Eric Akis: Chilled poached salmon served with two aioli flavours

Eric Akis

My wife, Cheryl, son, Tyler, and I recently had a sunny Saturday celebratory lunch with his girlfriend, Sarah, and our mutual friends Anne and Adam. Our plan for the occasion was not complicated.

First we would have a few snacks, sip some bubbly wine and play bocce on the back lawn. Then we would step up onto our deck, get seated around the table and enjoy a nice meal.

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When planning this kind of casual lunch, I prefer to make a main-course dish that can be made partially or entirely in advance — something that does not require a lot of last-minute fussing, which means I'll be able to spend more time at the table with my dining companions.

My son must feel the same way because, in separate communications about the meal to my wife, we both suggested to her that a cold salmon dish, with some kind of tasty sauce, would be great to serve.

Both could be prepared in advance and kept nicely chilled until needed for lunch. Cheryl agreed and about five hours before the meal, I started poaching salmon fillets in court bouillon.

Court bouillon is a liquid made by simmering and flavouring water with such things as wine, lemon, onion, garlic, peppercorns, herbs and salt.

When it’s ready, you submerge and poach the salmon fillets in it. As they cook, the court bouillon deepens and enhances their flavour and gives the salmon a rich pinkish-red colour.

When the salmon fillets were cooked, I carefully lifted them out of the court bouillon, drained them well, then set them on a baking sheet to cool to room temperature.

I then arranged the salmon fillets on a serving platter and covered and refrigerated them for a few hours, until lunchtime. By that time, they were nicely chilled.

While the salmon chilled, my wife and I thought about a sauce to serve with it and determined a quick version of aioli would work well. When I say “quick,” I’m talking about what some would call a cheater version of aioli made with store-bought mayonnaise, not raw egg yolks and oil.

The only problem was that we could not decide how to flavour it, so we ended up making two types of aioli. She made one whose key flavourings were saffron and garlic. I opted to prepare one that was flavoured as you would hollandaise-based béarnaise, with a strained reduction of white wine vinegar, tarragon, shallots and pepper.

Both tasted great with the salmon, and also the simple side dishes we served with it.

They included steamed, chilled local asparagus, and boiled, first-of-season nugget potatoes that we served at room temperature, sprinkled with snipped fresh chives from our garden.

If you try the salmon recipe and make both sauces, you might have some left over.

Both sauces will keep a week or so in the refrigerator and can be used in all sort of other ways, including as a deluxe sandwich spread, a dip for raw vegetables, and, of course, as an accompaniment to another type of seafood dish, such as grilled prawns or steamed mussels.

Cold Poached Salmon with Two Sauces

Chilled, nicely textured fish, served with two rich, flavor-enhancing sauces.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Makes: Six servings

6 cups water

1 1/2 cups white wine

1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced

4 lemon slices

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 bay leaves

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

5 parsley sprigs

2 tsp sea salt

6 (5 oz. to 6 oz/140 to 170g) sockeye salmon fillets

• lemon slices and tarragon sprigs, for garnish

• béarnaise aioli and saffron aioli (see recipes below)

Place the water, wine, onion, lemon, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and parsley in a wide pot (mine was 12 inches in diametre). Set pot over medium-high heat and bring the court bouillon to a gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface).

Lower the heat as needed to maintain that simmer. Simmer the court bouillon 10 minutes.

Carefully set the salmon fillets in the court bouillon and gently push down on them to submerge them, if needed.

Simmer the salmon seven to eight minutes, or until just cooked through.

Carefully lift the salmon out of the pot, let each fillet drain well, and set them on a baking sheet. Cool the salmon to room temperature.

When salmon has cooled, remove any material from the court bouillon that might be on it, then arrange the fillets on a serving platter.

Cover, refrigerate and chill the salmon at least two hours before serving (see Eric’s options).

When ready to serve, uncover the salmon, garnish it with lemon slices and tarragon sprigs, then set it on a platter on the dining table. Place the bowls of béarnaise aioli and saffron aioli alongside, for spooning on top of the fish once it’s plated.

Eric’s options: You can poach, cool and keep the salmon covered and refrigerated a day before serving it. The two sauces can also be made a day before needed

Béarnaise-style Aioli

This splendid cold sauce to serve with the salmon is flavoured as one would hollandaise-based béarnaise, with such things as a reduced, tarragon-spiked vinegar mixture.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: A few minutes

Makes: About one cup

1/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot

5 tsp chopped fresh tarragon (divided)

• a few sprinkles of freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup mayonnaise

1 large garlic clove, minced

• squeeze of fresh juice lemon

• pinch or 2 ground turmeric

Place the vinegar, shallot, 3 tsp of the tarragon and pepper in a small pot. Set over medium, medium-high heat, bring to a simmer, and reduce vinegar by half. Remove pot from the heat.

Set a small, fine sieve over a small- to medium-sized mixing bowl. Strain the vinegar mixture through the sieve, pushing on it to get all the liquid out. Let the liquid cool to room temperature.

Mix the remaining tarragon, mayonnaise, garlic, lemon juice and turmeric.

Transfer the aioli to a decorative serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with the salmon.

Saffron Aioli

Here’s a flavourful, golden-hued, cold sauce to serve with the salmon. You’ll find saffron sold in small bottles and packages at specialty food stores and some supermarkets.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Steeping time: Five minutes

Makes: About 3/4 cup

1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled

1 Tbsp boiling water

2/3 cup mayonnaise

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 to 2 tsp fresh lemon juice

• salt and white pepper to taste

1 Tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley

Place the saffron in a small- to medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the boiling water and steep the saffron five minutes. Mix in the remaining ingredients.

Transfer the aioli to a decorative serving bowl, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with the salmon.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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