Simply food


Individual portions of cold poached salmon garnished with cucumber, lemon and salmon caviar on a bed of watercress

I’ve been exploring different ways to serve salmon, as we move away from red meat in our diet.

My go-to recipe is Baked Salmon using fresh Atlantic salmon fillets, quick and easy to prepare. The recipe is in Market to Table: The Cookbook, (which you can easily buy online for less than $12) but since you are kind enough to read my blog, you can also find it for free in my 2016 story Dining Out or In. Last week, I served it to guests under the arbour in the cosy little garden behind our Toronto townhouse, with roast potatoes and roast tomatoes, cauliflower and a good dash of hollandaise sauce. Now, it’s too hot to eat outside.

Salmon fillets also work well if pan fried. The recipe is also in the cookbook or on the blog at Mashed.

Go-to dish: Baked salmon, with roast potatoes, roast tomatoes, cauliflower, & hollandaise sauce

If I’m just cooking for two, and I’ve bought enough fish for four, I usually cook all the fish and save the unused portions to serve cold the next day. Next time, I’ll write about using salmon instead of tuna in Salade Niçoise.

When I’m doing a big party, I might poach a whole salmon and serve it cold in aspic, or with a creamy mayonnaise dressing. Aspic is made from boiled down animal bones, often pork trotters, so as we are trying to be vegetarian, or at least pescetarians, nowadays I omit the jelly, or at least until I find a good vegetarian variant.

Since it’s Diane’s turn to host the ladies of her book club, she asks me to produce a feast for eight. This is simplicity in itself with a cold dish made in advance. I forgo the dramatic presentation of a whole fish in favour of individual fillets. This way I can cater for exact numbers if another couple of guests decide to come at the last minute. The recipe below is for eight, but it can easily be stretched by buying more portions.

I ask Seafront Fish Market, my favourite fishmonger at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market, to debone and cut the fillets for me, and they oblige with eight perfect quarter pound segments.

I decide to poach the fillets in a court-bouillon, but the recipe escapes me. I finally turn up today’s version in an old edition of Larousse Gastronomique, the bible of French cuisine. Another book tells me that I can save the court-bouillon, strained into a clean bottling jar in the fridge for the next time.

There’s no real trick to poaching fish, but for goodness sake don’t overcook it or the fish will fall to pieces. The delicate flavours of the court-bouillon quickly penetrate the fish. If the odd chunk does separate off as you lift the cooked fillets from the poaching liquor, simply place it back together on the final platter. The decorative garnish will hide all the flaws.


Cold poached salmon

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Cold poached salmon, served with potato salad and asparagus vinaigrette and tangy lemon caper sauce

Shopping list

  • 2 lb salmon, cut into 8 equal size fillets, deboned

Poaching sauce: court-bouillon

  • Large carrot, grated or mandolined, about 50g/2oz
  • Medium onion, chopped, about 50g/2oz
  • Large stick celery, chopped
  • Sprig, fresh parsley, torn up
  • Dry white wine, 2 cups
  • Vegetable broth or stock, 4 cups
  • Water, as needed, to cover the fish


  • Long English cucumber, peeled in stripes and cut very thinly on a mandolin
  • Flat parsley, fresh, torn up
  • Dill, a few fronds, fresh
  • Fresh lemon, cut very thinly on a mandolin
  • Salmon caviar, red

Preparation and cooking

  1. Make a court-bouillon and bring it to a boil in a large pan. If you don’t have a true fish poacher–and these days who does–use a roasting pan, spread over two burners.
  2. Make sure the fillets are deboned, wash and pat dry. Turn the poaching sauce down to a gentle simmer, lay the fillets into the liquid. If the liquid doesn’t quite cover the fish, top up with just enough water to cover and bring back to a simmer. Poach for no more than 6 mins. Do not overcook.
  3. Carefully lift out the salmon pieces and lay them on a plate. Gently remove the skin. Don’t worry if the occasional piece of fish breaks off, mistakes can be hidden by the garnish. Cover with kitchen film and cool for at least an hour.
  4. While the salmon is chilling, peel an English cucumber in strips to leave decorative alternating white and green stripes. Using a mandolin (and if you don’t have one, now is the time to get one) slice the cucumber into very, very thin rounds. Layer into a colander, cover with a good deal of salt, cover and leave for 30 mins. Rinse, pat dry and cool until needed.
  5. Take a clean, decorative platter. Arrange the slices tightly, so the fish looks as though it is whole. Arrange the cucumber slices in an overlapping manner, as if they were fish scales, to cover the entire fish. [In the final photograph, one fillet has been left uncovered, so you can see how it’s done.] Garnish each end with flat parsley and dill sprigs. Garnish the sides with very thinly sliced and halved pieces of fresh lemon [use the mandolin again]. Optionally, lay a spine of red salmon caviar down the middle of the fish. Bring to the table and let each guest help themselves to a fillet.
  6. Serve with a lemon caper sauce, dilled mayonnaise or plain mayonnaise, chef’s choice.

As cold accompaniments, I offered potato salad and asparagus vinaigrette, passed around the table.

PS: Diane thought the dish would have been fine without the potato salad. Too much creamy sauce, she opined. But all the salad went, so I suppose it was well received.

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Featured image: In this version one fillet has been left un-garnished, to show how it’s done.

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This is Nigel’s 252nd blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The search function works really well if you want to look back and see some of our previous articles.

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