This recipe is from the May 2009 issue of Food and Wine. In the magazine, the dish was made with grouper, and that white fish fillet was a nice, bright back drop for the very thinly sliced vegetables that were placed on top of it. The look of the dish and the fresh, light nature of the salad had stuck in my head for two years. I went off to the fish counter planning to bring home a thick, white fillet of something, but then instead, I saw the first wild salmon of the season. The very first salmon of the season is always so good, and it was shiny and dark pink and couldn’t be refused. So, my version has a pink back drop for the salad, but the flavor was everything I’d hoped it would be. Speaking of salmon, I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. I learned a trick for quick brining salmon from Ad Hoc at Home. In a cold solution of one part salt to ten parts water, salmon fillets are left to soak for about ten minutes. This brief brine seasons the fish and prevents the soluble protein from coagulating into white gunk when it’s cooked. Given the expense of first of the season wild salmon, I don’t mind taking this extra step to ensure the cooked result will be as good as it can be.
While the fish sat in the cold brine, the sauce was made in the blender. It was a puree of soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sake, whole-grain mustard, some garlic, and grapeseed oil. Half of the cucumbers were peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise on a benriner, and those became a folded base for the dish. The other half of the cucumbers were julienned along with carrot, daikon, and a red chile. Sliced garlic and shallot were fried until browned, removed from the oil, and then that oil was used to cook the fish. To serve, some soy-mustard dressing was spooned onto the plate, the long pieces of cucumber were folded into a stack, the salmon sat on them, and the julienned vegetables were the crown on top with a garnish of fried shallot, garlic, and black and white sesame seeds.
I have to go on a bit more about that brining technique because it really does perfectly season the fish, and the fish does look much better when there’s no white protein oozing from the fillet. The fresh, crunchy vegetables were just the right accompaniment, and the soy-mustard dressing added lively flavor. I know I would like this just as well with a white fish fillet, and the color combination on the plate would be striking, but this was a fabulous use of this season’s first salmon.