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.
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.
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.
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/Provençal 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.
The potatoes look amazing. I too am not a fan of fennel flavored anything – mostly because some non-italian idiot decreed that all italian sausage is fennel-seed flavored (nothing could be further from the truth – lived in Italy for 20 years and NEVER had a sausage thusly flavored) but do like the vegetable itself – especially a dish called, you’ll love this Michelle, cazzo imperio. Yup. Quartered raw fennel “leaves” (layers) dipped in olive oil with salt and fresh ground pepper. Also known as pinzimonio, but only in Trastevere…..and possibly a few other parts of older, vernacular Rome….. Just a little lore for your blog.
Wow that salmon looks great, the color is amazing! See, I LOVE fennel AND olives, but my husband and son do not.
You make me wish I was cooking Provencal food again! I never thought I would miss it; cooking Caribbean Fusion now and like the laid back aspects of it. You absolutely rock, and I’m going to need some Copper River salmon tomorrow. Too bad I don’t have the connections anymore; I’ll have to settle for Shad.
Brian redeemed himself with the potatoes but I too am a gummy cola bottle fan. Dad let the ball drop when giving him the “are you worthy of my daughter” exam.
The salmon is singing to me, I’m smitten.
It’s actually a good thing Brian doesn’t like gummy cola bottles. It means you don’t have to share! That’s always a plus in my book: a legitimate excuse to greedily keep my favorite food all to myself.
You just discovered Brian doesn’t like gummy cola bottles after eight years? Don’t feel bad. My in-laws just celebrated 58 years of marriage. One day they were talking about the past and my father in law tells my mother in law that his mother 1) liked the girl he was dating before he started dating her better and 2) that his mother didn’t like him marrying a Catholic.
She’s starting to wonder what else she’ll learn!
Yeah, I have to agree with Sarah here. My husband is lactose intolerant and I gleefully stock the freezer with ice cream knowing that he will never even look twice at it, much less eat the last of it on me. Also works with anything with coconut or mint chocolate. I will admit here that I intentionally buy mint chocolate in the hopes that he won’t touch it. I will deny it to him all day long.
I didn’t use to be a big fan of fennel, but I’ve been pressured so often after meals with Paolo’s family, “You *don’t* like fennel?!!!!” that I started nibbling on it. It ain’t half bad. LOVE salmon. This looks great (I’ll take your olives).
Ugh, *used* to be a big fan.
i’ve had rieslings that left me gasping for breath as if i had sipped bone dust, and i’ve had rieslings that tasted like liquified green apple jolly ranchers. they remind me of jalepenos, which at times are as mild as green bell peppers and at times remind you that they are a close relative to habaneros.
I may have to make that salmon for my dearest husband who, on account of my allergies to seafoods wide and varied, never gets to eat any that he doesn’t cook himself. And he’s not a good cook, poor thing. I’ll bet I could buy six months of up-sucking with that one.
anna, that’s how my mom always ate fennel, but i could never do it.
erika, right? i couldn’t get over the color, it was gorgeous.
brian, ain’t nothing wrong with caribbean fusion, yum.
kerry, yeah, he dropped the ball on that one. and he was usually so thorough with shit like that.
sarah, you raise a fine point.
kim, i have been known to buy mint-oreo ice cream because i know he’s anti-mint and won’t touch it. but only rarely.
michelle, you can have my olives if you can wrestle them away from brian.
burkie, i’m not going to say that this one tasted like jolly ranchers, but i will say that it leaned in that direction.
dee, it may be the easiest way of cooking fish ever; chuck in a super-low oven and walk away for half an hour.
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