It's rare to find a piece of salmon that actually tastes like fish. Farmed salmon is rich and mild, but isn't really reminiscent of the sea. Frozen wild salmon, which is what's available most of the year, has a deeper flavor, but it often lacks a pronounced saline punch.
A little anchovy thrown into the pan can go a long way toward rectifying that. Not only are anchovies supremely fishy (in a very good way), they also have a brawny mineral character. A couple of fillets will dissolve in a sauce, leaving their umami trail behind them. They'll make your salmon taste like its best self, or maybe even better.
In this recipe, I mix the anchovies, along with a little garlic, into butter and then use that butter in two separate ways. A portion of it acts as the cooking medium for searing the salmon. As the butter browns, the anchovies caramelize and the garlic sweetens.
I stir the rest of the butter into the pan just before serving. It gets just enough contact with the hot metal to melt into a creamy sauce, but not enough to cook the garlic or anchovies, which remain raw, sharp and pungent, contrasting with the fatty salmon.
Capers and a squeeze of lemon add brightness and tang. Chopped parsley is optional but pretty, and provides an earthy freshness otherwise lacking from the plate.
You can use the same anchovy garlic butter to cook any fish, be it oily and dark (swordfish and mackerel) or pale and lean (halibut and hake). Be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed. Thinner fillets will cook more quickly than most fat chunks of salmon. If you're not a fish lover, substitute boneless chicken breast or thigh, which will take a few extra minutes to cook through.
A note on the anchovies: Use the regular brown kind in a jar or can, not the white anchovies you find draped over many a Caesar salad these days. White anchovies are cured through a different process, which leaves them firmer, with an intense pickled flavor that's not quite right for this dish. The brown ones are saltier and more subtle, and break down into a sauce more easily.
Finally, to all you anchovy haters out there, yes, you can leave them out and make salmon with garlic butter instead. It will be a completely different dish. But with salmon, garlic and butter, you really can't go wrong.
Salmon with Anchovy-Garlic Butter
Time: 25 minutes
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 anchovy fillets, minced
1 fat garlic clove, minced (or 2 small ones)
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 (6- to 8-ounce) skin-on salmon filets
2 tablespoons drained capers, patted dry
Fresh chopped parsley, for serving
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, mash together butter, anchovies, garlic, salt and pepper.
2. In a large ovenproof skillet, melt about half the anchovy butter. Add fish, skin side down. Cook for 3 minutes over high heat to brown the skin, spooning some of the pan drippings over the top of the fish as it cooks. Add capers to bottom of pan and transfer to oven. Roast until fish is just cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Remove pan from oven and add remaining anchovy butter to pan to melt. Place salmon on plates and spoon buttery pan sauce over the top. Squeeze the lemon half over the salmon and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve.
Yield: 4 servings
And to Drink ...
Salmon suits many different wines. I often choose a red; pinot noirs go beautifully with wild salmon. But the salty anchovy butter in this recipe tips the balance toward a white, or a good dry Bandol rosé, which should be substantial enough to stand up to the assertive fish. Similarly, among whites, I want something dry but with enough body not to knuckle under, like a St.-Aubin, to name one excellent value among white Burgundies, or a chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast or Oregon. An Oregon pinot gris would be terrific, as long as it's from a top producer like Eyrie or Chehalem. You could also try a richer Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé, or even a Savenniéres from the Loire. I wouldn't rule out reds, either, like a very lightly chilled cru Beaujolais.
- ERIC ASIMOV
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