I know most people don’t have an extra piece of fresh salmon sitting around, leftover, too often. I don’t either. But oh, when you do have some leftover salmon, life is good. You need to get yourself into this situation more often. Let me help you finagle the way in.
I threw a dinner party last weekend, and its theme was salmon; there were scant leftovers compared to most dinner parties, because of this focus I think. Still, the stray piece or two of salmon deserved a good encore, and after all the communal enjoyment, I was hard-pressed to find a way to do this since fresh fish stays that way only so long.
The dinner occasion was spurned after recently picking up my annual batch of Bristol Bay-caught wild sockeye salmon thanks to Iliamna Fish Co., run by Emily and Christopher Nicholson. For the last five years, I’ve been looking forward to September, when they bring their catch back to Brooklyn, frozen in solid fillets. It’s been a fun chore enjoying them with others throughout the years, too—and the best use I can find for really good ingredients is throwing an epic dinner party of sorts.
So let me tell you, it’s a good idea to get all wound up in a dinner-party-throwing hullaballo. It may give you a major chore, yes, but also good times with people you love and really good leftovers—or things leftover to use in future meals. Just follow my logic here.
However, throwing a dinner party is such an immersive act for me that I can’t be bothered to blog or take notes on what I’m making. Life is too short and sometimes, memories just have to take the win. But for recollection’s sake—and for all the contributors to this dinner, from its eaters to its fish-catchers to recipe-authors—I will share the night’s menu for what it’s worth.
Warm Salmon Dip with bread
Egg Custard with Salmon Roe & Shiso, Salmon and Avocado Tartare, Salmon Sashimi
Crispy Salmon Skin Roll, Cured Salmon Roll Nicoise
Miso-Marinated Broiled Salmon with Japanese Turnips & Orange Sake Butter (a la this recipe)
Olive Oil-Poached Salmon served family-style with Fennel, French Lentils, Roasted Spicy Carrots, and Green Salad
Lemon Gelato with Candied Salmon Skin & Pinenuts
As you can see, I had almost as much fun writing and imagining the menu as I did cooking and enjoying it over the party. I will hint that serving scoops of quivering Japanese egg custard (or chawanmushi) in soup spoons topped off with gleaming bulbs of salmon roe (or ikura) is a major hit; and that utilizing salmon skin much like you would strips of bacon (by candy-ing strips of them, roasted on very low heat tossed with brown sugar or by deep-frying them to top with salt) is a good foil for this extra, often under-appreciated part of the fish. And I must thank Hillary Davis, whose recipes for that warm salmon dip (a baked terrine with white wine, shallots and a much greater ratio of fresh salmon to cream) in French Comfort Food and olive oil-poached salmon a la her recipe in Le French Oven really got me inspired. (Listen to the author on Eat Your Words!)
Finally, extra thanks to the olive oil press that I happened to pass by in Provence last two weeks ago while I was in France for a mom-daughter road trip, Moulin du Calanquet; their just-harvested fall olive oil, unfiltered and grassy, was drizzled atop those salmon sashimi slices, and was so beloved amongst guests that it was sipped from spoons or enjoyed with bread to dip throughout the night. (What’s the point in good ingredients if you’re not enjoying them with others?)
The day after the dinner party, it was time to pick up my regular, vegetable-based CSA. I got spinach. I got leeks. I got potatoes. I had a soup in the works, although I didn’t know it at first. Who puts salmon in a potato leek soup?
Well, I do, I decided. And I like to add spinach to it as well. There is something serendipitous about a local farm deciding what you’re making for dinner via their happenstance farm bundles each week—rather than your own calculating, brainstorming efforts. I relinquished in this luxury the Sunday after the dinner party, and made this unusually comforting soup.
It follows the same pattern as any potato leek soup; only fresh, baby spinach and bits of cooked salmon are tossed in at the end. Along with that, some extra whole milk or cream, and a touch of dill for a garnish. I don’t understand why we always eat potato leek soup without spinach and salmon now. Perhaps like a blank canvas, potato-leek soup is ready and willing to be hospitable to any good leftover you might have.
I decided to keep the soup a little chunky, only briefly blending the potato-leek-stock mixture after it had simmered a while, to create soft, irregular chunks of potato throughout (to go with the irregular chunks of broiled salmon and wisps of spinach).
After eating the whole bowl shown in the photo above, I am just about ready to call for another salmon dinner another time soon. But how they should happen and why—and what you’ll learn or make from them as byproducts of the occasion—is the great and wonderful mystery of dinner parties. That’s exactly the fortuitous outcome that you’ll want to achieve.
Potato Leek Soup with Salmon & Spinach
(makes 3-4 servings)
2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb potatoes, peeled and diced
3-4 cups water
½ lb fresh salmon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch fresh spinach, long stems trimmed
½ cup whole milk (or more as desired)
salt and pepper to taste
fresh dill for garnish (optional)
Heat the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over low heat and add the leeks and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, another minute. Add the potatoes and increase heat. Add enough water to cover the vegetables and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Let cook for 20-30 minutes.
Meanwhile, season the salmon with salt and pepper and coat with the olive oil. Place under a broiler for about 4 minutes, or until the piece is just cooked through. Remove from the hot pan. Flake the fish apart gently with a fork and set aside.
Using an immersion blender (or transferring carefully to a blender or food processor), briefly puree the soup until smoother and thicker in texture but retaining some visible chunks. Return to the stove over medium heat. Add the spinach and let wilt completely, stirring occasionally (about 2-3 minutes). Stir in the milk and add salt and pepper to taste. Do not bring the soup to a boil after the milk has been added. Finally, add the salmon pieces, stir once more, and serve with the fresh dill for garnish.
(for 3-4 servings)
1 lb potatoes: $1.00
2 leeks: $1.50
½ lb fresh salmon: $6.00
1 bunch spinach: $3.00
2 Tb butter: $0.50
1 Tb olive oil: $0.20
½ cup milk: $0.40
½ bunch fresh dill: $1.00
Four brownie points: This soup feels, tastes, and smells deliciously rich—but it’s actually not. That velvety texture comes from potatoes, not heavy cream (adjust with more, less, or no butter or milk as you please). That’s the beauty of potato leek soup. But when you add spinach and salmon to it, it becomes a super-soup: loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and antioxidants from the superfood greens.
Six maple leaves: Without the salmon and the small amounts of dairy, this soup would be a very healthful and season-appropriate vegan dream (read: low carbon toll). When adding salmon, it makes a difference where and how—or if—that fish was caught. Most salmon today is farmed, under questionable conditions that have raised both health and culinary concerns about its quality. Wild-caught salmon from one of the most sustainable fisheries, Bristol Bay, is exceedingly more expensive than farmed, but you’ll be supporting responsible fishery management in the region when you do splurge.