In my younger days, the height of culinary mastery was a piece of seared salmon. I’ve mentioned it before, but in our little tiny village, seafood was (and still is) hard to come by. And so, for that, it was exotic, even sexy. On one occasion, I made a trip to a well-stocked grocery out of town, purchased all the ingredients to make the salmon, and set out to delight and wow my family, thereby proving my superiority as an epicure. I had everything before me: a few center-cut fillets of atlantic salmon, fresh dill, pickles, lemon, I even bought creme fraiche (which made me feel pretty special).
After much ado, I plated each portion of salmon and we sat down to eat.The result was, in my eyes, not all that great. To my younger sisters who, at the time, subsisted on a diet made up of Cheez-Its and apple juice, the bitter and briny bite of the pickles, the salmon which tasted of the ocean, the herbaceous twang of fresh dill, did not sit well with them.
If I’m being honest, the salmon was undercooked. In my efforts to keep it moist, I did not cook it long enough. The innards were mushy and wet. The sauce, which was intended to be creamy and rich, had the consistency of curdled milk, and it slipped from one side of the plate to the other. We sat there at the table, in silence. I did not let on to the fact that the meal was no hit. Meanwhile, two sets of eyes set sights on the kitchen cabinet, where behind the door lay two unopened boxes of Cheez-its. Since then, a lot has changed. I’ve cooked this meal many times. I’ve learned how to mess it up. But I’ve also learned how to make it well. This preparation was my wife’s favorite in our college days. In making this dish, I’ve learned how to properly sear, how to make an aioli, how to properly season protein, the list goes on. If you have never tried your hand at salmon, now is the time. Fortunately, you won’t have to make the same mistakes I have. I’m here to guide you through it. Let’s do this:Let me be honest and tell you that, this morning when I made this, we ate it with a big ol’ buttery biscuit on the side, and I wasn’t mad about that. You could definitely explore the joys of the ultra-brunchy Salmon Biscuit.Pan-Seared Salmon with Dill-Cornichon Tartar (serves 2)
2 6 oz portions of salmon (center-cut)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg yolk
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp shallot, minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
3 tbsp cornichons, finely chopped
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 dashes Tabasco
Start by placing the yolk of one egg into a bowl. You’re going to make an aioli. Here’s the idea. Add the oil slowly. A few drops at a time. And don’t worry about vigorously whisking. Instead, with each new addition of oil, gently incorporate it into the egg yolk. Over time, you will notice that the mixture thickens to the point that it seems to coagulate on the whisk itself. This is a good sign. Let the aioli relax for a moment while you prepare the shallot, dill, and cornichons. When you’re ready, add the dijon, lemon juice, and the tabasco to the aioli and stir to combine. Now add the shallot, cornichons, and the dill. Place the mixture in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.
Heat a large pan on medium-high with a teaspoon of canola oil. Season both sides of the salmon with a generous amount of peppery and coarse salt. When the oil in the pan is nearly smoking, place the salmon fillets skin-side down in the pan. Apply gentle pressure to the salmon so that all parts of the skin receive even heat. Let the salmon cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the salmon and let it cook 5 more minutes. If the sides of the salmon are still bright pink in color, they are still not quite cooked. In this case, roll them over on their sides and let them cook one minute longer. Once cooked, place the salmon on a plate, give it a good squeeze of lemon, and spoon the dill-cornichon tartar over the center of the fillet.