Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Salmon with leek-mustard sauce and pistachio topping

Surely it can't have escaped you by now that I love color. I go to an art supply store, and the tubes of paint and their glorious colors are as seductive as candy to a child. When I paint, I build up layer upon layer, trying to create a deep, jewel-like finish that gleams and contains mysteries, like the clear surface of a pond.

Food often seduces me with its color too. Take the Copper River sockeye salmon I got yesterday. The gleaming, translucent flesh with that beautiful pink-orange color. I wish I could paint it, or capture it in a tube. Barring that, I suppose I have to eat it. I was seduced into buying it, even though I had not originally planned to eat so much seafood this week.

That glorious pink-orange color pairs especially well with the pale green of leeks and pistachios. That's not why the flavors of this dish work so well (and boy do they), but it does make a pretty dish. As for flavor, how do I describe it? The mellow cream and sweet leeks temper the assertiveness of the mustard, which works especially well with the fattiness of the salmon. Then there's the crunch of the nuts to provide a little texture. It's just a glorious bite. Simply take my word for it and try it.

It's a simple dish, but attend carefully to the fish so that you don't overcook it. Watch the times.


  • 2 8-oz fillets of Copper River sockeye salmon (you will probably get great results with any kind of salmon that's in season, but that's what was available to me)
  • 2-3 Tbsps unsalted butter
  • 3 leeks, cleaned,* sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard (or more to taste)
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • salt and ground white pepper
  • a large handful of salted pistachios, chopped (if you have the time and inclination, toast them in a hot pan for a few minutes before chopping them)
  1. Basically any fast-cooking recipe requires that you prepare all your ingredients in advance, and this is definitely a fast-cooking recipe. (With slower foods, like soups and stews, you can keep cutting vegetables while the onions are softening or the meat is browning.) So, the first step is to prepare all your ingredients. Surprise! Bet you didn't see that coming. 
  2. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the salmon fillets. 
  3. Melt butter in a pan (I used my beloved cast-iron skillet) over medium heat. Let it foam plenty and just start to brown. 
  4. Place the salmon fillets in the pan, flesh side down (because they are going into a clean pan, they will look nicer that way). Let them cook without any fussing around for 3 minutes. 
  5. Turn the fillets over and let them cook skin-side down for 2 minutes. Spoon some of the hot butter over the top of the fillets a few times.  
  6. Remove the fillets from the pan, place them on a plate, and tent the plate with tinfoil to keep the fish warm. Set it aside for now. 
  7. Add the leeks to the pan. Let them cook until they are soft, about 5-10 minutes. Do not let them burn. (Don't let anything burn, really.)
  8. Add the heavy cream and the mustard to the pan. Combine the leeks, mustard, and cream. Let the cream thicken up a bit (this should only take a minute or two). Salt and pepper to taste. Taste the sauce. Add a little more mustard if you think the sauce lacks bite (but do it in small increments so you don't ruin it). Also, if you have any juices on the salmon plate, add those back into the sauce.
  9. To serve, place a fillet on a plate, spoon the leek-mustard sauce over the salmon, and sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the top. Serve it with something simple like boiled potatoes or rice that you can use to absorb extra sauce.  

* Because of the way that leeks grow, they often have a lot of dirt and grit in them. To clean them properly, strip off the outer leaf or two of the leek and cut the bottom and the top off (leave about an inch of green). You will end up with a long, mostly whitish cylinder. Cut the cylinder down its entire length. Then rinse all the inside layers of the leek thoroughly under cold running water. Finally, slice the half cylinders into little half moons.


  1. This is the kind of recipe when I really wish I liked fish...the sauce sounds incredible, really does! Should try it on something else.

    1. The sauce would definitely work on something else. I loved it with the fish, but it would be great with pork or chicken.

  2. Love the combination of leeks and pistachios. Very creative!

    1. Thanks! I was kind of excited when I came up with it (good thing I just bought a bag of pistachios a couple days ago).

  3. This recipe looks very nice and certainly taste very, very good. I tried to cook it and my family was impressed by the taste, the look was not very nice, but in the end taste counts more. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I am glad the taste came out well, but I am so sorry it didn't look good.