Monday, April 30, 2018

Salmon Baked with Fennel-Orange Butter….and served with the green vegetables of spring

I seem to eat more salmon in the spring than during any other time of the year.  I would love to say this is because of some innate hunger that I possess for all things seasonal (fresh wild salmon begins to hit the market during the spring), but sadly, I know this isn’t true.  I have no real long term experiential connections with the Pacific Northwest or the North Atlantic.  I think I have to admit that I just like the combination of the colors of salmon pink and spring greens on my plate.  It is so lovely to look at…and therefore it makes me happy.  And because of the reality that foods that share a season frequently have an affinity for one another, salmon is delicious with the green foods (asparagus, peas, fava beans, artichokes, greens….) of spring and early summer.  Beautiful and delicious...the ultimate combination.

Recently I served some salmon with the early spring partners I wrote about in my last post (asparagus and mushrooms), along with some of the first beautiful spinach to make its way to my local farmers’ market this year.  I tied it all together with a compound butter flavored with fennel and orange—smearing the salmon with it before baking…and finishing the asparagus with it too.  

If you are new to fish cookery…or just don’t like the aroma that the frying of fish leaves in your home…then you will love the technique of baking fish with a compound butter.  I wrote about it for the first time several summers ago…and it is a method I turn to again and again.  Once you put the fish in the oven, you can pretty much ignore it (no worrying about regulating pan temperature, flipping the fish over or possible sticking...) and focus on the rest of the meal.  It comes out of the oven moist and flavorful (bathed in whatever aromatic flavor you have packed into your butter).  Most of the greasy particles (the source of the smell) remain trapped in the oven.   

This super simple technique makes this particular dish--which admittedly looks like it has a lot going on--surprisingly quick to prepare.  Even including making the compound butter from scratch…and stemming and washing the spinach…I was able to make this meal for two in under an hour.  If you decide to make it for more than two, it might take a bit longer…but not much.  Beautiful…delicious… and quick to make—you can’t ask for much more than that.

Salmon with Fennel-Orange Butter,
Spinach, Mushrooms, Asparagus & Hazelnuts

2 4- to 6-oz. portions skin-on salmon
2 to 3 T. fennel-orange butter
6 oz. asparagus, trimmed (3 oz. trimmed weight) and cut on a long diagonal
4 oz. crimini (or other favorite) mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 T. olive oil
1/2 T. butter
1/2 c. thinly sliced spring onions (about 3), use equal amounts of the white and green
5 oz. stemmed spinach, rinsed in several changes of water and roughly chopped if leaves are large
1 1/2 to 2 T. chopped toasted and skinned hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 425°F.   Place the salmon skinned side down on a small oiled, rimmed baking sheet.  Smear the top of each filet with 1/2 to 3/4 T. butter and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

Blanch the asparagus in a medium-sized sauce pan in boiling salted water until just tender—about 3 to 4 minutes.  Drain and spread the asparagus on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel.  Set aside the (now empty) saucepan used for blanching the asparagus. 

In a medium sauté pan set over moderately high heat, warm the olive oil.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned and tender—about 5 minutes.  Decrease the heat to medium and add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan.  Add the spring onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until tender—about 2 to 3 minutes. 

While the onions cook, place the salmon in the oven.

When the onions are tender, add the spinach to the pan (if there is no water clinging to the leaves from a recent washing, add a tablespoon or two of water to the pan with the spinach).  Cook, turning occasionally with tongs until the spinach is collapsed and tender.  If there is a lot of liquid left in the pan, increase the heat slightly until the excess liquid evaporates. Set aside and keep warm until the salmon is ready.

Check on the salmon—I like mine slightly under medium, so I start checking mine after about 8 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish.  I like to pull it when the white proteins have begun to become visible on the sides of the fish…or when an instant read thermometer reads about 115°F (or just under).

Remove the salmon from the oven.  Melt a tablespoon of the compound butter over moderate heat in the pan the asparagus was cooked in.  Add the asparagus and heat until sizzling.  Add the hazelnuts and toss. 

Divide the spinach-mushroom mixture between two plates.  Using a wide thin spatula, lift the salmon off of the baking sheet (the skin will have stuck and will remain on the baking sheet as you slide your spatula under the fish).  Place the fish on the bed of spinach.  Divide the asparagus and hazelnut mixture between the two plates, mounding it on top of the fish and allowing it to cascade naturally over the sides.  Serve immediately.

Fennel-Orange Butter

Zest of half an orange (about 1 1/2 to 2 t.)
Juice of one orange (about 1/3 c. juice)
rounded 1/4 t. fennel seed, toasted and crushed/ground to a powder
a small squeeze of lemon juice (1/2 to 3/4 t), to taste
4 T. room temperature butter
Salt & pepper

Strain the orange juice into a small non­reactive saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently cook until reduced and very thick. Let cool to room temperature.

Place the reduced juice in a small bowl with the fennel, lemon juice and butter and cream together.  Season to with salt & pepper—adding more lemon juice if the butter seems flat tasting or too sweet. Set aside.  


John F. MacMichael said...

This looked like an interesting recipe. Any suggestions on where to find fennel seed? Should I expect to find it in the spice section of a good supermarket?

A week or two after I read this I ran across a new vendor at our local (Portland, OR) farmer's market specializing in finishing butters. The flavors they offered included Salted Honey Butter, Roasted Garlic & Smokey Blue Cheese and Sesame Scallion. I have not tried their products yet; though I hope to when salmon is back in season. Their web address is BUTTERCULTURENW.COM if you want to check them out.

Paige said...

Hi John,

Yes, any grocery store should have fennel seed with the spices.

The finishing butters you link to look very nice (interesting flavors...quality, organic ingredients). But to be honest, I would never buy them. I always encourage people to make things from scratch when they can...and in this case, compound butters are particularly easy to make. But if you really don't want to make your own, these would be a reasonable option.