May 24, 2009
Salmon, Strawberry, and Watercress Salad
by Gareth Mark
Cooking for other people is great, but sometimes I just want to treat myself. Tonight was one of those nights. I actually spent more time shopping for this meal than I did preparing it, but I do love shopping for food!
After dinner, I sent the photo to a few friends and family members and started writing a post. I soon started receiving responses, and decided I needed to write a different post. "Why those ingredients," one person asked. Another commented, "I can't imagine how the flavors go together." Here's the why and how of this dish.
This meal began, as most of mine do, at a market. I look for what speaks to me, what looks good, what will go together with the other things in my shopping basket. The first thing in the store to grab my attention and refuse to let go was the organic strawberries that were on special. I grabbed some and looked for watercress. Why?
Next time you get your hands on a strawberry, taste it. Bite into the fresh berry and ignore the sweetness you expect. Instead, focus on the rest of the flavor. Notice the spicy notes, the acid bite of the vitamin C, the hint of sourness. Now, imagine that complex flavor paired with some peppery watercress. The slight sweetness of the strawberry will contrast nicely with, and tone down, the pepperiness of the cress, while the cress will bring out all the non-sweet flavors in the berry.
Berries are a traditional accompaniment to game. The fish monger had wild, line-caught Coho salmon. If you've never had wild, line-caught salmon, you've only had some pale, bland imitation fish. The salmon can stand up to the cress, which has a strong flavor that can be hard to pair with anything other than beef.
To round out the shopping, I grabbed a shallot and some microgreens. Shallots, as you know, have a flavor that crosses mild onion with very mild garlic; neither flavor component will overwhelm the strawberries. Microgreens, for those of you unfamiliar with them, are seedlings of salad greens, herbs, edible flowers, and leafy vegetables. They have very strong flavors; combined with watercress, the green portion of the salad will be quite vibrant and intense.
Putting the dish together starts with the berries. I made a fresh strawberry pickle by thinly slicing the berries and mincing a small amount of shallot. To that I added minced spearmint from the garden. I drizzled a bit of aged balsamic on the mix, then added a splash of gewürztraminer. I mixed everything well, then covered it and let it sit for about an hour. A taste at that point suggested salt, so I added a pinch of fleur de sel and let the berries continue to macerate.
After another half hour, I was ready to eat. I cleaned the salmon fillet, removing the pin bones, then poached it in 2 parts water and 1 part gewüurztraminer.
I placed a layer of watercress into a soup plate, topped it with microgreens, then spooned the strawberry pickles onto the greens, reserving the small amount of liquid in the pickle bowl. The salmon went on top and I drizzled the reserved liquid on top.
How was the flavor? I liked it, but for many people the salmon would be bland (no salt). I found it buttery with a slight gamey flavor and a hint of deep sea. The strawberry pickles would have been a bit better, more piquant, if I had used rice wine vinegar (unseasoned) instead of wine, but they worked quite well. Overall, I found it very satisfying, and will repeat the meal, with variations, of course!