It’s hard to get worked up about a piece of salmon.
Don’t get me wrong, I do love a nice piece of fish. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there are very few people for whom poached fish represents strong emotional ties.
And that’s why I made it, instead of making a Peanut Butter Pie. I know, the foodie web is awash in Peanut Butter Pies and heartfelt posts about loved ones lost. And I would love nothing more than to contribute my own – not least because, HELLO, it’s a PEANUT BUTTER PIE, YUM – and add to the cacophony of strangers offering moral support in pastry form.
Alas, I am an emotional wuss too fragile right now. Because I’ve begun several times to conceptualize the post I would write to accompany my pie, and the idea of contemplating that kind of loss? It is too much to handle for me. I suppose I could just post about pie and let pie simply be pie, but I know I wouldn’t. I would delve into FEELINGS. And then my hot salty tears would sizzle down through the keyboard into the innards of my laptop, and I would have to pop a valium and eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s to regain some kind of emotional equilibrium. Because the truth is, there are certain people in this world without whom *I* would be dead, and the idea of not having them around is dizzying in its immensity.
See, there I go! I can’t stop myself. Must return to emotionally neutral topic of poached fish.
To be more specific, salmon poached with fennel and orange. Because I am on a near-constant mission to force myself to like fennel, which is kinda sorta working, although in its raw state it still brings bile to my gorge. But I like the fennel-orange combo and I’d almost never turn away a shallot or garlic, so it seemed like the dish would have a high probability of success. Plus, I started dinner early enough that there would be ample time to order some dumplings and cold sesame noodles should things backfire.
I made a poaching liquid of white wine, freshly squeezed orange juice, fennel, shallots, garlic, orange rind and our old friends s+p, letting everything simmer together for 15 or 20 minutes to create a flavorful broth.
Wild Alaskan salmon fillets were plunged into the warm fennelly bath, there to rest for five or six minutes until just cooked through. There’s no photo of the salmon cooking because (1) the lid (non-see-thru) was on the pan; (2) the lighting is shit near my stove; and (3) an asston of albumin seeped out of the fish, leaving it less than camera-ready, so I decided not to subject you to that.
And really, albumin aside, poached salmon turns a pretty wan color – there’s no maillard-y goodness to speak of – so it’s just as well.
Poached fish is a little sad on its own and there’s no point in wasting the richly flavored poaching liquid, so I strained out the solids and returned the liquid to the pan to reduce into a sauce. When the liquid was reduced by about two-thirds, I whisked in what I believe to have been three tablespoons of cold butter to enrich things.
I can’t be certain about the amount, because I’d forgotten to buy butter when grocery shopping and was forced to use the dregs of several different sticks. You know you always have errant butter ends left over from other recipes or from greasing baking pans. I just happen to have an extra lot of them, enough to make three tablespoonsful.
A quick, simply dressed salad, some sauced fish, and it was time to eat.
The fish: perfectly tender, and gently perfurmed with the aromatics of the broth. The sauce: tangy, a little salty, cleanly flavored and just rich enough. Fennel Success! Of course, I didn’t eat any of the actual fennel, so I guess it’s more like Fennel-Flavored Success! Either way, I’m one step closer to my fennel goals, and I did it all without immersing myself in the kinds of painful feelings surrounding departed family members that would send me into a depressive tailspin, so it’s a Twofer!
Really wish I could have brought myself to make a pie, though. Really.
Poached Salmon with Fennel and Orange for Two
I fennel bulb, sliced
1 large shallot, sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2/3 c. white wine
2/3 c. freshly squeezed orange juice
3 1×3 inch strips of orange zest
1 c. warm water
pinch of salt and pepper
2 6-8 oz. salmon fillets
3 tbsp. cold unsalted butter
Combine the fennel, shallot, garlic, wine, juice, zest, water and s+p in a high-sided saute pan with a lid. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.
Nestle the salmon into the liquid, adjust the heat so it’s still simmering, cover and poach until the fish is cooked through. The time will depend on the thickness and cut of your fish; mine took about 6 minutes.
Remove the cooked fish and cover with foil to keep warm (or stash in a warm oven). Strain the cooking liquid to remove the fennel, shallot, garlic and rind.
Return the strained liquid to the pan and boil until reduced by 2/3, about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Adjust s+p levels and serve immediately with the fish.