Let’s talk about healthy eating. We hear it everywhere, eating good-for-you food helps us feel better. Organic, natural, grass-fed, fresh, homegrown … the labels are never-ending and yet we are expected to always make the best choices at the market. It can be overwhelming, especially if you shop at huge supermarkets. But you can make more informed selections with a little research and by visiting The Heritage Cook!
Today’s choice for Festive Friday is a dinner that everyone swoons over – fresh wild salmon cooked quickly over a hot fire and served with the classic French sauce Beurre Blanc. When buying fish you are looking for clear eyes (if buying whole), plump and firm flesh, skin with a light “slimy” coating, and most importantly no fishy smell. Do not trust the color as an indicator of freshness because different types of salmon are different colors and some unscrupulous sellers have been known to die their fish to cover up blemishes and age.
Whenever possible buy wild, line-caught fish from recommended sources. They will be careful not to over-fish an area or use illegal practices to catch the fish. If you have any questions on the best fish to eat so you avoid buying endangered species, check out the Seafood Watch Program.
You can prepare the fish with just about any method, my favorite being grilling, but sautéing, broiling, poaching, or roasting will all create a delicious main course. Salmon is perfectly cooked when it reaches 145°F on an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the cut. Pulling it off the heat and letting it rest with a loose “tent” of foil allows it to finish cooking gently, leaving you with succulent and tender salmon to enjoy!
Salmon, like all deep, cold-water fish is full of healthy oils and antioxidants. Oxidative stress appears to be an important component in many human diseases, particularly those involving neurodegeneration. Antioxidants, found in vegetables, fruits, grains, eggs, meat, legumes and nuts, can help your body fight harmful free radicals. They can be players in the prevention of cancers, heart disease and other major causes of death. When you increase the antioxidants in your diet you can even help slow down the aging process, something everyone but the youngest among us have a vested interest in.
Beurre Blanc is one of the fundamental sauces in French cuisine, it takes just five ingredients and will change the way you think about sauces. There is nothing heavy about it. It lightly coats the food, adding a sumptuousness that is also delicate. If you like lemon on your fish, you will still get the flavor but the butter softens its pungency. Because there are so few ingredients, make sure you use real butter (unless you cannot eat dairy) anything other will give you a subpar sauce. If you are looking to elevate your cooking, for a special dinner party or other occasion, adding a luscious sauce is one way to really impress your family and friends.
One of my secret weapons in the kitchen is shallots. With a flavor similar to a cross between garlic and onions, shallots delicately enhance whatever you use them in. They are a major component to a Beurre Blanc and one of the reasons it is a favorite sauce of mine. Try adding thin slices of shallots to your fresh tomato and tossed green salads, use them in place or in addition to onions in your recipes, and they make a beautiful garnish. Try them, you’ll love them!
I chose to serve the salmon over a simple lemon-scented jasmine rice, but you can use anything you prefer. Serve it over a different type of rice, quinoa, pasta, potatoes, farro, bulgur, or a sauté of mixed fresh vegetables – anything works here. Sprinkle with fresh thyme & chopped chives for a bright spot of color and contrast. We eat first with our eyes, so tempt everyone with a beautiful presentation.
Adding the sliced tomatoes to the dish pops the color and really makes your plate sing. With all the incredible heirloom tomato varieties available (as seeds or seedlings), I urge you to grow at least one plant each year. It only takes one season of having fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes and you will be spoiled forever. And while you’re at it, throw in a couple pots of fresh herbs. There is nothing better to bring new life to old recipes.
I hope you enjoy this delicious meal and the healthy benefits of it. Have a fabulous Festive Friday and terrific weekend!!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Using cold butter to make the beurre blanc sauce helps keep it from breaking, keeping the sauce creamy and emulsified. If you prepare the butter ahead, place in the freezer for about 5 minutes to firm up, cut into small cubes and place in a bowl. Return to the refrigerator until needed.
Kitchen Skill: Cooking Salmon on a Grill
You always want to leave the skin on salmon because it helps retain more of the healthy oils that are just under the skin. Filets are nearly bone-free and much more delicate. Steaks, shaped like a horseshoe are perfect for the grill and stand up to flipping. You can also cook one fileted side of fish in a single piece or a whole, cleaned fish. If you want you can ask your butcher to remove the head or leave it on.
The rule of thumb for grilling fish depends on the heat of the fire, the distance the grill is from the heat, and the thickness of the fish. It will cook for about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Filets will cook in 4 to 5 minutes; steaks take about 3 minutes per side; whole fish should be cooked on the cooler side of the fire, slow and low. All these times are approximate; judge doneness by internal temperature. Fish is done when an instant read thermometer reaches 145°F (in the thickest part) or if the outside of the fish is beginning to flake. If it flakes all the way through, the fish is overcooked.
- 1 clove garlic, peeled, any green in center discarded, very finely minced
- 1 shallot, peeled and very finely minced
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 4 un-skinned wild salmon filets or steaks
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat grill to medium or build a moderately hot fire with charcoal. Make a rectangle with a double layer of heavy-duty foil big enough to hold all the salmon. Brush lightly with olive oil.
- Make the Seasoning Mixture: Mash the minced garlic, shallots and salt together on a cutting board with the side of a chef’s knife or a spoon until it becomes a paste. The salt acts as a pulverizing agent to help break down the other ingredients. Place paste in a small bowl and stir in the oil and thyme. Set aside.
- Prepare the Fish: If you are using salmon filets, check for pin bones. They will all be in a line and you can feel them by running your fingers over the fish. Use a pair of needle nose pliers or fish tweezers to remove them. Pull them in the same direction they are facing, wiggling them until they release. If you are using steaks, your guests can easily separate the flesh from the bones once it is cooked.
- Place the salmon skin-side down on the prepared foil and spread the garlic mixture over the top. If you are using filets, fold the thinner end under to create a piece that is all the same thickness. Sprinkle with pepper to taste.
- Cook the Fish: Transfer to the hot grill, using the foil to support the fish. Leave the fish on the foil - it will make it easier to cook and flip without sticking to the grill or breaking. If you are using filets, cook them on one side only; flip steaks once and cook both sides. Fish is done when it reaches 145°F on an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion. This usually takes about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Filets will cook in 4 to 5 minutes; steaks will take about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
- Slide the salmon from the foil to a warm serving platter or individual plates and serve immediately drizzled with the beurre blanc sauce.
- Alternately, you can cook the fish in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the pan and when shimmering, add the fish skin-side down. Smear the top with the garlic paste. Cook until you have seared the first side, very carefully flip to the second side with a spatula, and continue cooking until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion registers 145°F.
- 1 to 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 8 oz white wine
- 2 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- 12 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
- Salt and white pepper, to taste
- Combine the shallots, white wine, and lemon juice in a non-reactive saucepan over high heat and reduce to 2 tablespoons. (Reducing liquids intensifies the flavors, helping them stand up to the butter.)
- Add the cream to the reduction. Once the liquid bubbles, reduce the heat to low. Add the butter, one cube at a time, whisking first on the heat and then off the heat. (This helps control the heat of the pan.) Continue whisking butter into the reduction until the mixture is fully emulsified and has reached a rich sauce consistency. Season with salt and white pepper to taste. Store beurre blanc in a preheated thermos until ready to serve.