After an enforced absence of a few years, king salmon fishing is back along the California coast. Regardless of the sometimes difficult politics and economics of fishery management, it is always encouraging to see a natural fishery recover when it gets some time. And one thing we see here on the farm (and all over the world) is that nature often rewards patience and comes roaring back, if given the chance. And now our local community is reaping the benefits of its patience and we get to eat our local king salmon straight from Monterey or Half Moon Bays. And there are few fish as tasty, or pretty, as fresh wild king salmon.
Wild king salmon has a beautiful color and deep rich flavor that, at least to local tastes, surpasses most wild and all farmed salmon. The wild salmon’s high fat/oil content and varied diet makes for big flavor and meaty texture, yet is still healthy (depending on how much butter you add to the dish ;-). The king salmon also lends itself to many different styles of cooking. You can serve king salmon as sushi or crudo, poach, roast, bake or grill it and even the crispy skin is a tasty treat. Great stuff, but with one caveat, the fresh wild salmon does not come cheap. It is best to make the most of the fish, so in this case we decided to cook our king salmon using our sous-vide cooker. (But there is a good oven-based method, so please read-on).
As we mentioned in an earlier post, sous-vide cooking involves sealing fish, meat or veggies in a vacuum bag and cooking in a temperature-controlled water bath. It is a very popular cooking method in high-end restaurants, but you can buy sous-vide cookers and vacuum sealers for the home. Our inspiration for sous-vide cooking came from Stefan’s Gourmet Blog– and he has a great introduction and many good sous-vide recipes here. We cook sous-vide regularly with both meat and fish, but particularly like cooking fish in this way. The temperature control and doneness of the fish are quite exact and you can “build” a sauce in the bag while you cook the fish.
As for the recipe itself, we simply adapted our basic oven-baked fish recipe to sous-vide cooking. Our approach is to season the fish filets, layer on a generous dollop of herbs and butter per filet and top with a slice of lemon. As the fish cooks, it bastes in the lemon/butter/herb mixture, and that mixture becomes the basis for a quick sauce. In the oven, we cook the prepared filets in a greased baking dish with a splash of wine at 425 degrees for about 10-12 minutes depending on the thickness of the filets and desired doneness. In the case of sous-vide, we simply seal the prepared filets in their bags and cook in the water bath for 30 minutes at our desired temperature. (Note: One drawback of sous-vide cooking is difficulty sealing liquids into the vacuum bag along with the fish. Using “solid” ingredients like cold butter, lemon and herbs solves this issue.)
While this is a simple dish to prepare with either cooking method, you get a lot of big flavors. The richness of the salmon and butter is matched by lemon notes and bright, vegetal herbs. If you cook the salmon rare to medium-rare the texture will be soft and juicy, if you cook to medium the texture will be flaky but still rich from the high fat content of the salmon. And here is where personal judgement comes into play. Many cooks will serve salmon rare at 109 or 110 degrees, medium rare in the mid-120 degree range and medium at 130 degrees. Tastes vary and we prefer rare to medium rare fish, but to be fully “cooked” many references suggest cooking fish to at least 130 degrees and even up to 145 degrees. Again, use your judgement based on tastes and the freshness of your fish. And a digital thermometer is a big help if cooking in the oven.
As the local king salmon season is short, we enjoyed this dish a few times in the last week or so. We can’t get enough of the salmon, and our kids love it. We take every chance to make sure our kids enjoy eating good fresh fish (think of it as selling healthy eating habits). And the king salmon is more than good, it’s a real treat. Sometimes patience truly is rewarded. Let’s hope we have another good season next year.
King Salmon With Tarragon-Chive Butter:
Notes Before You Start:
- If you don’t have California king salmon, a trip to California is in order…;-) Otherwise substitute your fresh local salmon or other firm fish filets. This basic recipe works for most fish.
- Salmon usually has small pin-bones you can remove with tweezers or pliers. Remove them before cooking or ask your fishmonger to do it for you.
What You Get: An easy, tasty dish that highlights the flavor of the wild salmon.
What You Need: A sous-vide cooker is helpful, but oven cooking works very well. If using the oven, a digital thermometer is a very useful tool.
How Long? About 45 minutes if cooking sous-vide. 20-30 minutes if using the oven. This is an anytime dish, assuming the fish is in season.
