Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

Salmon and cucumber seems like a combination from a long time ago. I'm not sure if I come by this opinion from my own personal history, or obsessive reading of old cookbooks (it's hard to tease apart the two sometimes). Regardless, it pulls up thoughts of gelatin-set salmon molds, of cucumber slices made to look like fish scales, and other tropes that were the height of luncheon catering some twenty-five years past. But I clearly need to readjust my thinking. Because poached salmon with cucumber sauce is a timeless combination. It's what I had for dinner last night, and last week as well. And what I should be having once a week every summer.

The inspiration for this particular incarnation of the classic comes from the always-in-style Julia Child. And it couldn't be simpler. Salmon is slipped into a barely-simmering bath of water, where it manages to delicately set without overcooking (and, thanks to a generous helping of salt and vinegar, doesn't wash out but instead gains even more flavor). And then it is served with a cool, slippery sauce (if you could even call it that) of sour cream, Greek yogurt, cucumbers and dill. Pair it with a simple summer salad (I went with arugula, peaches and corn), maybe a chunk of leftover bread for sopping up the plate, and you've got a summer meal that's just about perfect. Timeless, even.

Poached Salmon with Cucumber Sauce

inspired by Julia Child's The Way to Cook
serves 4

Cucumber Sauce:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup Greek yogurt (not nonfat)
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon vinegar (cider or sherry work well)
1 cucumber, chopped in a 1/4-inch dice
~2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1 pound salmon, cut into 4 slices
salt and white vinegar (see below)

To make the cucumber sauce: In a bowl, stir together the sour cream, Greek yogurt, sugar, salt and vinegar until well combined. Taste, and adjust as needed. Stir in the cucumber and dill, and set aside to chill while you prepare the salmon.

To prepare the salmon: Pour water into a very deep-walled saucepan, or wide-bottomed pot, to a depth of three inches. For every quart of water this requires, add 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3 tablespoons vinegar. Bring to a boil, then slip in the salmon, and adjust the heat so that it is just barely about to simmer. Cook at this level until done, meaning it has a bit of internal firmness, and is thinking about flaking but not quite there yet — the exact time will vary depending upon the thickness of your fish, but start checking before 5 minutes are up. Remove with a slotted spoon (no need to rinse off), let drain a moment, and serve with cucumber sauce.


  1. Yes! Poaching is one of my absolute favorite ways to cook fish--it's super easy, and the results are so succulent. This tangy sauce sounds like the perfect addition!

  2. I had some poached salmon last week and it was so good, I never tried to use poaching method in salmon and looks like that had just changed. That method effectively locks the flavours of that fish.