Boiled cider syrup, as I posted about here and as seen below. Don't buy this stuff, for heaven's sake! It's ridiculously expensive. You can make your own. Just be sure that during cider season you buy more than you drink up (usually not a problem). Put the leftover cider into a stainless-steel saucepan and boil it down until it's syrupy. Keep an eye on it for the last little bit, and it's easy to overdo it. I got this idea originally from the wonderful cookbook Beat That by Ann Hodgman. I reference her a lot. Anyway, she says, “Now boil it and boil it and boil it, for way longer than you could have believed was possible.” You'll get about a pint of cider syrup out of a gallon of cider, which means you get one-eighth of what you started out with. (Better than the one-fortieth you get out of maple sap when boiling that down into maple syrup!)
And then she wants you to cook the salmon on the stovetop, but I don't like doing that, especially with such a big piece. (Mine was almost three pounds, and there were only six of us for dinner, and we pretty much demolished it--there was a tiny little piece left for Monday lunch.) Molly's recipe says to use 6-ounce fillets, but I don't want to do that. I like the look of a big old piece of salmon filling up the platter. (You can see in the picture above that I didn't quite get it onto said platter without breaking it up a little. As I've said before, the pictures on this blog are definitely not posed or styled.)
I will also say that I don't really like wild-caught salmon. Every year Costco has a big sale of the Copper River salmon that's only available during the season, so I've dutifully bought it in the past, thinking that 'Oh, great--this is the good stuff and worth paying extra for' and then not really liking it much. So, although this probably brands me as a terrible person, I just buy the el cheapo farmed salmon from the grocery store, and if it's on sale, so much the better. The farmed stuff has more fat, which makes it buttery and smooth. (And it also has color added, I know--which makes it pretty!) I love it. And it needs to have the skin on, which protects the flesh and adds flavor. So don't take it off, as some misguided recipes tell you to do. Your guests can peel it off themselves.
One other thing: It's totally worth it to brine the salmon for 15 minutes before you cook it. The standard brine for meat is a quarter of a cup of salt to a quart of water. (This is regular table salt. Let's not get into the weeds of salt types here, except to say that kosher salt has bigger crystals and so takes up more space, so you usually need twice as much as regular table salt. I refuse to agonize over salt. Robert Wolke, a former chemistry professor turned food writer and the author of What Einstein told His Cook and the wonderful "Food 101" column that used to appear in the Washington Post, made some enemies in the snooty food community years ago when he wrote a column about how silly it was to pay big bucks for sodium chloride. I'd love to track down that article.) Anyway, because fish is much more flimsy (that's the technical word) than meat, I find that the standard brine makes it too salty. So I just use 2 tablespoons (table) salt per quart of water and brine the salmon right in the baking dish I'm going to use to cook it in. Put it skin side up, so that the flesh is submerged. When the 15 minutes are up, carefully pour the brine out in the sink--you'll have to use a spatula or something to keep the salmon in the dish--and pat the fish dry with paper towels. Flip it over so that now it's skin side down and proceed with your recipe. The brining step will help keep the salmon moist and will at least minimize the horrible white albumen protein that comes out on the surface if you overcook it by even 30 seconds.
Cider-Cream Sauced Salmon
- 3 pounds salmon, or 8 oz. per person
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1-2 shallots, diced as finely as humanly possible
- 1/2 cup cider syrup or 3/4 cup apple juice concentrate, plus more for brushing on the salmon
- Oil for brushing salmon (anything but olive oil is fine; I don't think the flavor of olive oil goes with the flavors in this recipe)
- 1 cup heavy cream (Yes, heavy cream. If you don't want to use that, make something else!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While that's going on, brine your salmon in a glass or ceramic baking dish (I have a nice big Pyrex one) with two tablespoons of salt to one quart of water. I just mix it right in the dish and then slide the salmon in, skin side up. Let sit for 15 minutes. Since it's such a short brining time you don't need to refrigerate it. When the 15 minutes are up, dump out the brine, pat the fish dry with paper towels, and flip it over so that it's skin side down. (Pat that side dry, too.) Brush it with the oil of your choice (anything except olive oil) and then with some of the cider syrup or concentrate. Bake for 15 minutes or so—it may need a bit longer. I don't like rare salmon! If you'd like more of a glazed top, you can broil it for a couple of minutes, but be sure you keep track of the time. Use your trusty instant-read digital thermometer to test the thickest part of the fish; I would recommend 130 degrees, but if you like your salmon on the rarer side you could go with 125 degrees. It will continue to cook some after you take it out.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium frying pan and saute the shallot until soft. Then add your cider syrup and cream and simmer while the salmon is cooking. Since the apple component is already reduced, you're just blending the flavors. If you're using the apple juice concentrate you might want to add that to the pan first and simmer a few minutes just to get it down a little, and then add the cream. When your salmon comes out of the oven there will be some nice juices in the pan; pour those into your sauce and whisk in.
Put the salmon on a platter and the sauce in a gravy boat or bowl and serve. Very, very good with plain sliced sweet potatoes that have been baked or microwaved until soft. You don't need to gussy them up.