When planning the big birthday menu, I knew I had to include a few components: there had to be a seafood first course, and there had to be truffles. In The French Laundry Cookbook this is the only recipe at the intersection of the two sets (I don’t draw Venn diagrams for all my menus).
Keller calls for salmon “chops,” an invented cut from just behind the head of the salmon. It’s very clever, but he remarks “It’s anything but practical, since you only get two from each whole salmon. Here to replace the chop cut, use salmon fillet.” With permission to go with a lesser cut, I bought two thick salmon fillets from my new favorite seafood store: the New Deal Fish Market in East Cambridge.
I exhumed the truffles from their frozen suspended animation the day before and moved them to the fridge to slowly thaw. I started dinner prep the next morning by cutting the salmon into 1 1/2 by 2 by 1 inch thick pieces. I dried them off and put them in the fridge, skin side up, to let the skin dry some more.
I peeled four celery stalks to remove the long stringy bits, trying to flatten out the rounded top of the stalk. Then I sliced the stalks on a mandoline and trimmed them down to about three inches in length.
I blanched the celery in boiling salted water, drained it in a strainer, and then placed the strainer in an ice-water bath. When the celery cooled, I drained it and dried it on paper towels.
I made croutons by cutting slices of brioche bread into 3-inch rounds. I drizzled them with olive oil and salt, and placed them on a baking sheet in a 300°F oven until golden.
I shaved three of the truffles into 24 thin slices on a mandoline, then cut the ends and a fourth truffle into fine julienne.
I placed three small “nests’ of celery on each plate and topped each nest with a truffle slice. This was as much advance work as I could do, it was time to start cooking.
I seared the salmon pieces skin side down in a hot skillet with olive oil for a minute, then turned them over and cooked for another minute. I rotated the pieces to briefly sear the sides, then set them aside.
While the salmon rested, I made the sauce. I brought two teaspoons of water to a boil, then whisked in four tablespoons of butter to make a beurre monté. I whisked in two teaspoons of black truffle oil, removed the butter from the heat, then added four tablespoons of lightly whipped cream, “whisking vigorously to create a light froth,” as seen in this rare action shot:
And the sauce:
For the final assembly, I spooned a tablespoon of sauce into the center of each dish, centered a crouton in the sauce, then topped the crouton with a piece of salmon, skin side up. I garnished the salmon with the julienned truffle.
This was a very tasty first course. The sweet salmon was perfectly cooked, just pink in the very center. The earthy truffles and the butter sauce contrasted well with the slightly crunchy celery. Everyone admitted some skepticism at seeing celery on ther plates, but they also all agreed that they never expected it to taste as good as it did.
With the advance prep out of the way, this is a very easy dish to make. It’s very forgiving, since there’s no last-minute multiple-pan juggling. I’d make it again, even without the truffles.
I served a crisp German Riesling with this dish:
Salmon from New Deal Fish Market
Black truffles from Costco
Black truffle oil from Whole Foods
Brioche loaf from Iggy’s Bread of the World
Action shot and final plate photos by Steve Strassmann.