I have come to view a meal of wild salmon as a splurge, a treat to be savored, and I’m willing to pay the price. Wild salmon is a seasonal thing, available from May to October. It’s not cheap, but the flavor is incredible — sweet, silky, meaty — and the vermilion color is magnificent.
With the abundance of relatively low-priced farmed salmon, however, many of us succumb. But the flavor of farmed salmon doesn’t even compare. It’s like the difference between a free-range chicken and one that’s been factory raised.
Wild salmon swims long distances, its color a result of a natural diet of krill, plankton and algae. Farmed salmon languishes in pens, and its pink color comes artificially.
And even if some fish farms are exploring more sustainable methods, it is well known that aquacultured salmon is an environmental danger and potential health hazard. A quick Internet search will give curious cooks more information on the topic. It’s enough to put you off your dinner, and may well make you a wild-salmon convert. Certainly, once you taste wild salmon you’ll be convinced.
There are many ways to prepare this good salmon. For a summer lunch or supper, I like to keep it simple, so I often opt for a room-temperature salad, pairing the fish with seasonal vegetables and herbs.
At the market now, there are lots of wonderful green beans, many still on the juvenile side; known as haricots verts, they are also called filet beans, and may be green, yellow or purple. Look for the smallest, which are more tender than the big blue lakes. Cook them in salted water briefly, just past al dente, so they’re firm but not crunchy. Freshly dug creamy new potatoes are here now, too, and they make a fine accompaniment.
As for the salmon, the most important thing is not to overcook it. Whether baked or grilled, it is ready as soon as you see white juices rising to the surface, which means the fish will be succulent, not dry. It is better to err on the rare side.
All that is needed to complete this salad is a green herb sauce: sauce verte in French. It’s basically a zippy vinaigrette with shallots, capers and a mixture of herbs, mostly parsley. Use chervil, too, if you can find it. It is similar to parsley but more delicate, with a faint anise taste. A little fresh tarragon or mint also makes a nice addition.
There you have it. Wild salmon, green beans, new potatoes and herbs: simple seasonal ingredients for an epic summer dining experience.
Wild Salmon with Green Beans and Sauce Verte
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
11⁄2 lbs wild salmon fillet, like king or sockeye, skin on
Salt and pepper
2 lbs new potatoes
1 lb haricots verts, or a mixture of sm green and yellow beans
1 shallot, finely diced
2 TBS red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 sm Meyer lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TBS capers, rinsed and roughly chopped
1⁄4 C finely chopped parsley
1⁄4 C finely chopped chervil, or a mixture of parsley and tarragon
Lettuce leaves, optional
2 hard-cooked (9-minute) eggs, roughly chopped
Using pliers, remove pin bones from salmon (or have your fishmonger do it). Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet skin side down and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Set aside at room temperature. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Scrub potatoes and simmer in well-salted water until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and keep warm.
Top and tail the haricots verts and simmer in well-salted water until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Spread out on a platter to cool (or rinse briefly in cool water) and leave at room temperature.
Make the sauce verte: Put shallot in a small bowl with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and cover with red wine vinegar. Macerate 5 minutes, then stir in lemon zest and juice, mustard and capers. Whisk in 1⁄2 cup olive oil. Just before serving, add parsley, chervil and black pepper to taste.
Bake salmon, uncovered, until just done, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. Put beans in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and dress with 2 tablespoons sauce verte. Line a platter with lettuce leaves, if using. With a spatula, lift salmon from skin and place in the center. Surround with the dressed beans. Dab salmon with 2 more tablespoons sauce verte, garnish with chopped egg and serve. Pass potatoes and remaining sauce separately.