In the early ʼ80s, a dear friend from England who didn’t cook asked if she and her husband went to the St. Lawrence Market and got a whole salmon, would I prepare it for them. I was delighted she asked.
I can’t remember the occasion, but it turned out to be a great party. We were a group of mixed cultures and got to share various food offerings at functions. It was a wonderful food learning experience as each couple had a different nationality and prepared their native foods: Jamaican, Barbados and other Caribbean guests; Croatia, South African, Indian, German and English.
For that event, aside from preparing the whole poached salmon, I prepared my own St. Jacques Coquille on the half shell. It was a big job for feeding a large group but there was enough for each. Transporting is always a challenge.
Here is my own personal recipe for whole oven poached salmon in Winzertanz. This was about a 6-7 pound salmon.
Poach the whole salmon, head and tail on. Ideally have the fishmonger descale it. Rinse in very cold water. Sprinkle the fish inside and out with salt and a little pepper.
Line the poaching pan with a large piece of cheesecloth, generously draping it over the sides.
In the perfect size poaching pan (you can use just a tinfoil turkey roasting pan in a pinch), I put the cleaned whole fish. I covered the fish completely with mild chicken broth (only use homemade) and added a bay leaf, a couple of stalks each of fresh carrots, celery, a quartered white Spanish onion, a sprig of dill, a couple of whole cloves and a few capers.
Add salt, fresh ground peppercorns, a pinch of thyme and two quartered lemons. Then the most important: four to six cups of Winzertanz depending on the size of the fish.
Place the poaching pan on a foil oven liner pan to catch any drips. Keep the oven clean. Cover the poaching pan with its lid, or close completely using foil, shiny side in. Poke a steam vent hole.
In a preheated oven at 350-375 F, position the fish midway top to bottom, side to side. Reduce heat immediately to 325 F. Keep the oven door closed. No peeking. Allow about 7-10 minutes per inch thickness. You want the salmon to be just done.
Using the cheesecloth as handles, remove the fish from the poaching liquid and place the hot fish on to a cheesecloth lined baking sheet with sides. Let it rest. When able to handle it, slip off the skin.
When the broth is cooled just slightly, pour it into a large stainless steel pot. Bring to a soft boil for a few minutes, then strain through cheesecloth in a sieve.
Clarify using egg shells so that you have a fish consommé. Add finely minced red bell pepper, minced green onion and just a pinch of crushed garlic.
Next: Stir in gelatin packets as per product suggestion.
Pour the broth into a loaf pan to set. Then cut in cubes to surround the cooled fish on a decorated serving platter. Or pour gelatin broth into cold shot glasses, to act as a mould, and when just starting to set, add a party Popsicle stick.
An alternate for another day: make broth Popsicle stick moulds adding chopped (only) lobster claw meat. It’s a really special treat. The saved shells from seafood makes great broth in the same fashion.
For decorating the whole salmon, make firm tomato roses and lemon curls, and/or pretty mimosa half-stuffed eggs.
As a side, serve my multicolored cherry tomato salad.
My German potato salad and my incredible homemade dill bread finish the feast.
This is a great buffet treat for any special occasion.
Here’s another suggestion. Visit your fishmonger and ask him to give you a fresh, never frozen salmon centre cut from behind the gills. Have him scrape the scales for you. He will likely have a boning knife that is razor sharp, much sharper than yours.
A super sharp knife does a much faster, easier and better scaling job. If you are scaling yourself, be absolutely certain to always position the knife so it is moving away from you.
Never buy salmon that is wrapped in a prepackaged plastic wrap on the fish counter at your grocery store. Believe it or not, it could have been re-packed, with a new best before date.
When you take your salmon home, refrigerate it immediately, keeping it in its paper wrapping. Don’t open the package until you are ready to prepare the salmon.
Rinse delicately in very cold water. Pat dry. Leave the skin on, but remove the skin when the salmon is cooked.
Spritz the salmon with Asbach or your favourite brandy.
Paint with a mixture of mustard and maple syrup, equal parts. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper. Drizzle with brandy fig jus from your marinating jar.
Toss a few capers into the package. Lay a whole paper thin slice of onion on top of the salmon skin and a slice of lemon. Position a sprig of dill on top. Close the package with a double roll seam.
Using two layers of parchment paper, make an en papillote (in parchment); overlap and fold a seam if the paper is not large enough. Poke a couple of tiny air holes in the package using the tip of a sharp knife.
Using a preheated, very hot barbecue grill, turn off all the burners. Position your en papillote on a metal barbecue grate sheet with holes. A flat barbecue vegetable grill pan will do.
Turn off the barbecue. Close the lid tight. Guesstimate timing: allow 5 minutes per inch of thickness.
Remove from heat and let it sit just briefly. Remember the fish will continue to steam in its package. Do not overcook. The salmon needs to be just done.
Leave the salmon in its en papillote, using a sharp knife to open the package. Be careful. The package is full of very hot steam. Position the en papillote on a bed of shredded lettuce, surrounded by lemon wedges.
Serve with my homemade potato salad, fresh asparagus and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Homemade ice cream drizzled with an Asbach brandy reduced fig sauce is an ideal way to finish up this light delicious meal.