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Eric Akis: Fresh asparagus sauce provides colourful contrast to salmon

Salmon and bright green asparagus have tastes that work well together
B.C. salmon fillets roasted and served on a spring-green asparagus sauce. ERIC AKIS

B.C.-grown asparagus is in season and over the years I have offered numerous recipes using it. They’ve included salads, soups, risotto, prawn dishes, pizza, sandwiches, stir-fries and others.

In the more than 27 years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve never used asparagus in a sauce, but that changed today. I was inspired to make that move after seeing some beautifully hued sockeye salmon fillets for sale at a grocery store.

I thought the orange-red fish would stand out nicely against an emerald green sauce. And because salmon and asparagus work well together, it made sense to make a sauce for the fish that incorporated the latter.

To prepare this dish, I trimmed off the tough, lower stem of each asparagus spear. I then cut about two inches off the top of each trimmed spear, and blanched, reheated and used those tips to garnish the salmon. To cook the fish, I set the fillets on a baking sheet, seasoned them, then roasted until cooked through.

To make the sauce for the fish, the remaining lower parts of the asparagus spears were sliced and sautéed in olive oil. Flour and sliced green onions were mixed in, and broth added. This thickened mixture was simmered, chopped dill (or tarragon) was stirred in, and the sauce was blended until smooth.

My recipe serves two, but could be doubled or further expanded if serving a larger group.

The recipe yields a generous amount of sauce, so serve the salmon alongside something that works well with sauce, such as boiled miniature potatoes, rice pilaf, risotto or orzo.

You could also serve the fish with boiled or steamed sticks of carrot tossed with a little melted butter, lemon and honey.

Roast Salmon Fillets with Asparagus Sauce

B.C. salmon fillets are roasted and served on a seasonally inspired, spring-green asparagus sauce flavoured with green onion and your choice of fresh dill or tarragon.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 to 22 minutes

Makes: two servings

For asparagus sauce

8 asparagus spears, tough lower stems removed (see Note 1)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 small green onion, thinly sliced

1 Tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken or vegetable broth, plus more, if needed (divided)

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

1 tsp chopped fresh dill or tarragon, or pinch or two of either dried

For the salmon and to serve

2 (5 to 6 oz./140 to 170 gram) sockeye or other salmon fillets (see Note 2)

2 tsp olive oil

2 tsp lemon juice

• salt and ground white pepper, to taste

• lemon slices and fresh dill or tarragon sprigs, for garnish

Trim two inches of the top of each asparagus spear. Set those two-inch long asparagus tips on a small plate and set them aside for now.

Cut the bottom, tip-less pieces of asparagus into thin slices widthwise. Place 1 Tbsp oil in a small pot set over medium heat. Add the sliced asparagus and cook and stir three minutes. Add the flour and green onion and cook one minute more. Slowly mix in 1/4 cup of the broth.

When mixture is very thick, slowly stir in the remaining 3/4 cup of broth.

Bring this sauce to a simmer, and then simmer five minutes, or until asparagus is tender. Add the dill (or tarragon), and then, in a small food processor, or right in the pot with an emersion (hand) blender, puree the mixture until a smooth sauce is created. Thin the sauce with a bit more broth if you find it too thick. Season sauce with salt and pepper, and then set aside until needed (see Eric’s options).

Bring three inches of water to a boil in a second small pot set over medium-high heat. Add the asparagus tips, blanching for two minutes, and then draining well. Cool with ice-cold water, drain well again and set aside until needed.

To cook the salmon, preheat oven to 425 F. Line a small sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the fillets on the sheet skin-side-down. Drizzle each fillet with some of the 2 tsp olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Roast fish eight minutes.

Set the blanched asparagus tips beside the salmon fillets on the baking sheet. Roast salmon two to four minutes more, or until just cooked through and the asparagus tips are hot. While the salmon finishes roasting, re-warm the asparagus sauce over medium-low heat.

When the salmon is cooked, make a generous pool of sauce on one side of each of two dinner plates. Serve any leftover sauce in a bowl at the table.

Top the sauce with a piece of the salmon and four asparagus tips and garnish with some lemon slices and a dill (or tarragon) sprig.

Note 1: Choose thicker asparagus for this recipe, with spears at least 1/2 inch in diameter. When buying asparagus, choose smooth, firm and fairly straight spears that are even in colour, top to bottom, and have tightly closed tips.

Note 2: Salmon fillets vary in thickness, so when determining if it is cooked, remember that when it is, the fish will feel slightly firm, begin to very slightly flake, and a white protein may also seep out from the flakes. If it’s too soft, it’s not cooked through.

Eric’s options: You can make the asparagus sauce and blanch the asparagus tips many hours in advance. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate them until needed for the salmon.

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