I should start by saying that this recipe is really about the sauce, not the fish (or chicken, steak, seafood or pasta) you pour it over, though anything you serve it with will be massively enhanced. This may seem weird since we live in a culture where figuring out what’s for dinner involves choosing your protein as the main event of almost every meal and choosing the spicing and sauce is really just about picking what flavors you feel like that day. So this easy and addictive recipe kind of turns that way of thinking on its head.
You may be wondering, how can a recipe be all (mostly) about a sauce? What is so special about this sauce that she is going on about it like it’s the best thing since she discovered crème brûlée? And finally, why is the sauce super sexy? Well, I’ll tell you. For one thing, I can’t think of any other recipe that I have made which literally gets my dog drooling (not to mention anyone else in the house) within 15 minutes of starting, EVERY SINGLE TIME. Like, to where it’s icky and she embarrasses herself.
But enough about Bella. I want to say first of all that this is based on something I had in a lovely posh restaurant in Tel Aviv (Bertie), and it was literally the best fish I had ever had. This was shocking for a few reasons. 1) It was just some basic St Denise fillets that were served with the skins seared crispy, then presented skin side up in a hot cast iron pan of something very much like this sauce, that is to say, as close as I can guess it without having asked the chef. 2) I am VERY hard to please when dining out.
After much research, and a wonderful tutorial I found here I recreated the seared skin effect with some salmon fillets, which we would then eat with mayo and mustard on the side. It was good, and I got the technique down, but I was still deeply unsatisfied, mostly because I am very sensitive to flavors and smells, and I can’t have my fish even the slightest bit fishy. Not having access to super fresh fish as often as I would prefer (like, still alive in the store), I must be satisfied with frozen fillets, and pray each time I buy that the fillets were as fresh as possible when flash frozen. I waited about 6 months before attempting to recreate the sauce, mostly because I thought it would be impossible, but also because I didn’t want to insult the memory of that perfect dish. Luckily for me, I was haunted by the wonderful balance of flavors, the harmony of which was what foodies such as myself might call “transcendent” , so I finally rolled up my sleeves and took a crack at it, and I’m so very glad I did, because now I get to share it with all of you. My sister, the Chef has been quoted as calling it “one of the two best fish recipes I have ever tasted”, so I’m pretty sure I nailed it.
*First descale fillets, if they are not already descaled. I do this while they are frozen, under cold running water, with a small serrated knife with a rounded edge, for best results. If you can get descaled fillets, check them anyway, often some scales are left behind and even one scale can ruin my meal. This is a good time to look for bones they may have overlooked as well. When finished, put aside in a bowl to defrost. Once defrosted, press fillets between 2 clean kitchen towels or several paper towels to remove as much liquid as possible, so that they will sear properly and not splatter hot oil all over you. Finally run your finger over the skin to smooth the skin back in place, in the direction the scales used to point, and set aside, until you are ready to sear.
Super Sexy Salmon Sauce: (Make once fish is prepped)
These measurements are PER FILLET (per serving basically), so if you are making 3 salmon (or any other fish) fillets, multiply all ingredients by 3.
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (if you only have salted, leave out salt from recipe or add later to taste)
- 2 large thinly sliced shallots (1/4 of a medium sized red onion if you don’t have shallots)
- 1 large smashed and minced garlic clove
- 4 thin slices of Jalapeno (or few dashes of Tabasco if you are in a pinch)
- 3 small tri-color (1 red, 1 yellow, and 1 purply red/green heirloom cherry, or grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise in halves.
- the leaves from 1 sprig of fresh thyme. (see notes on using and storing fresh herbs here)
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Fresh juice of 1/2 a large lemon
- 1/8 cup water (more as needed to cook down sauce)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper (or to taste)
method: That’s right, that’s all there is to it.
- Melt butter in a deep frying pan that has a matching cover, on MEDIUM, not high heat. When melted add sliced shallots, minced garlic, jalapeno, thyme, bay leaf, and tomatoes in that order, and saute covered for about 5-10 minutes. This will vary based on how hot your stoves burners are. The shallots and garlic should slowly sizzle and become translucent, not brown. If they sizzle too much when you add them, turn down the heat.
- The smell should already be making you light headed.
- Once cooked through, uncover pan, add white wine, and cook off alcohol, uncovered, about 3-5 more minutes.
- Add lemon juice, water, salt and pepper and stir, then re-cover, turn flame down to LOW, and simmer for about 5-7 more minutes, then turn off heat and leave it to rest. Alternately, you can use a cast iron pan, and keep the sauce hot in the oven while you sear your salmon fillets.
- Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil per fillet in a frying pan on medium/high until it is ready to sear. Pat dry fillets then lay them SKIN SIDE DOWN in a regular (not non-stick) pan. Immediately turn down the heat to medium, and gently hold down with metal spatula to prevent warping for first two minutes. This will sear the skin, but cook the fish evenly without burning. See the full tutorial here, it’s not so complicated and really comes out perfect if you follow his directions. [However. If you really want to cheat, just use a non-stick pan with no oil or butter. Cook skin side down first for about 6 minutes covered on a medium high heat, (heat the pan before placing the fish in, but not too much, because you don’t want to burn the Teflon) and when the top turns opaque, tun it over, and cook the other side uncovered for about 4 minutes. This is super easy, and will turn out beautiful fillets, though not as crispy as doing the the more scientific way, you save yourself the embarrassment of messed up skin] until Once fish is mostly cooked through (5-6 minutes) gently nudge it from the sides with the spatula too see if it will come loose. Don’t force it, it will release when it is ready. Once the skin releases and the fish is mostly cooked through, turn it over and cook just for 10 more seconds, to sear closed the top layer and finish cooking.
- Remove fillets to wide shallow bowls, and let rest, skin side up.
- Turn on sauce again and heat up uncovered, 3-4 minutes, stirring once or twice.
- Pour sauce around but not over each fillet, and serve with a cold crisp white chardonnay and some fresh bread and butter for wiping up the sauce, if there is any left. This will possibly spare you the potential embarrassment of licking the plates in front of your family, friends, or guests… which I should warn you, you will end up doing anyway.