We are sharply divided over this dinner chez TNS.

We haven’t been so divided since two weeks ago, when I discovered FOR THE FIRST TIME that Brian does not like gummy cola bottles. WHAT? AND I MARRIED YOU? It’s been eight years, for god’s sake.

It shook me to my very core. In case all the yelling was not a clue, I FUCKING LOVE GUMMY COLA BOTTLES.

fennel oil

I don’t think we were quite as split on dinner tonight since he did clean his plate, whereas he would not deign to eat a single gummy cola bottle. NOT EVEN ONE.

Deep cleansing breath.

In any case, the source of the controversy was a slow-roasted salmon with fennel oil served with potatoes with white wine, thyme, shallots and olives from The Improvisational Cook, a book I highly recommend both for its recipes and its teacherliness. Which is not a word, but I’m going to assume you know what I mean.

I like that she doesn’t really bother to name her dishes. What is this? Salmon. What’s that stuff on top? Fennel oil. How were these potatoes cooked? With wine, thyme, shallots and olives. Do you want to know why? I’ll explain in a clear but concise manner. The end. I appreciate that.


Really, if anyone should have not been a fan of this meal it should have been me, since I can’t abide olives – love the flavor, hate the actual foodstuff – and don’t really have any love lost for fennel either, although my disdain is aimed mostly at the vegetal, non-seed variety.*

Still, I dutifully put the fennel oil together, toasting the seeds and adding some olive oil and lemon peel. The lemon peel immediately started to fry when it hit the hot oil and I stared at it like a pre-monolith chimp, as though there were no explanation for such a reaction, even though that’s typically what happens when you throw something into hot oil. Can I use the “It’s been a long day” trope to seem less like a moron? No? Didn’t think so.

It was worth a try.

*Exception: when it’s in bouillabaisse, because it undergoes some kind of magical transformation that renders it delicious.

'tatoes and stuff

While the oil infused I started on the potatoes, which would take longer than the fish to cook. And get this: I was just about to start peeling the potatoes when Brian got home, and he was all, “I’ll do it,” and I started doing it anyway, and he was all, “No! STOP! Let me do it!” and then he did. And then I forgot all about the gummy cola bottle thing because I have a man who willingly – almost gleefully – peels the potatoes, which I hate doing.

He’s really fast at it, too. If he were in the military, they’d bust him down to kitchen duty for the smallest infraction just because he can demolish a pile of potatoes like T-Rex the monster truck rolling over a row of 1974 Chevy Impalas. He’s that good.

I rinsed the potatoes as instructed, then layered them in a pan with the detested olives, a mess o’ shallots (technical term), some fresh thyme, salt and a pinch of sugar; I poured in the white wine and set the pan over heat. The wine was supposed to be dry but all I had in the house was a fruity Riesling. If you press me, though, I will deny three times before the cock crows that I used it. I used DRY WHITE WINE because I FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS.


As the potatoes simmered, I pulled out the salmon; it wasn’t time to start cooking it yet, but I wanted to admire it – it was wild Alaskan Sockeye, and would you look at the color? It was even purtier in person.

I trimmed off the skinny ends so the fish would cook evenly and tried to give the scraps to the dogs. I say “tried” because one of the dogs is a picky eater who has an aversion to anything with a sort-of slimy texture. They’re both picky, really – they don’t like to eat food off the floor and have to be directed to scraps that hit the ground via a toe tap before they will saunter over to investigate whether or not they would like to eat that particular thing and WHAT KIND OF DOGS ARE YOU – but one is especially fish-averse. He got it down eventually because the only other option was to give it to his fellow canine companion which WOULD NOT DO, but I don’t think he was happy about it.

When it was time, the fish went into a 275 degree oven so it could roast slowly and leech lots and lots of albumen and become gross-looking. The potatoes were uncovered and the wine cooked down to “glaze” the potatoes, insofar as you can glaze a potato with anything without having the potato just suck it right in.

salmon with fennel oil

I scraped away some of the albumen but much of it insisted on clinging to the fish and could not be dislodged without wrecking the filet, so there you go. Get over it. I heaped my plate with potatoes, included a few olives for photographic purposes only, nestled the fish on top and spooned some fennel oil over it. I added a small spring of thyme hoping to detract from the unsightly albumen with The Chive Effect. It didn’t work.

I thought this dinner was great; it was one of those dishes that when you get a little bit of everything on the fork, it just sings. The flavors of the salmon and potatoes had a kind of Mediterranian/Proven├žal vibe going on. The fennel actually accentuated the salmon flavor, and the slightly briny, slightly sweet potatoes (both from the wine and from the cooked-down shallots) were a great counterpart.

My potato-peeling, non-gummy-cola-bottle eating partner wasn’t so sure, and felt like the assertive fennel overpowered the flavor of the fish. As previously noted, however, the plate was cleaned, so the complaint was an insipid one. The potatoes were universally beloved.

I can’t think of a conclusion to go here, so, you know, g’night.