I was taken by the addition of Sauternes in the cooking broth and the specification of olive oil from Lucca in the vinaigrette—long before the age of competitive ingredient fetishes. In the recipe’s defense, it is such a simple dish that you really do need the character of a great olive oil. But, of course, it’s fine if yours comes from Liguria or Catalonia or even California, as long as its flavor pleases you.
The writer of this recipe had come across this dish at a party. Having sought out the hostess who ushered him to the buffet, he described how “she showed me a superb salmon, stretched at length on a silver platter, where in quiet repose it seemed as real as if it were a live fish on an argent wave. Just then, I might have been on the eve of declaring my love, either for the lady or for the salmon, but it was the fish which fascinated me.”
Soon enough he was in the kitchen, asking the chef how to prepare the fish. “Believe me, sir,” the chef is quoted as saying, “this method is the best, the simplest; and at a ball, after dancing, there is nothing so recuperating."
This recipe was originally published on October 11, 1874: “How to Dress Fish: Leaves from a Sentimental Cookbook.”
Adapted from "The Essential New York Times Cookbook" by Amanda Hesser.
For the poaching liquid:
- 4 cups water
- 2 bottles (375-ml) Sauternes or 1 (750-ml) bottle
- ice wine or Riesling
- 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sage leaf
- 1 small onion, halved
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1⁄2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- One 3-pound skinless salmon fillet, any pin bones removed*
- 2 slices hearty white sandwich bread
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
For the vinaigrette:
- 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3⁄4 cup your best extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄4 cup finely chopped tarragon
- 2 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
*Note: This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled—and if you can find a whole salmon, by all means, buy it! It will take longer to cook, so build in a few extra minutes when poaching.
To make the poaching liquid, combine the water and wine in a saucepan large enough to hold the salmon. Add the parsley, thyme, bay leaf, sage, onion, salt, and peppercorns and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium so the poaching liquid simmers gently and lower the salmon into the pan. If the salmon is not covered, add more water until it is. Simmer until the salmon is just cooked through (test with the tip of a knife). Remove the fish to a plate to cool.
Meanwhile, lightly toast the bread, and rub it with garlic while it is still warm. Set aside to cool.
To make the vinaigrette, beat together the lemon juice, olive oil, tarragon, parsley, and salt to taste.
Crumb the cooled toast in the food processor.
To serve, lay the fish on a platter and spoon the dressing over it. Sprinkle with the garlic bread crumbs.
Reprinted from THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK by Amanda Hesser. Compilation copyright (c) 2010 by The New York Times Company and Amanda Hesser. Recipes and reprinted text copyright (c) 2010 by The New York Times Company. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.