Here in the southern heart of king salmon country on the northern California coast (Oakland, California, to be exact), there’s happiness on the topic of salmon because they’re back after years of diminishing populations and concern over their potential extinction. Thank you Fish and Game and all the environmental activists who have endeavored to ensure their preservation.
Salmon gloriously lends itself to so many treatments, you can traverse the cuisines of the world and find appealing way to prepare it: crude (Hawaiian lomi lomi), cured (zillions of ways from Scandinavia to Nova Scotia), smoke-dried jerk (Aleut Native Americans, among others), poached (France), grilled (Alaska, see the next salmon song). Even leftover cooked salmon is made delicious as croquettes.
Watercress, an aquatic plant of the mustard family, lends brisk, cleansing umami to the rich fish. Almonds add fancy and cream smooths the triad into triumph, in Northern California style. The recipe is adapted from my forthcoming book, co-authored with Susanna Hoffman, Bold: A Cookbook of Big Flavors and Hearty Portions (November, 2013).
4 skinless salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher or fine sea salt
1/ 4 cup sliced almonds
1/ 2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup watercress leaves, preferably hydroponic
2 slices good quality smoked salmon, cut into 1/ 8-inch wide strips
1. Place the salmon fillets on a lightly greased baking sheet and season each on both sides using 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt. Set aside at room temperature for up to 45 minutes, or refrigerate for up to several hours.
2. Preheat the broiler or the oven to 500 degrees F.
3. Toast the almonds in a dry skillet over medium-high heat or in a microwave oven until lightly golden, 4 to 5 minutes either way. Set aside.
4. Place the salmon under the broiler or in the oven and cook, without turning, until the flesh is firm but still medium rare, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the fillets to a platter and set aside for the juices to settle while making the watercress cream.
5. Pour the cream into a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stir in the watercress and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and remove from the heat right away.
6. Spoon the sauce over the salmon and garnish each piece with smoked salmon and almonds. Serve right away.