Poached salmon is simple, elegant meal

December 27, 2019
In the photo, you can see an example of a simple but elegant meal we enjoyed on a recent trip. The salmon was perfectly poached and topped with a creamy sauce, the rice was neatly packed into a tidy pile and the green beans freshly steamed. This is a meal my father would have described as “fine” – not meaning ideal, but merely acceptable.
As you may imagine, the tastes and textures were quite nice, but not as inspiring as you might accomplish with a few changes. I don’t suggest any alterations to the basic recipe for poached salmon; the only mistake you can make is overcooking it. I expect the restaurant used the sous vide technique to hold the salmon filets at temperature, making it possible to serve many people quickly.
You can enhance the look of the sauce with a sprinkle of fresh dill and add capers to brighten the flavors. As for the green beans, although these were buttered, they’d be much more interesting if you topped them with crispy, sautéed slivered almonds, adding a nutty crunch to the texture.
One of the biggest changes I would suggest is with the rice. It was nicely seasoned with salt, but little else, which brings us to a discussion about how to prepare rice, whether you prefer brown, white, jasmine or basmati. This rice was simply boiled in water, much as you would do in an electric rice cooker or in a saucepan stovetop.
The preferred alternative is called pilaf, from the Turkish word “pilau” for an ancient Persian technique. The rice is first cooked in fat or oil to coat the individual grains and keep them separate. Then the rice is simmered in broth or stock to add flavor and color to the finished product.
The approach was documented in a Greek cookbook written in 350 BC, where the dish was called “pilaffi.” Modern Greek recipes feature the addition of seafood, poultry, vegetables, nuts and yogurt. In India, the dish was known as “pullao” and made with basmati rice. Soon, the dish spread into Europe, where each region developed its signature feature.
For example, in France, it is typical to simmer “riz pilaf” with a bundle of aromatic herbs called bouquet garni. This is removed before serving, and the rice is often garnished with foie gras or slivers of truffle. Spain’s paella is a complex one-pot meal that can include fish, poultry, sausage and olives.
As this country was settled, early American long-grain rice crops were planted in South Carolina and Georgia. Enslaved cooks and immigrants from the Carribbean added their influences to the dish, which became known as perloo or pulao in  Louisiana and the Carolinas. And, finally, there’s the Italian favorite – risotto, deliberately overcooked in a pan without a lid.
I’ve included recipes for poached salmon with a creamy dijon sauce, adding capers and extra dill for garnish, steamed green beans that come alive with buttered almonds, and a simple stovetop pilaf cooked in chicken stock with snipped chives. Now you know how to enliven a “fine” meal.
Poached Salmon
4 6-oz skinless salmon fillets
salt and pepper
1 C dry white wine
1 C water
3 sprigs fresh dill
3 smashed garlic cloves
1 lemon, cut in wedges
Season salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. In a shallow pan over medium heat, combine wine, water, dill and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add salmon fillets and cover; simmer until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove salmon carefully with a fish spatula or large slotted spoon. Serve with dijon sauce, garnished with lemon wedges. Yield: 4 servings.
Dijon Sauce
1 minced shallot
2 T Dijon mustard
1/4 C sour cream
1/4 C butter
2 t capers
1 T lemon juice
salt & pepper, to taste
snipped dill, for garnish
After salmon is removed from poaching pan, return pan to high heat and cook until liquid has reduced to 1/4 C. Whisk in shallots and Dijon mustard; simmer until thickened, about 4 minutes. Whisk in the sour cream, butter and capers; add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until thickened, about another minute. Serve over poached salmon filets garnished with fresh dill.
Green Beans Almandine
1 lb trimmed green beans 
2 T butter
1/4 C sliced almonds
2 minced garlic cloves
juice & zest of one lemon
salt & pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season liberally with salt. When water reaches a rolling boil, add green beans. Cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes; do not overcook. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt butter over medium-low until bubbling slightly. Add almonds and sauté, stirring frequently, until they start to turn golden brown. Reduce heat to low and add garlic. Sauté an additional minute, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Using a large slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the blanched green beans from the boiling water directly to the skillet. Sauté briefly, gently tossing the green beans with the almond mixture until evenly combined. Add lemon zest and lemon juice; toss and season to taste with salt and pepper. Yield: 4 servings.
Rice Pilaf
1 T butter
1 t olive oil
1 C basmati rice
2 C chicken broth
salt & pepper, to taste
1 T snipped chives
Combine the butter and olive oil in a saucepan over low heat. When butter has melted, stir in rice and cook until every grain is coated, about 2 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil over high. Reduce heat to very low, cover and simmer until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper; garnish with snipped chives. Yield: 4 servings.

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