ONCE SALMON WAS only a sometime treat. At least fres salmon was. (Canned salmon, like canned tuna, probably was served on the Mayflower.) But no longer. For Americans, salmon has become queen of the seas. Rarely will you find an upscale (or midscale, for that matter) restaurant menu that doesn't list one or more salmon preparations. Fresh salmon is regularly on display, too, at supermarket fish counters.
Indeed, salmon may well lay claim to the title of national fish. "When it comes to fish," fish authority Jon Rowley says, "people's tastes are pretty regional. But salmon is popular all over, even in states like Indiana and Arkansas."
An appealing pink in color, meaty and flavorful but not "fishy" to taste, fresh salmon has climbed up the seafood hit parade for several reasons.
It responds well to many different methods of preparation (poaching, steaming, pan-frying, baking or roasting, grilling, smoking, pickling or raw, as sushi or tartare, for starters). It is a traditional ingredient in cuisines as varied as Scandinavian, Native American and Japanese. Most important, supplies are ample and prices relatively stable.
The reason for this is the development of salmon farms in coastal waters around the world, most notably in Norway. Farmed varieties now account for about 25 percent of the world's salmon harvest, but despite a sharp upturn in demand for fish, "production capacity still exceeds marketing capacity," as one industry analyst puts it. So long as that's the case, prices won't soar.
Of consistent quality and available on demand year-round, these farm-raised fish are a boon to menu-writers and merchants. Most offer excellent taste and texture, although connoisseurs pronounce them less interesting to eat than the best of the wild species. (Few menus specify whether the salmon is farmed or wild.)
The following recipes for indoor cooks further illustrate salmon's remarkable versatility. The salad and the pasta dish are perfect vehicles for leftover cooked salmon. The novel pan-steamed salmon recipe is from Gary Danko, the talented chef at Chateau Souverain in Sonoma, Calif.
9 small green beans
1/4 cup fava or lima beans
9 small asparagus spears
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup fish fumet or clam broth
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
3 salmon steaks, cut 3/4 -inch thick with small bones and skin removed
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
Blanch green beans, fava beans and asparagus in boiling, salted water until just tender. Refresh under cold water, drain and set aside.
Make the sauce: Place minced shallot, wine and fish fumet in a non-aluminum saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by a third. Add cream and bring to a boil. Working on and off the heat so sauce doesn't liquefy, whisk in butter to form an emulsion. Strain into a clean saucepan. Add tarragon leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside in a warm place off the heat.
Arrange salmon in a buttered saute pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Do not add liquid. Fit with a tight lid and place over medium-low heat for about three minutes. Salt and pepper the steaks, turn them and salt and pepper the second side. Add diced tomato, cover pan and cook an additional three minutes or until salmon is cooked but still pink in the center.
Meanwhile reheat vegetables and sauce. Place a salmon steak on each of three plates, garnish with tomato and arrange the vegetables around the salmon. Spoon sauce over salmon and vegetables and serve at once with a California chardonnay such as Chateau Souverain.
Makes three servings.
Pasta with Salmon
1/2 pound salmon fillet or steak, 3/4 -inch thick
10 ounces spinach, washed and stems removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, cleaned and chopped
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chicken or fish broth
1/2 cup whipping cream
Pepper to taste
8 ounces pasta (angel hair, spaghetti, linguini), fresh preferred
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Poach or steam salmon until cooked but still pink in the center, about seven minutes. Lift from pan, cool, remove any skin and bones and flake salmon. Boil or steam spinach in or over the same water. Remove spinach, cool, squeeze out water, chop and reserve. (Recipe may be done ahead to this point.)
In a saute pan, heat oil; add leek and cook over medium heat until leek softens. Add chopped tomato, chicken broth and cream. Bring to a boil and cook until sauce has reduced by a third. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat water in a large pan to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt and the pasta. Cook until pasta is just tender, about ten minutes.
About three minutes before pasta is done, add spinach and flaked salmon to the hot sauce and cook until heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning.