Salmon, While Swimming


…which probably is the closest English equivalent to this dish’s original French title, Salmon à la Nage.  Actually, it makes sense.  The fish nestles among mussels and the asparagus suggests seaweed, doesn’t it?

The name applies more prosaically as well.  Being a French creation, it’s not surprising a wine and butter sauce submerses everything.  The salmon swims in white wine.  It may have been beyond caring at that point, but at least the mussels’ last moments were happy ones, n’est-ce pas?

Naturally, the butter lends the sauce a velvety smoothness, and the tarragon hints intriguingly of licorice.  Normally, this isn’t a selling point for me (quite the opposite – I hate licorice!), but the influence is a subtle one and it does make the dish.  One loves despite, not because.  Chives contribute their own freshness and dill matches so well with seafood in general and with salmon in particular, it’s just perfect.

This recipe calls for using a whole stick of butter, which definitely worried me, as it should anyone not wishing this to be his last meal.  Consider, though, that what you see above is only one of six servings.  I shared this with guests and still had enough left over to freeze now and to adorn three or four salads in the weeks ahead.  The point is, each portion includes maybe a pat of butter, if even that much.  Yes, it still is an indulgence, and a magnificent one at that, but you’ll make it work.

The May 2008 issue of Saveur featured this recipe and  it’s beckoned me ever since.  If this blog inspires a similar obsession in you, it’s done well.

*****

Salmon à la Nage

  • 6 stalks of asparagus (*1)
  • 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (*2)
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1-and-1/2 pounds salmon filet, cut into six equal portions
  • Kosher salt (*3) and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 24 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 1-and-1/2 cups white wine (*4)
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives
  • 1  tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

Snap off  and discard the asparagus ends, then thinly slice the remaining asparagus on the bias, leaving the tips intact.  Set aside.

Melt in a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat one tablespoon of the butter. Sautee the shallots until just becoming translucent, about one minute.

Season the salmon filets with salt and pepper and arrange them on top of the shallots in the skillet.  Scatter the mussels around the filets. Pour in the wine and 1-and-1/2 cups of water.   Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer, covered, until mussels open (*5), about three minutes. Remove from heat and set aside, covered, to let steam for about four minutes, until the fish is just cooked through.

Using a spatula and a slotted spoon, remove to a baking sheet the salmon and the mussels, leaving the broth in the skillet.  Keep the fish and mussels warm in an oven at its lowest setting.

Return the skillet to high heat and bring broth to a boil.  Whisk in remaining butter, one tablespoon at a time, until smooth.  Add the asparagus and peas and cook until tender, two-to-three minutes.  Remove from heat; stir in the tarragon, chives, parsley and dill.  Divide the fish and mussels among six bowls and pour the broth equally over each.

*****

NOTES:

1 – The market offered particularly nice asparagus, so I threw in more like ten stalks.

2 – This works out to one stick.

3 – I used sea salt, which only seemed appropriate anyway for seafood.  Not to quibble, though; Kosher salt would be fine.

4 – Chardonnay, my favorite white.  Of course.

5 – You probably know already to discard any mussels that don’t open.  Those which remain closed were dead before you used them, and are no good.  Those that open when you cook them are fresh, which is best.  I was lucky in that all my mussels opened, but in the past I’ve had to throw away those that didn’t.

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