus a whole fish.

Nowadays, and especially with salmon fillets or steaks, roasting in a very hot oven is faster, more practical and, to my palette, preferable.

Here's a delightful salmon dish for St. Patrick's Day, roasted salmon with an easy yet beautiful green-flecked sauce of cream, mint and other fresh herbs, thickened with lemon juice. The pink-orange, white and green of the salmon and its sauce suggest the colors of the Irish flag, especially if you've had a Jameson or two as your aperitif.

Mint goes surprisingly well with fish. It's a typical pairing in Greek and Cypriot cooking. But the sauce also can be made with watercress.

Wine was not common in traditional Ireland, the climate being generally inhospitable for grapes. My informants who grew up in the country say that wine remains rare with food, though sherry might be served before or after the meal.

Here, however, a rich, buttery salmon dish calls for a cold chardonnay, preferably one without much oak. Alternatively, a Sauvignon blanc goes well with fish, and the wine's acidity complements the sauce, which contains lemon juice.

The recipe serves 6 people generously.


For the fish:

2 to 3 pounds skinless salmon fillet, as fresh as possible

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons butter, melted

Juice of 1 lemon

For the sauce:

8 mint leaves or 4 sprigs watercress or a combination

4 large sprigs watercress, leafy parts only

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cut salmon into six pieces. Wipe with paper towel. Sprinkle both sides moderately with salt and lightly with pepper.

Paint or rub melted butter over all surfaces. Place fish, dark line down, on a metal cookie sheet. Squeeze lemon evenly over fish. Lift pieces to get some juice under them. Allow to marinate until 15 minutes before serving time.

While the fish is cooking make the sauce. On cutting board, finely mince the fresh herbs together using a chef's knife.

Combine with remaining ingredients. Let sit 5 minutes. Taste, and add salt, if needed.

Place salmon pieces on dinner plates and spoon sauce over them.

Heat oven to 450 degrees and temporarily disconnect the smoke alarm. Roast salmon on highest shelf for 10 minutes.

Test for doneness by sticking a sharp knife tip into the fattest part of the fish and twisting. There should be no dark, uncooked color apparent inside.

If there is, return fish to oven and roast 1 to 2 more minutes.


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