1½ pounds fresh wild
king or sockeye salmon fillet
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup mixed coarsely chopped soft-leafed herbs, such as basil, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, lovage, mint, sorrel, or tarragon, plus additional small tender herb sprigs for garnish
Coarse sea salt for finishing
1) Pull out any small bones that were left in the salmon and, if you wish, trim off the gray fat that was next to the skin. Holding your knife at a 30-degree angle to the cutting board, cut the salmon into 4-wide slices that are about ¾-inch thick. Lay them in a shallow baking dish and pour in the olive oil, rubbing it around the fillets to coat all the sides. Let the fish sit in the oil as it comes to room temperature, 30 to 60 minutes.
2) Preheat the oven to 225°F, or 200°F if you have the option of convection bake. Lift the fillets from the oil and evenly space them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the fish lightly with salt. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When it’s done, the fat between the layers of fish will just begin to turn opaque, a small amount of liquid will collect under the fillets, and the fish will flake slightly when nudged with your finger. Pick up a piece and it should easily break apart between the layers rather than holding firmly together. It might appear to be underdone because the color will be vivid, but it will be fully cooked.
3) While the fish is roasting, make the sauce. Boil the wine, shallots, lemon juice, and ¼ teaspoon salt together in a small saucepan until you have half as much as you started with. Turn the heat to medium-low and whisk in the butter, one-third of it at a time, until it is all incorporated. If you have an immersion blender, use it to blend the sauce for about 10 seconds, which gives it a creamier consistency. If the fish is not quite ready, keep the sauce warm by putting the saucepan in a larger pan of hot water.
4) When the salmon is done, transfer the fillets to individual warmed plates (since the sauce will run, choose plates with deep rims that will contain it, or use shallow bowls). Stir the coarsely chopped herbs into the sauce, taste it and add more salt if you think it needs it, then ladle it around the fish. Sprinkle each fillet with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Toss the reserved herb sprigs onto the plates in a casual way and serve.
I’ve become a devotee
of this method of baking salmon in a very slow oven. It comes out glistening,
deeply colored, and slightly translucent, as if the fillets were still rare,
though they will be cooked throughout and yield to your fork with moist flakes
of a rich buttery texture and fresh delicate flavor. To achieve this fish
perfection, you should avoid farmed salmon and seek out beautifully fresh wild
king or sockeye salmon.
The sauce is similar to a beurre blanc (a classic butter and white wine sauce), but it’s much lighter in body than the traditional version. At the last minute you stir in big handfuls of coarsely chopped soft-leafed herbs, which give body to the sauce and load it with a lush bouquet of flavor. I call it a spring herb sauce, but you can make it in any season as long as you choose herbs with tender leaves.