Wild Alaskan Salmon and Spinach Soubise

In all those years of working in my Dad's landscaping business, I never imagined that wild Alaskan salmon would make its way into "things clients give my father." Those divided tins of popcorn? Yes. Popsicles on a hot day? Of course. Even designer men's clothing (for some reason all the wealthy clients seem to have either gained or lost a tremendous amount of weight and have a small Brooks Brothers thing going on in the backs of their closets with button-down shirts that no longer fit them, and they've largely determined that giving them to my Dad is probably the most logical step before The Salvation Army). Usually client-gifts of this sort are confusing, not terribly useful, and serve as funny anecdotes for years until I round them into an article or blog post. But last month a client of my father's returned home from his "annual fishing trip to Alaska" and with him brought a king's ransom of wild salmon caught, gutted, and vacuumed sealed in the presence of grizzly bears by an arctic river.

"Do you want any? Here, take some! Only two? Well, okay."
My dad would not accept more than two packages because he is polite. I am glad he was polite - I might not have been and that is not a good way to Make Impressions With Clients. So it was that some of the finest fish on the planet ended up in my freezer fo' free. Look, I don't know what ever happened to the idea of giving people gifts of meat, cheese, produce, honey, etc. that put it out of style, but if you ever want to come to my door with an offering of home-cured sausage or cheese from your dairy or, you know, four enormous fillets from a salmon you caught while a grizzled brown bear breathed down your neck, be my guest. I'm not going to refuse that kind of a gift. Probably because I nerded out so audibly once I found out about the salmon, my family appointed me to be the one to figure out how best to cook it. We cook plain old probably-sadly-farmed salmon all the time but those normal methods of cookery would not at all suit this king of all fish fillets by any means.
Of course I immediately wanted to make homemade lox but I had doubts about how my family would receive that idea. They've got notions about things and the easiest way to please nine hungry bears of my own at dinnertime is to keep it clean, classic, but with finesse.
A few of you might remember that I received The A.O.C. Cookbook by Suzanne Goin for my birthday and had been aching to use it at a proper moment. These dishes are elevated, restaurant-quality food, but feasible accomplishments for the average home-cook who is willing to read the recipe carefully and do as it says. I have replicated the recipe almost verbatim because that is how I ended up cooking it: a gentle citrus-herb fusion of flavors to the salmon which allows the natural glamour of such a fish to shine. You don't have to use fancy salmon, however. Any sustainably-caught salmon will do. The fish sits on a bed of soublise which is essentially a backward risotto: all creamy onions and spinach with the tiniest bit of rice baked in. Then over the top goes the most dreamy lemon butter sauce - really a beurre blanc which is not half as difficult to make as the name suggests. I served ours with a light green salad to balance the richness of flavors and it was a meal on which legends are launched. I've rearranged the "order of events" in the recipe to better reflect how the preparation of this meal worked for me as I made it. Otherwise, a careful read-through or two of the recipe is all that stands between you and ultimate success. I'm not going to say that the success of this recipe hung on the quality of the fish we were lucky enough to have. I'm actually certain that the delicious qualities of the companion sauce + soubise are enough to dress up any supermarket fish in renaissance clothing. So don't worry an undue lot about whether or not what fish you have is worth it. It is so worth it. This dish doesn't play games - it's here to destroy you in the best way.

Wild Salmon With Spinach Soubise & Lemon Butter
serves 6-8 comfortably

for the salmon:
6 fillets wild salmon, 5-6 ounces each, skin on
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

for the lemon butter (beurre blanc):
1 whole organic lemon
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 Tablespoons finely diced green onion (white parts only)
1 cup white cooking wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 bay leaf
2 black peppercorns
1/2 cup heavy cream
10 Tablespoons butter, cubed
3/4 cups thinly sliced leeks
2-4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and finely ground black pepper

for spinach soubise:
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup diced white onino, plus 6 cups thinly sliced white onions (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
1 Tablespoon thyme leaves
1/2 cup Aborio rice
1/2 pound frozen spinach, plus 2 cups thinly sliced baby spinach
1/4 cup heavy cream
sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

  1. Four hours before dinner, season salmon with the zest, thyme leaves, and parsley. Cover and let chill till ready to cook. Remove the fish from the fridge 15 minutes before cooking to bring to room temperature.
  2. An hour before dinner begin to prepare the soubise: heat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a large ovenproof saucepan over medium heat for one minute. Add the butter and when it foams, add the diced and sliced onions, thyme, two teaspoons of salt, and the pepper. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook the onions gently for about 10 minutes, stirring often. They should soften and wilt but not be allowed to color at all. While the onions are cooking, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Cook the rice for five minutes and drain well. Stir the blanched rice into the onions. Remove the pot from the heat and cover it with foil, then a tight-fitting lid. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes.
  3. While the soubise is cooking, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to boil. Blanch the 1/2 pound spinach for 30 seconds, and cool in a bowl of ice water. Squeeze out the excess water and puree in a food processor, adding a couple tablespoons of water to get it going.
  4. Remove the soubise from the oven and let it "rest" (covered) about 15 minutes. Just before serving, uncover the soubise and heat it over medium heat, stirring once or twice. When the soubise is hot, stir in the spinach puree, sliced spinach, and cream. Taste for seasoning.
  5. Slice both ends from your lemon. Stand the lemon on one end, vertically cutting it in 1/8" slices. Stack the slices in small piles, slicing lengthwise into 1/8" thick matchsticks. Line up and chop into 1/8" cubes. You will need 1/4 cup of diced lemon.
  6. Place the chopped green onion, white wine, lemon juice, bay leaf, peppercorns, and thyme sprigs in a medium non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced to 2 Tablespoons, then add the cream. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and cook for about another 5 minutes, until the cream is reduced by half and is thickened and glossy. Slowly add the butter, whisking constantly, until it is completely incorporated.
  7. Strain the butter sauce into a clean saucepan, and add the leeks, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Cook over low heat for a minute or two, until the leeks are wilted. Stir in the diced lemon and taste for balance and seasoning. Keep the sauce warm.
  8. Heat a large saute pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Swirl the olive oil in the pan and wait 1 minute. Carefully lay the fish in the pan skin-side down and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes until the skin is crisp. Turn the fish over, lower the heat, and cook for another minute or two, until the salmon is still a little bit rare in the center, as it will continue to cook after you've removed it from the heat.
  9. Serve salmon on a bed of soubise with a few tablespoons of the lemon butter and leeks spooned over-top and around it.

This post (sadly) doesn't come with many photos because though I did end up blogging about the recipe, I wanted to enjoy the meal with my family while it was hot and because I was the one trying to cook twelve pieces of salmon at the same time and get them all to come out hot and ready at once. My apologies for a lack of interesting photos in this post - you'll just have to make it yourself to see how magical a recipe it is! I'd love to do a Take Two of this dinner at a dinner party, maybe this autumn. And on that note - I've had exactly...three dinner parties? Have I done only two? Good lord. That's means I've got two-thirds of my challenge left and only one third of the year left. *sob*

1 comment

  1. Looks amazing! That is such a cool way to get fresh fish. :)