Warm Salmon Salad with Crispy Scales
The topping on this hot-fish-over-cool-salad is a thin crust of potato slices decoratively layered to evoke the scales of a fish. This recipe does utilize the holy trinity of the salmon…thick, flavorful fillets, the remarkably rich skin and the sparkling orange roe. BTW, salmon's unrivaled richness and versatility has earned it the nickname 'bacon of sea' in our house.
Start this show-stopper by prepping your dinner plates. Plain white or ones with simple bands around the rim work best. Boil a whole peeled carrot 'til soft but not mushy — six to eight minutes should do it, with an immediate plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Thinly sliced carrot circles become the playful pattern around the rim and provide a neat little moment of discovery when guests realize that they're more than the china pattern, they're part of the meal.
We didn't have anyone over last night, so this recipe serves two. But it is easily scaled up (ha ha) to serve more, just bump up the ingredients proportionately.
Warm Salmon Salad with Crispy Scales
1/4 stick butter
1 large Idaho potato
salt, white pepper and cracked black pepper
Two wild salmon fillets cut from the thick end, skin on, about 6 oz. each
4 oz. salmon roe
1 small head frisee
1 Belgian endive
1 small head bibb lettuce
1 T. capers
5 Kalamata olives, pitted
1 plum tomato or half of a larger one, seeded
1 t. whole grain mustard
1 T. lemon juice
1 T. white wine or champagne vinegar
1/4 c. of your best olive oil
Boil the carrot, slice and decorate the serving plates, set aside.
Make the scale crust: Trim the peeled potato into a cylindrical column. The smaller the diameter, the more elaborate your scale pattern can be. Slice thin thin thin on a mandolin, almost to the point of translucency but not quite — the disks need to retain a bit of integrity to avoid fragility issues later on.
Melt the butter and brush a heavy baking sheet well. Lay down the disks shingle-style in organized rectangles sized to cover the salmon fillets. Press gently to ensure good contact on the overlaps. Butter the top of the "salmon scales", sprinkle with a pinch or two of white pepper and a bit of salt. Bake the scales in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Your scales will be appealingly browned and crunchy.
While that's going on, prepare the salad. Tear the washed and dried frisee and bibb into small pieces and toss with the endive sliced cross-wise into 1/4" pieces. Everything else going into the salad should be sliced or chopped into tiny pieces — the white and light green of the scallions, the tomato, the olives. If the capers are tiny use as is; larger capers should be chopped. Prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard and olive oil with just a pinch of salt (the salmon roe is plenty salty so hold back from what you'd normally use) and a good grind of black pepper.
Score the salmon skin. Here are two cooking options to get a crispy skin: Skin-side up under a pre-heated broiler for eight minutes or so for medium-rare, depending on thickness. Alternatively, place skin down in a heavy, cold skillet on a cold stove. Turn on the stove to medium-high and cook for 10 minutes. Once they get going, cover the pan for two minutes so the top is nicely cooked also.
Meanwhile toss the lettuces and vegetable bits with the vinaigrette as soon as the salmon starts cooking so the salad has a few minutes to relax into the dressing.
Assembly is easy: on the decorated plates, heap the salad neatly within the rims. Place the hot salmon skin-side down over the salad. With a spatula transfer the scales to lay on top, then spoon blobs of roe evenly over the greens surrounding the fish.
Serve at once to enjoy the wonderful contrast of warm crunchy potato, hot crispy-skinned salmon and cool salad strewn with luxurious salmon caviar.
This has been a favorite of ours for years. I first started making it in the 80's, when potato-wrapped fish was all the rage. My initial encounter with this paring was at Jean-George Vongerichten's first Manhattan restaurant, Lafayette. He was a big deal from the very beginning, earning four stars from the Times right out of the gate. After an incredible dinner there I came up with my approximation to great success. Come to think of it, this recipe or something like it may well be in one of his cookbooks. But it worked so well from the get-go I never looked any further.
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