Grilled Salmon Fillets with Fresh Tarragon Sauce, Swiss Chard and Raisins

This fresh tarragon sauce includes the same flavoring agents as classic Béarnaise, but uses olive oil as the medium. In this case it serves as both the marinade and sauce. Fresh tarragon tastes of licorice and is a natural partner to the rich, gamey character of salmon. Serve this with rice or boiled potatoes tossed with butter and chopped parsley. Pour a young Viognier with its floral and fruity aromatics, or a plumy Pinot Noir if you prefer a red. A crisp pilsner is a nice brew to compliment the flavors from the grill.

Use milder flavored curly leafed parsley so that it doesn’t overpower the tarragon. Fresh tarragon tastes of licorice and you want that flavor in the forefront.

Tarragon Grilling Sauce
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves, tightly packed down (one bunch tarragon)
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, tightly packed down (2 bunches parsley)
3 large shallots roughly chopped
1 tsp black peppercorns, cracked (5 mL)
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
4 Tbsp white vinegar (60 mL)
4 Tbsp water (60 mL)
1 cup olive oil (240 mL)

4 salmon fillets: 6 to 8 oz each (175 to 225 g) skinned, remove floating ribs (see note)
1 Tbsp olive oil (15 mL)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch Swiss chard, washed, dried, sliced into strips
½ cup raisins (75 g)
Few grinds black pepper
Salt to taste

Pick the tarragon and parsley leaves from the stems. Rinse them in a colander under cool running water, shake dry. Put the herbs in the container of a food processor. Peel and roughly chop 3 large shallots and add to the processor with the salt. Crack the peppercorns with a mallet, and add to the mix. Run the machine until everything is roughly chopped. Scrape down the sides of the container with a rubber spatula.

Add the olive oil, white vinegar, and water and run the machine until the mixture is emulsified and retains a bit of texture. Pour the sauce into half-pint Mason jars (250 mL) and seal tightly. Store this sauce in your freezer to retain its bright green color. If you store it in your refrigerator the color will fade because the acidity of the vinegar reacts with the chlorophyll. Take the sauce out of the freezer to thaw. Scoop out what you want and return the sauce to the freezer. 

Ask your fishmonger to skin the salmon and remove the floating ribs. If you want to do this yourself, start by sterilizing a pair of needle-nose pliers. Feel along the flesh side of the fish, you will feel the bones like pins when you run your finger along them. Grasp each with the pliers and remove as if they were splinters.

To remove the skin, place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board. Using your French knife, start by placing the blade between the skin and flesh at one end of the fillet. Grasp the skin with your free hand and wiggle the fillet back and forth against the blade. The skin will come off in one piece.

Place the fillets in a shallow refrigerator dish. Pour a half-cup of sauce into a small bowl. Slather each side with a spoonful of the tarragon sauce. I recommend you use the bowl because if you touch the fish with the spoon you can’t dip it back into the jar without washing it first. Cover and refrigerate the fillets until needed.

Preheat grill or broiler to high heat.

If using a grill, brush the grate clean and rub or spray with vegetable oil. If broiling, place the fillets on a broiler pan. Start the fillets flesh side down, and cook just until the top is well seared. Turn the fillets over, spoon some more tarragon sauce over each and cook until the other side is also well seared. Fish cooks quickly, you want salmon rare to medium-rare in the center. It tends to dry out when cooked through.

Wash the Swiss chard, shake dry, and slice thinly. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook shallots and garlic until just fragrant. Add Swiss chard and raisins to pan and cook, stirring occasionally until Swiss chard is tender, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide among 4 plates, and top with the salmon. Pass more tarragon sauce at the table so people can add as much as they like.

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