The French love to cook fish by poaching it in a flavored liquid, usually a combination of white wine and water, leeks or onions, and some herbs. It’s a notably lean way to roll because there’s no fat involved. And the finished product is reliably tender because it’s been cooked at a low temperature.
So, it’s lean, tender and … quite boring. I crave more flavor and texture. So here’s a recipe for poached salmon that adds the missing elements.
Typically, poaching calls for a lot of liquid. The fish is supposed to be submerged as it cooks, after which the liquid usually is tossed. I wanted a way to poach the fish in a small amount of liquid, which then could do double duty as a sauce. Given that fish generally requires a spritz of acid to brighten it up, the ideal liquid needed to be acidic and intensely flavored. Green salsa — that is, tomatillo salsa with chilies and lime juice — struck me as a likely candidate.
The salmon wouldn’t have to swim in a vat of the salsa. I made a modest batch and cooked the salmon in a smallish skillet with the salsa rising halfway up the sides of the fillets. I covered the pan tightly to trap the heat and flipped over the salmon halfway through its cooking time to make sure it cooked evenly.
How do you know when the salmon is finished cooking? If you slide a knife into it and the blade sails through the fillet with no resistance, it’s done. And be sure to pull it off the heat when there’s still a tiny bit of resistance left, which will allow for carry-over cooking time.
For crunch, I sprinkled tortilla chips on top; they are salsa’s classic partner. But these were my own healthy baked tortilla chips, which take only 15 minutes to prepare. On the whole, this recipe is pretty quick and easy to make, but you can streamline it even further by picking up green salsa and baked tortilla chips at the supermarket.
By the way, there were leftovers the second time we tested this winner. When we polished them off the next day, we discovered that this dish is just as delicious cold as hot.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
For the tortilla strips:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Four 6-inch corn tortillas
For the salmon:
8 ounces fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed and quartered
1/2 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and light green parts)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 jalapeno or serrano chili, seeds removed if desired
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 equal portions
To make the tortilla strips, heat the oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, stir together the oil, chili powder and cumin. Brush the oil mixture over both sides of each tortilla. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut the tortillas into thin strips. Arrange the strips in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake the strips on the oven’s middle shelf for 6 to 8 minutes, or until crispy. Sprinkle with salt, let cool completely, then break them up slightly. Set aside.
To prepare the salsa, in a food processor, combine the tomatillos, scallions, cilantro, lime juice, chili and garlic. Pulse until the ingredients are almost smooth with a few small chunks.
In a medium skillet over medium, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatillo mixture and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add 1/2 cup of water. Season with salt and pepper. Add the salmon to the skillet, skin sides down, then cover the skillet tightly and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
Turn the salmon over, cover tightly and simmer gently until the salmon is almost cooked through, about another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the salmon stand for 3 minutes, covered, before serving.
To serve, transfer a portion of salmon to each of 4 plates, then top each with sauce and tortilla strips.
Nutrition information per serving: 470 calories; 240 calories from fat (51 percent of total calories); 27 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 110 mg cholesterol; 370 mg sodium; 18 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 40 g protein.
Sara Moulton is host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals.” She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including “Cooking Live.” Her latest cookbook is “Home Cooking 101.”