- 4, 6 oz. salmon filets with skin on, pin-bones removed.
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons of cold butter (plus extra for greasing baking dish, if using oven)
- 4 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons chives, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons of white wine (if using oven, omit for sous-vide)
- Salt and freshly cracked pepper
- Lemon wedges and parsley for garnish
- If cooking sous-vide, set your cooker to 122 degrees for medium-rare. If using oven, place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
- Liberally season the salmon filets with salt and pepper. The layer each filet with 1 tablespoon of the tarragon, chives and then butter. Place 1 or 2 slices of lemon on top to cover most of the filet.
- If cooking sous-vide, place the filets in their bags and vacuum-seal. Place in the sous-vide cooker for 30 minutes. When done, remove the bag from the cooker, cut open the bag and gently plate the fish. Pour remaining sauce from the bag over the fish and serve. Garnish with parsley and a lemon wedge, if you like.
- If cooking in the oven, place the filets on a greased baking dish and add the wine. Place the dish in the oven and cook for 10-12 minutes or until the desired temperature is reached or the fish just begins to flake (reminder, the fish will continue to cook when removed from the oven, expect the final temperature to increase by at least 5 degrees). Plate the salmon, drizzle with sauce from baking dish and serve. Garnish with parsley and a lemon wedge, if you like.
- Cooking Sous-Vide At The Farm (putneyfarm.com)
- Sous vide cooking heading mainstream? (gizmag.com)
Looks wonderful! And I love tarragon!
Love this recipe guys! Would preparing this in a tightly closed foil “packet” (in the oven or grill) be comparable to sous-vide? I prepare salmon that way a good bit – with veggies, a little butter and herbs. Enjoy your run of King!
Thanks for reading.
Foil packets on the grill or paper (en papillote) in the oven were kind of the precursor of sous-vide that kept in moisture and moderated temperature- so that approach will work. A splash of wine would help, too.
This looks so good! I haven’t worked much with tarragon. Definitely need to try this.
Tarragon has a light anise flavor that goes well with rich seafood like salmon or lobster. You can substitute other herbs if you like, it will still work well… thx for reading.
Cool. Thanks for the tip.
Congrat’s on being Freshly Pressed!
Thanks- most appreciated!
Have worked a couple of years with the Sous-vide method and it’s fantastic … because all the flavors and the juices are preserved – because the slowly cooking around 60C/172F. The principal must have come from the French method “en papillote” – bake in paper.
This salmon dish … lovely – can feel the smell through the screen when open that bag. Very tasty photos.
Thanks. We are very happy cooking this way (for many dishes). we can focus on ingredients and flavor and know the cooking is well-controlled…
Great post and thanks for the links! Have you tried salmon at 109F? 122F is a good one-size-fits-all temperature for all fish, but for salmon I like 109F better as the fish has a nicer mouth-feel.
By the way, you can also make this in a BBQ by wrapping in aluminum foil. Can be cooked as quickly as in 5 minutes.
We did try at 109 and its great- our preferred temperature- and the texture with salmon is perfect. But the kids (and some of our friends) are still happier at 122.
One of the few drawbacks of sous-vide is the uniform cooking temp / time. If using a grill or oven we would just cook some pieces longer than others, to taste. Regardless, the consistent results from the sous-vide are worth it.
Good to hear you like 109, too. To be honest I can be a bit harsh towards people who like their food overcooked. For example, I refuse to serve steak well done 😉
What you could do is this: first cook some salmon pieces 30 mins at 122. Then quickly lower the water temperature to 109 (by adding cold water or ice cubes) and leave the salmon cooked at 122 in the bath to keep warm. Now add the remaining pieces you’d like to cook at 109F, and cook for another 30 mins. I have tried this with vegetables and meat (183 to 131) and I expect it to work with the salmon as well since the salmon cooked at 122 should not be greatly affected by another half hour at 109.
We feel the same about well-done steak..
That makes sense with lowering the temp of the bath- will try this…thanks.
I guess a trip to California is in order!
I love the endless possibilities that a filet of salmon brings to the kitchen:) Whether marinaded, served with a sauce, flavored with spices, eaten cold or warm, etc. etc. etc., there are so many wonderful choices to be made!
You are exactly right!
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