I started working my way through the list of dishes I was planning to cook this weekend:
- Pork tenderloin with polenta cakes and broccoli rabe -- nope, that needs a marinade
- Rhubarb pie -- yeah right
- Fresh pasta with pea pesto -- you are kidding!
- Turnip soup with maple cream -- really easy, but has to simmer for a while
- Slow roasted salmon with chive oil -- that's it!
My rule of thumb for cooking fish is high heat (400F or higher) and quick cooking time (8-10 minutes per inch of thickness). But what are rules for, but to be broken? A while ago, on some website (maybe Chowhound), I heard of Charlie Trotter's slow-roasted salmon. The idea was to cook it at very low temperature, like 250F, until it's evenly medium-rare throughout. Even at 250F it will takes only 15-20 minutes. This idea captured my imagination, and after playing with it for a while I finally settled on a way to make a killer dish out of it. The trick is to be generous with salt when seasoning (this makes the salmon taste kind of like smoked salmon), and to take it out of the oven when it is still translucent (for that melt-in-your-mouth texture). And you know how smoked salmon is perfect with chive cream cheese? I borrowed that idea from New York bagel shops, and added a squirt of chive oil to the silky salmon. Its bright green notes are both savory and refreshing.
Wouldn't it be better to actually find Trotter's recipe? Maybe. But that would take all the fun out of it. I like messing around with the idea until I get it just right, and I hate following recipes. This is probably not the best thing to tell you right before giving you a recipe :)
Back to the 30 minute meal challenge. Our friends were coming over for dinner on Sunday night and I was planning to make a dressed-up version of the slow-roasted salmon. The salmon itself needs no prep work, and the chive oil can be done while salmon is roasting in about 2 minutes. But can I dress this dish up and still keep it under 30 minutes?
Ready, set, go! I snipped the tips of white asparagus and reserved them for later. Chopped up the stems and starting cooking them in a little water. 28 minutes remaining. While asparagus was cooking, I cleaned and chopped up some wild mushrooms and started cooking them Julia Child's way (with butter, squirt of lemon juice and port, first covered on low, then uncovered and sautéed until browned). 18 minutes remaining. Oh good, asparagus was done. I added cream and pureed it with an immersion blender. Shit, I can still taste the skins! Oh no -- quick, put it through a sieve. Mmm, nice and creamy -- that's better. 10 minutes remaining. The mushrooms are starting to brown. Throw in asparagus tips and rinse the blender (good thing immersion blenders are easy to wash). 5 minutes remaining. Chop the chives, add the oil, and bzzzzzz (more immersion blender fun) -- done! I saved the 1 minute step of putting the salmon in the oven for when our firends got here.
Of course, I dirtied 3 pans and an extra bowl for the chive oil, and this was 30 very intense minutes. After a full day at work, it's hard to have enough concentration to go this fast. For a more realistic weekday version, skip the wild mushrooms and asparagus puree. Put the salmon in the oven, trim and sautee asparagus (green or white), and make the chive oil. And have yourself a 20 minute no stress meal.
Slow Roasted Salmon With Chive Oil
For Chive Oil
1 bunch chives, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
4 salmon fillets with skin (6 oz each)
salt and pepper
2 tsp butter, plus more for buttering the pan
For Sauce and Sides:
1 Lb white asparagus, trimmed
2 Tbsp heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
12 oz fresh wild mushrooms, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp port or red wine
- Puree chives and oil in a blender or food processor (immersion blender works best). Season with a pinch of salt.
- Preheat the oven to 250F. Butter a baking dish.
- Generously rub salmon fillets with salt and pepper, and place them in a buttered dish skin side down. Top each piece with 1/2 tsp butter and place in the middle of the oven for 18 minutes per inch of thickness. Salmon is done when you can insert a knife between the flakes without much resistance (it should feel like cutting through butter), but it is still translucent inside and out. Don’t wait for it to flake!
- Set a small saucepan with 1/2 cup salted water over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Cut of the tips of asparagus (1 inch), and reserve for later. Cut the stems into 1/2 inch pieces and put in a saucepan with boiling water. Cover and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Take off heat, add cream and puree with a blender or a food processor. Put through a fine sieve, pressing hard on solids. Taste and correct seasoning. Return to the saucepan and keep warm on low heat.
- Set a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbsp butter and wait for it to melt. Add mushrooms, lemon juice, and port. Season with salt. Cover and cook until mushrooms give off the liquid, about 6 minutes. Uncover, turn up the heat and cook stirring occasionally until starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add asparagus tips and cook stirring occasionally until mushrooms are brown and asparagus tips are tender, about 3 minutes.
- Divide asparagus puree among 4 plates. Top with sautéed asparagus and mushrooms. Place a piece of salmon on top of each plate. Spread a teaspoon of chive oil on top of each piece of salmon. Drizzle a little more chive oil over the plate and serve.