Shallow-poached salmon with shallots and capers

Salmon gets a healthy and easy treatment when cooked in a shallow poach.

You know the saying “there are other fish in the sea”? You know, the one people usually say when you’re going through a breakup and need some reassurance that you did not in fact lose your one true love in the world? Yeah, that one.

I actually like that saying; I’m a “deal-with-it-and-move-on” type of person, so that clichéd phrase suits me just fine. When it comes to men, there really are other fish in the sea. When it comes to actual fishes, however, there is but one fish for me: salmon.

Oh, its soft, fleshy goodness. Oh, its rich, buttery wonderfulness. Oh, its heart-healthy omega-3s. Raw, broiled, baked, marinated, pan-fried, stuffed: you name it, I’ll eat. Me + Salmon = Love, happily ever after.

Sure, I do have a soft spot in my tummy for tilapia, haddock, halibut, and perch – along with the childhood Wisconsin dinner memories that go with them – but when push comes to shove, I opt for salmon 90% of the time. My favorite way to prepare fillets is to simply marinate them with mustard, saffron, olive oil, and minced shallots, or perhaps soy, olive oil, ginger, and garlic, then flip them into the oven to broil for a few minutes. However, since I do try to be a creative Night Owl Chef, I’m always eager to try new salmon preparations, and in particular I’ve always been curious to poach salmon.

Enter an old issue of Cooks Illustrated that I ran across. I found an article inside for a novel shallow poaching method and instantly bookmarked it to try. Instead of completely submerging the fish in liquid, shallow poaching lays the salmon fillets on round lemon slices and fills the cooking vessel with a wine/water mixture just a bit past the bottom of the fish. This prevents the bottom from getting overdone while the thickness of the salmon steams. It is, in a word, brilliant. Oh – and delicious. And soft. And buttery….

When I made this a few nights ago, I put everything in the pot with trepidation, including some new marjoram from Penzy’s instead of the fresh herbs the recipe called for. I was nervous that I was going to overcook the salmon and end up with a pink hockey puck for dinner, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I don’t think it’s possible to screw up this cooking method! The liquid in the pot and the steam kept the salmon succulent and far from hard or dried-out. I even cooked it a bit too long for my tastes – I prefer the middle to be just done – but the flesh was still soft and flavorful throughout. In summary, you must try this cooking method because you will enjoy it. It was so easy and so perfect.

And the topping? Probably not necessary for every meal, but it was fun and easy. I roughly chopped capers, minced half a shallot, and threw that together with some honey, a dab of olive oil, and a splash of the reduced poaching liquid. It was a nice compote, and I suggest keeping the liquid to a minimum – otherwise it becomes a runny sauce. Its piquant flavors were tasty, but did overpower the delicate notes of marjoram in the poaching liquid, so I recommend using it to your discretion.

Shallow-poached salmon with capers and shallots (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

  • 1 lemon, cut into 1/4″ thick slices
  • 2 salmon fillet pieces, 4-5 oz each
  • 1 shallot, minced, divided
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram (or fresh herbs, such as parsley)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon honey (or agave nectar, as I used)
  • 2 teaspoons mild-flavored olive oil, such as Kalamata

In a covered saucepan, lay the lemon slices flat into two lines. Scatter half of the minced shallot and the marjoram over the lemon slices. Season the salmon with salt and pepper, and lay the fillet pieces across the lemon slices so the fish is directly over the lemon and none touches the pan. Pour the wine and water into the pan so the liquid comes up just past the bottom of the salmon.

Set the pan over high heat, and bring the liquid to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook the salmon until the sides are opaque and the center temperature is 125°F, about 10-12 minutes. Remove the salmon to a sheet of foil using a flat spatula, and fold the foil over loosely. Remove the lemon slices from the poaching liquid and discard.

Increase the heat to high, and simmer the poaching liquid until it thickens and reduces down to two tablespoons, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the second half of the minced shallots, capers, marjoram, honey, olive oil, and a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk together, then spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the reduced poaching liquid into the bowl, but don’t include the cooked shallots.

Serve the salmon with a tablespoon or so of the caper-shallot sauce on top.

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2 thoughts on “Shallow-poached salmon with shallots and capers

  1. LOVE his post Night Owl Chef. I had such a craving for salmon today, I had to stop by a roadside smoking place for their Maple Smoked Salmon. To my chagrin, it was over smoked, if there is such a thing. I may just try this method you discovered with maple and some of your suggested seasonings. I’m thinking the capers will certainly add interesting results with the maple.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I’m saving this recipe and will definitely try it. I’ll let you know when I do:)

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