Serves 6 as a main course
This presentation looks pretty and creates an exchange of flavors between the salmon and the asparagus spears that are stuffed into a pocket inside the fish. The salmon stays moist as it cooks, in part because the asparagus releases moisture that bathes the salmon flesh. Pureeing some of the spears and incorporating them in the vinaigrette adds another layer of asparagus flavor. I would not serve a strong vinaigrette with mild white-fleshed fish, but salmon has the strength to benefit from it. This can be served at room temperature, so you can prepare it in advance when you are entertaining.
Cut off the tough bottom ends of the asparagus spears, making sure to leave the asparagus as long as the salmon fillet, and set the trimmed ends aside for the vinaigrette. Reserve 4 unpeeled spears for the vinaigrette. With a vegetable peeler, peel the remaining asparagus spears from about an inch below the tip to the end of the spear. Set a steamer basket in a pot over boiling water. Place the peeled asparagus spears in the basket and steam for 5 to 6 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife; be careful not to overcook. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with ice water. When the asparagus is cooked, submerge it in the ice bath to cool, then drain and roll in a kitchen towel to dry.
Sprinkle the asparagus spears with a pinch of salt and the tarragon, if desired, and roll the spears back and forth until the tarragon adheres.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
To stuff the salmon: Using a pair of tweezers or pliers, remove any pinbones. Try to pull them straight out rather than pulling them upward, which would tear the flesh of the fish. Beginning 1 inch in from the side of the salmon (see the technique photographs), using a long sharp slicing knife, cut a pocket in the center of the fillet through the length of the salmon, leaving an inch of the fillet uncut on either side (1). Push the sides of the salmon together to help open up the pocket.
Line the pocket with a layer of asparagus, all the tips facing the same direction. Make a second layer, reversing the direction of the spears. Continue layering until you have used all the asparagus or until the pocket is filled; the number of layers will vary depending on the thickness of the fillet. It is important not to overstuff the pocket, which could tear the fish (2). Reserve any extra asparagus for another use. Carefully trim the ends of the salmon so that all the spears are even in length. (At this point, the salmon can be covered and refrigerated for a few hours.)
Using a very sharp knife or an electric knife, holding the fillet steady with one hand, cut the fish crosswise into 4 equal pieces (3). Brush a baking pan with a film of olive oil. Place the fillets in the pan, drizzle the tops with olive oil, and season with fleur de sel and pepper.
For the vinaigrette, cut the 4 reserved asparagus spears into 1-inch pieces. Place in a small saucepan, add the water and olive oil, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce the heat slightly, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the asparagus is completely softened; the water should have evaporated so the asparagus is stewing in the oil.
Pour the asparagus and any remaining liquid into a blender and puree until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and whisk in the mustard, lemon juice, and a pinch each of sugar and salt. If using, stir trout caviar to taste into the vinaigrette.
Meanwhile, place the salmon in the oven and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, or until cooked to the desired doneness.
Using a long spatula, lift each piece of salmon, blot the bottom as necessary with a paper towel, and place on a serving plate. Serve hot or at room temperature, with a pool of vinaigrette on the side of each fillet.
Happy in the Kitchen
The Craft of Cooking, the Art of Eating
by Michel Richard
with Susie Heller and Peter Kaminsky
Foreword by Thomas Keller
352 pages; 225 color photographs
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created October 2006
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