Fish, like everything else we eat, is seasonal. I generally don’t eat tomatoes or peppers out of season. Similarly, I prefer to wait for salmon season, which usually runs from late spring through late summer. Call me a snob, but farmed salmon doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing. Consider it an annual splurge.
Wild salmon simply tastes better. It makes sense given that wild salmon eat live prey and have a varied diet, whereas farmed eat the equivalent of kibble. The wild kind is like free-range chicken: It gets exercise, so it is meaty and firm. The farmed lives in a pen, like a battery cage chicken, so its flesh is bland and flabby. Which tastes better? Guess.
The year’s first wild salmon has brilliant red flesh, a mild sweet flavour and a velvety texture because it feeds on shrimp and krill. As the season progresses and a diet of anchovies and sardines begins, the meat is a paler pink, and the taste is a bit stronger, but still absolutely delicious.
There are many ways to cook your wild salmon. You can sizzle it in a cast-iron pan, skin-side down, until the skin becomes crisp. You can poach it in a seasoned broth enhanced with wine, or you can steam it. The easiest method is to bake it briefly, just until the juices start to appear on the surface. You want to keep it ever so slightly undercooked, since it will continue to cook when it is removed from the oven.
An elegant way to serve it also happens to be very easy. When the fish emerges from the oven, give it a dollop of lime-scented crème fraîche and a drizzle of homemade chive oil. These simple flourishes allow the salmon’s sweet flavour to dominate, adding richness and tang.
Then, dress it up with a scattering of chive blossoms (but pull the blossoms apart into tiny florets and use restraint — the pretty violet flowers are more powerfully oniony than you might imagine).
Make it a special occasion. Invite only the friends you know who will truly appreciate its delicacy. Open a really good bottle of white wine or Champagne. It is wild salmon season, after all.
Wild Salmon with Chive Oil and Lime Crème Fraîche
Total time: 45 mins
4 pieces wild king salmon fillet
2 tbsp – Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup – Roughly chopped chives
2 tbsp – Thinly sliced chives, for garnish
3/4 cup – Grapeseed oil or another neutral oil, such as safflower
1 cup – Crème fraîche
Zest and juice of one small lime
Chive blossoms or other edible blossoms (optional)
Watercress sprigs or other peppery greens, for garnish
* Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lay the salmon fillets on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Coat salmon with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Bring to room temperature.
* Make the chive oil: Put 1 cup roughly chopped chives in a blender or food processor. With the food processor running, slowly add oil and a pinch of salt. You should have a bright-green oil. Transfer chive oil to a small bowl.
* Put crème fraîche in a small bowl. Stir in lime zest and juice. Season with a little salt.
* Bake salmon on top rack of oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until just done. When you see juices begin to rise to the surface of the fish, remove fish from oven. It is better to err on the less-cooked side; the fish continues to cook a bit from residual heat.
* To serve, transfer fish to individual plates or a platter. Dollop about 1 tbsp of limey crème fraîche on each fillet. Drizzle chive oil over the top and sprinkle with chives. Garnish with blossoms and watercress sprigs.