WFD: Crispy Skin Salmon, Leeks, Simple Fines Herbs Beurre Blanc

January 29, 2008


OK, being honest this isn’t a true Beurre blanc. It is a far simpler, far lighter sauce, which I think goes well when you have an oily rich fish like salmon. It has been a while since we have had salmon. I tend not to buy it in the “off season” months, even though good quality frozen at sea salmon is really pretty decent. Unless you get top grade stuff however, it is never much of a match to a perfectly fresh piece of salmon. When you do get decent frozen salmon however, it is a simple delight in those off season months.

This is really a blend of a few different recipes. The herb beurre blanc comes from the “Herbal Kitchen” cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld. He does this with a really slowly baked salmon. The result is of course, amazing. The salmon and leeks pretty much comes from “Bouchon” by Thomas Keller. Both of these books are pretty great. Both are my kind of food. Herbal Kitchen is instantly more accessible, and generally faster to cook. Bouchon has a real place in my heart. Some of my favorite food is from French Bistros, and much of it is in this book. The biggest problem I have here is just how long most of the recipes take. A lot is just making basic building blocks for recipes. With some creativity, things can be shortened a bit, generally without knocking too much flavor. What is good however is that throughout the book, you are told how long these building blocks will last in the fridge, if you can freeze them etc. Keller is obviously and gifted chef, with a huge knowledge of French cooking. You can kinda tell that his real love is of this more simple French food, than the recipes in his other books. If I had a choice, I would eat a Bouchon over French Laundry any day. Shame that I don’t have the choice to go to either!

The leeks are great. They are boiled, then dumped into an ice bath to stop cooking, and to preserve that fantastic bright green color. He only uses the light green sections of leek for this one, but screw it – I use the white and light green sections, otherwise I am wasting a bunch of leeks (I guess I could use the whites for something else though..) They are then gently reheated in a little chicken stock. The result is great, delicate soft leeks, that seem rich but really aren’t at all.

The salmon is simply cooked skin side down in a little oil, on a gentle pan. If you like you salmon cooked all the way through, you can then bung it in the oven for a bit, to just cook through. It is a travesty to overcook salmon, so make sure you keep an eye on how it is doing in there. Salmon can dry up quickly. The textural adventure through this salmon is great. You go from a super crisp skin, that is salty, to the soft fat layer underneath, and the smooth flesh, that varies in “doneness” as you go through the meat. Fantastic.

Oh, I nearly forgot.. that simple sauce. It is really just some chopped shallots, cooked in white wine. When the wine has reduced quite a bit, you whisk is some butter, then add the aromatic herbs. Fines Herbs is a great blend of soft herbs. It normally comprises of flat leaf parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil. I didn’t have any chervil, and wasn’t about to run to the market for it.

A pretty quick dish, that is a simple delight midweek.

Crispy Skin Salmon, Leeks, Fines Herbs Beurre Blanc

3 glasses of white wine

Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (1 tablespoon)

Chopped fresh chives (1 tablespoon)

Chopped fresh tarragon (1 tablespoon).

1 small shallot, finely chopped

1/2 cup of chicken stock

1 teaspoon of butter

3/4lb salmon fillet – a thick center cut piece

3 large leeks

Start by cutting off the root of the leek, and the dark green section. Remove the outer layer of the leek. Cut this into 1/2″ rounds. Soak in a little warm water, to remove any remaining dirt.

Get a large pan of water boiling, and add the leeks into it. In a large bowl, bung in some ice cubes and cold water. When the leeks are just cooked through, strain into a small colander, and dunk this colander into the ice water, until the leeks have cooled. Remove and drain.


Preheat oven to 325, if you want your salmon just cooked through.

In a medium non stick pan, get some olive oil up to a medium temperature. Add the salmon fillets skin side down, and gently cook until the skin is really crispy. Don’t rush this. We don’t want it burnt, take your time. When the skin looks rich and crispy, transfer this pan to the oven (if it is oven safe), and bake until just cooked through.


In a small frying pan over a high heat, put the wine shallots in. Let the wine reduce by at least half. Remove from the heat, whisk in butter off the heat. Just before serving, stir in the herbs.

In a medium pan, pour in your chicken stock, and add the leeks. Simmer over a medium heat until the leeks are heated through.

To serve, place the sauce on two plates. Add the leek mixture to the center of each plate. Top with the salmon, crispy skin up.

In Europe we generally serve fish skin side up. No idea why. It could stem from people wanting to see how fresh the fish is. Hard to tell when you have fried the skin crispy though. If you ask me however, the crispy skin is a delight to see, and gets your tastebuds going before you have even raised your fork.


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  • Court June 5, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Thanks for this. I just made a variation of this recipe for myself with what I had around the kitchen, and it was the best salmon dinner I’ve ever had. I followed the salmon directions exactly, but for the sauce I used white onion, garlic, fresh parsely, a fresh little dill, and salt and pepper. Also, I didn’t have any leeks, so I just ate the salmon on the sauce. It was so good. Next time I’ll follow the recipe because I bet it’s even better.