Perhaps after the egg, the best food to exhibit the true triumph of sous-vide cooking is salmon. The already-tender fish is rendered nearly translucent when cooked in the low, steady heat of a water bath. But how many of us actually have the equipment on hand to make this for a weeknight dinner? Thanks to this technique from Diane Morgan, it's probably more of us than you think.
Do you have an oven, a thermometer, and a Dutch oven or roasting rack? Then you can make sous-vide salmon. Because the fish cooks for such a short period of time — just 20 minutes — at a low temperature, you don't need to worry about maintaining a controlled temperature over a long period of time the way you would with poultry or meat.
Aside from the sublime texture, this is a good way to prepare salmon if you're keen on the flavor but less partial to the smell of cooking fish. Along the way, you're expanding your cooking knowledge and whipping yourself up a restaurant-quality meal is less than an hour.
Low-Tech Sous-Vide Salmon with Herb Butter
For the sorrel butter:
For the salmon:
4 to 6 center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces each), skin and pin bones removed, brined if desired (see Recipe Note)
4 to 6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 to 6 (1-quart) freezer-strength lock-top plastic bags
For the sorrel butter: In a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, scatter half the butter around the work bowl. Put the sorrel, salt, pepper, and lemon zest on top, and then add the rest of the butter. Process until all the ingredients are evenly distributed, stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Lay a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper on a clean work surface. Using a rubber spatula, transfer the butter from the work bowl to the plastic wrap. Then, still using the spatula, form the butter into a rough log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the plastic wrap around the butter, roll to form a smooth, compact log, and twist the ends closed. Refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
For the salmon: Remove the salmon from the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and set the oven to the lowest heat setting possible, typically 150°F to 175°F (65°C to 80°C). Fill a roasting pan or large Dutch oven 2/3 full of water, place on the stovetop over medium heat, and heat until the water registers about 125°F (52°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.
While the water is heating, rub each fillet all over with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, then lightly season each fillet on both sides with salt and pepper. Place each fillet, skin-side down, in its own lock-top plastic bag. Cut a 1/4-inch-thick slice of sorrel butter for each piece of salmon. (Reserve the remaining sorrel butter for another use; it is delicious on chicken and steamed vegetables.) Place a disk of butter on top of each fillet.
One at a time, lay each bag flat on a clean work surface and use both hands to press down firmly on the bag all around the fillet, forcing out all of the air. Seal the bag securely.
Check the water temperature in the pan. By now it should have dropped to close to the desired temperature of 118°F (48°C). If not, add a bit of cool water. Submerge each bag in the water. (If a bag floats, lift it out of the water, open it, press out the air again, and reseal it.) Carefully transfer the pan to the oven.
Set a timer and cook the salmon for 25 minutes. To check for doneness, lift out one of the bags, carefully open it, and insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the fillet. The salmon is done when it registers between 115°F and 120°F (45°C and 49°C).
Use a spatula to lift each fillet out of its bag and place it in the center of a warmed shallow pasta bowl. Spoon the sauce from the bag over the top. Serve immediately.
- Sorrel: Look for sorrel, a lemony-tasting hardy perennial herb, at your local farmers market in the spring, early summer, and fall. Or better yet, buy a plant or seeds and grow your own. I do not have a gardener’s green thumb, but despite my lack of attention, the sorrel I planted grew abundantly in a container of herbs in a semi-shady spot on my back porch.
- Brining: If you want to improve the tenderness, flavor, and moisture of the salmon, brine it first. Combine 1/4 cup flaky sea salt with 4 cups of ice-cold water until the salt is dissolved. Add the salmon and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove the salmon from the brine, rinse briefly under cold running water, and pat dry with paper towels. You can brine the fish up to 8 hours in advance and keep it refrigerated.
Reprinted with permission from Salmon by Diane Morgan, copyright (c) 2016. Published by Chronicle Books.