Baked Salmon with Wild Chive and Sorrel Butter
On this day last year, I was at a Cambodian-style crawfish boil at Kitty Cohen's, one of my favorite Austin bars with a real Boogie Nights meets rich Boca grandma vibe. It was one a first time hanging out with a new friend, and we ran into someone from from my graduate program and all ate crawfish together. It's hard to imagine being at a big event at a crowded bar, mingling with friends, sharing messy food and napkins.
I started Kimchi and Kishke during quarantine because it gave me an outlet for connecting with others over food when sharing meals was no longer possible. Unable to see my parents and extended family, I began exploring a lot of Jewish foods that I rarely cooked for myself. I started celebrating Shabbat dinner most Fridays to help divide weekdays from weekends; our former Friday-night ritual of dinner at Titaya's Thai restaurant followed by a movie at Austin Film Society was no longer an option. Because we were all distanced, I was able to celebrate most of the Jewish holidays with my parents and brother together, when previously that was only something we could do every few years.
We're coming up on Passover at the end of the month, a reminder of the trip that my husband and I had to cancel last April. It was the first time I was going to see my parents and brother since my wedding. Now my brother, Max, will be celebrating another quarantine birthday. We will have another Zoom Passover seder. This time, I'm testing recipes I never thought I would make at home, like gefilte fish. I'm reconciled to the weirdness.
Despite the melancholy of the COVID-19 quarantine anniversary, I have a lot of small things I am grateful for—stability in my life that I didn't have this time last year. My husband and I moved from our one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom duplex with a big back yard—a godsend for keeping some sort of social normalcy by hosting people outdoors. I am on a fellowship this year, and though it was disappointing that I could not travel for research, I am thankful that I did not have to teach a distanced class for a full year.
This is my first spring that I have had a garden. Though the winter storm Uri killed a number of my plants, my sorrel came back to life, and our neighbors discovered that all the new grass popping up on our lawns are actually wild chives.
Most of this year has been an exercise in making the most of what's available in arm's reach. This herb butter recipe is in many ways a reflection of that. It's nothing fancy, but the plants are fleeting and seasonal. Maybe you don't have sorrel and wild chives in your back yard, or a yard at all. But if you look closely at new spring growth around your neighborhood, you may find sourgrass, dandelion greens, purslane, fiddleheads, ramps, or young nettles. When life gives you weeds, might as well eat them!
As with all edible wild plants, make you are 100% confident in your identification. Always wash them thoroughly, and blanch any vegetables that must be cooked prior to consumption (such as nettles). Avoid eating plants from heavily sprayed or polluted areas. I find cemeteries are some of the best urban areas to find edible plants and fungi.
This is the recipe for salmon with herb butter, but you can make only the herb butter and get creative with it. It is lovely on potatoes, pasta, and roasted vegetables. I even mixed some with balsamic vinegar for a delicious salad dressing.
This recipe is for a 1 lb salmon fillet, with extra herb butter. You can make more or less salmon, just adjust the cooking time accordingly. I pull the baked salmon off the skin, but you can eat it or use a skinless fillet—if you use a skinless fillet, line your pan with parchment paper so that you don't lose any fish.
Using a mortar and pestle brings out the juices of the herbs and incorporates them fully into the butter.
For the salmon:
One one-pound Verlasso or other fatty salmon fillet, deboned
1 tsp mayonnaise
For the herb butter:
handful of wild chives (about two full plants), cleaned and chopped
handful of sorrel (about 6 leaves), cleaned and chopped
one clove garlic
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp yuzu ponzu (or substitute 1/2 tsp soy sauce and 1/2 tsp lemon juice—it won't have the same depth of flavor, but it will help the texture and add more tang and umami)
1/2 tsp yuzu or lemon zest
pinch of salt
Rub the salmon fillet with salt (about 1.5 tsps). Then rub on the mayonnaise and sprinkle with pepper. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
To make the herb butter: add the ingredients to the mortar and pestle in the following order, making sure to crush and combine the contents between each step. Garlic clove, yuzu or lemon zest, chives and sorrel, salt, butter (one tbsp at a time), yuzu ponzu.
Bake the salmon for 8-10 minutes. The exterior will be an opaque pink, but it should be firm to the touch at its widest point. It may flake apart but should still be translucent.
Remove the salmon from the oven. Reduce oven heat to 375ºF. Let rest for 5 minutes to finish cooking.
Rub 2-3 tbsps of the herb butter onto the salmon. Return to the oven for one minute—long enough for the butter to melt and salmon to be hot again.
You can serve the salmon with more herb butter or save it for another use.