A whole, poached salmon makes a dramatic presentation: With its bright-pink flesh encased in a glistening aspic glaze and beautifully decorated, it is a favorite for entertaining all over the world. Our recipe provides instructions for the most elegant presentation, but the salmon may also be served without the aspic glaze, simply decorated with herb sprigs, thinly sliced carrots, cucumbers, radishes, and wedges or slices of any kind of citrus.
Long associated with spring banquets, whole poached fish was born as a Lenten dish for sixteenth-century European nobility. Gourmets then were firm in their belief that salmon should be served as simply as possible, so they decided to dress it only for the eye, and leave it plain for the palette. They garnished the fish with bright vegetables, and then sealed it with a savory jelly that kept the fish fresh, added just enough flavor, and made it look very impressive.
Cooks today still benefit from sixteenth-century ingenuity. A magnificent salmon can be poached, glazed, and prepared for the table in less than a few hours. Best of all, it can be made up to a day ahead, making it an ideal main course for any entertaining menu.
Poached salmon is traditionally accompanied by a fresh-herb mayonnaise, which can be made by combining mayonnaise, preferably homemade, with chopped fresh herbs, like dill or tarragon, and plenty of lemon juice, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Chopped capers or diced roasted red peppers may also be added. An ounce each of golden and salmon caviar can also be used to elegantly garnish the whole salmon.
Poached salmon is also complemented by a variety of side dishes. Roasted and sliced beets, lightly steamed asparagus, or a cool lentil or orzo pasta salad are all excellent accompaniments. Use a fish server to gently separate fish into individual portions. Serve with a dry white wine, like Sauvignon blanc or champagne, to perfectly offset salmon's rich flavor, completing the meal.