Crispy salmon with creamed greens, punctuated with lemon, pepper and garlic, is a bolder version of an ’80s dish. (Joan Moravek/Food Styling) (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans
Photo: E. Jason Wambsgans

Salmon with creamed greens updates an ’80s icon

Salmon with sorrel defined an era — roughly the late 1980s — and a trend: nouvelle cuisine. The “new cooking” called for fresher ingredients, simpler sauces, quicker techniques. Producing wisdom (crisp!) and folly (minuscule!).

Once I took an old friend out for nouvelle. When her dish arrived, she blasted the dining room with a long and loud guffaw. She was right: Three marbles of puree make a meager meal.

Some innovations — like lighter fare — now count as commonsense. Others — like wide, white plates dotted with pale, precious portions — faded away. Salmon with sorrel still clings to many a menu.

I read that old recipe: It’s a slip of fish, barely seared, wriggling in buttery cream sauce. Delicious, no doubt, but dated. I tried a bolder version, punctuated with lemon, pepper and garlic; it’s crisp outside, flaky within. Not nouvelle. But, for our time, new.

Salmon and Creamed Greens

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 garlic clove

Kosher salt

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 portions salmon fillet, 6 ounces each, bones and skin removed

3 ounces fresh sorrel (or substitute tatsoi or additional spinach)

10 ounces fresh spinach (baby or grown-up)

Black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Whole nutmeg

1. Marinate: Chop garlic and 1 teaspoon salt into a grainy paste. Whisk in lemon juice. Pour into a glass or ceramic dish. Add salmon and turn each chunk once or twice to coat. Let rest at room temperature.

2. Wash: Pull sorrel (or tatsoi) leaves off their stems. Discard stems. Do the same with grown-up spinach; baby spinach can hang onto its baby stems. Wash and spin dry all leaves, letting some water cling.

3. Steam: Heap leaves in a big pot. Cover. Set over high heat. When steam begins to snort from the lid rim, pull pot off heat. Tip wilted leaves into a colander. Rinse under cool water. Squeeze down to a dense puck. Roughly chop.

4. Crisp: Pull salmon out of its marinade. Pat dry. Crack on plenty of pepper. Heat oil in a wide cast-iron skillet over medium. When hot, add salmon. Cook until crisp outside and cooked through inside, 4-5 minutes per side.

5. Thicken: Meanwhile, make the creamed greens. In a medium saucepan (large enough to accommodate cream bubble-up), heat cream over medium-high heat. When cream comes to a boil, cook, stirring, until thickened and reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Stir in chopped greens. Season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and a few grates of nutmeg.

6. Serve: Divide creamed greens among 4 plates. Top with salmon. Dig in.

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