Our annual survey of seafood in Southeast Louisiana this year counts down the 33 best seafood species that we find more in restaurants than in homes. For the full survey so far, click here. Or use the links at the bottom to move up and down the list.
Salmon is the most widely-served fish in the fine restaurants of the world. It’s highly thought of wherever it’s found fresh. And that’s just about everywhere these days, courtesy of fish farming and air shipping. Salmon is meaty, tasty, and easy to cook in myriad ways.
Edibly speaking, salmon fall into two categories: Atlantic and Pacific. They’re different enough to appear twice in this countdown. The more common is the single Atlantic species, which occurs naturally throughout the northern Atlantic ocean on both sides. Atlantic salmon is also the one grown in fish farms–many of which, ironically, are in the Pacific Ocean. Around New Orleans, almost all of the salmon you see in stores and eat in restaurants is Atlantic. That’s also the source of most smoked salmon, from Canada to Scandiavia.
New Orleans gained an appreciation for salmon only in recent decades. Until the 1980s, you found it in one of two forms–one wonderful and the other horrible. The good kind was cold-smoked as an appetizer in fancy, European-style restaurants and the then-rare kosher-style delis. The other kind was canned, a product so bad in comparison to any other fish that many older Orleanians still have an aversion to eating salmon.
The reason we now find salmon on so many New Orleans menus–even though it has to be brought in thousands of miles away–has as much to do with its convenience for the seller as with its goodness. It’s always available, unlike most local fish. A restaurant can place a standing order for a certain amount of salmon every week and forget about it. For other fish, he has to work the market every day. If the only fish a restaurant offers is salmon, you are in a restaurant that doesn’t put a lot of time into obtaining its raw materials. But it could be worse. It could have been tilapia.
Fortunately, fresh salmon, nicely cut, even if it comes from a farm, is pretty good. It’s also easy to cook, particularly on the grill or under the broiler.
One other issue: the environmental problems associated with salmon farms. They mess up the water and introduce a foreign species, notably in the southern hemisphere. Another reason to eat local. Or at least knowledgeably.
I saw some beautiful center-cut fillets of fresh Scottish salmon early in a tour of the supermarket one day. As I wove in and out the aisles, a recipe formed. Thinly-sliced ham, I thought, would add an interesting flavor dimension. A crust broiled on top of the salmon would give some textural interest. But what will the crust be made of? Mustard and herbs crossed my mind, to which were soon added bread crumbs and the ham, which my brain by now had sliced into ribbons the size of fettuccine. It was all marvelous. If only I were this creative every day.
Resist the temptation to use Creole mustard for this. I love the stuff, but the crust should sharpen, not bludgeon the flavor. Instead, check that jar of gourmet mustard you bought a year and a half ago but never opened. Especially if it’s flavored with herbs and has a light color but a thick texture. It might be perfect, regardless of its components. A German Riesling would be the perfect wine with this, its light sweetness offsetting the sharpness of the glaze.
- 1 Tbs. lemon juice, strained
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- 1 Tbs. herb mustard (use your imagination here)
- 1 tsp. dill
- 1 tsp. dry tarragon (or 2 tsp. fresh, chopped)
- Sprinkle of salt
- 2 oz. (about 4 thin slices) cured, smoked ham (Chisesi, if you live in New Orleans), sliced into ribbons the width of fettuccine
- 1/3 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 Tbs. German (or other sweet) Riesling wine (preferred; or whatever white wine you have handy)
- 4 center cuts (crosswise) of salmon fillet, skin on, about 8 oz each
Preheat the broiler and broiler rack to 500-550 degrees. Set the shelf so that fish on the rack will be about four inches from the heat.
1. Mix the glaze ingredients in a small bowl. Mix the crust ingredients in a second small bowl.
2. Spread the glaze generously over the tops of the salmon. Top with the crust ingredients. Drizzle the tops of the fish with olive oil and sprinkles of wine.
3. Place the fish skin side down on the preheated broiler rack. Broil until high spots on the crust are a convincingly crusty brown.
4. Remove the fish with a slotted turner and serve immediately.