Since farmed Atlantic salmon is bad for us and bad for the environment, I only eat wild salmon now. The fresh stuff, unfortunately, is crazy expensive, and my general salmon consumption dwindled as a result. Then I figured out that packaged, frozen salmon, sold in the freezer case near the fish counter at my market, is a fraction of the cost. And it's great stuff! Alaskan sockeye salmon, cut into nice 6-ounce portions and frozen right after it was caught--convenient and super-healthy.
I started eating salmon a lot more often, but I struggled to find the best cooking method. For all its faults, farmed salmon was fatty and just about fool proof--I couldn't over cook it if I tried. The sockeye is much more apt to dry out. A quick saute in a cast iron skillet works well if you keep an close eye on things, but the poaching method I learned from this recipe tops it all. The trick is to take the pan off the heat as soon as you add the fish, so there's no danger of blasting the delicate flesh while you tinker with the heat level.
The toasty little bits you see flanking the salad are roasted potato crisps, which add a nice starchy element to this meal, but some whole grain bread would be good too; or serve it over grains like quinoa or barley. Ever since I wrote an article on cooking with citrus, I've gotten bizarre enjoyment out of supreming, or removing the sections from, fruit like oranges. This salad gave me an excuse to do that and to eat fresh fennel, which I don't do often enough! This simple weeknight meal turned out to be a real winner.
Poached Salmon, Fennel & Orange Salad
Adapted from this recipe in Bon Appetit magazine.
Serves 2 (may be doubled)
For the salmon:
2 to 3 cups cold water
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs vinegar (use either white, cider or unseasoned rice vinegar)
4 whole cloves
8 black peppercorns
1/2 tsp coarse salt
2 salmon fillets with skin (4 to 6 oz each)
For the salad:
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
5 ounce bag mixed baby greens
1 1/2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 large naval orange, supremed
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (optional)
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a medium skillet with a tight-fitting lid, combine the water, sugar, vinegar, cloves, peppercorns and salt. You want the water to almost cover the fish, so eyeball it and use the amount that will get you there. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir until sugar dissolves. Add salmon, skin side up. Cover skillet and remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes. Turn the fillets, cover and let stand until flesh is just opaque in the center, 5 to 6 minutes more. Remove fillets from cooking liquid and cool slightly. Flake the fish with a fork into bite-sized pieces and discard skin and any bones.
Combine the lettuce and fennel in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and toss well. Add the orange sections, mint (if using) and salmon; season with salt and pepper (your best sea salt would be nice here) and toss gently. Serve right away with roasted potatoes, steamed grains or bread, if desired.