Many years ago a chef visiting the restaurant I was working in asked if he could cook for me. I took him to the local market and we bought a very fresh snapper with the clearest eyes I've ever seen, a couple of bunches of white asparagus, some good butter, a few shallots, and a bottle of Pinot Gris. I sat in my courtyard, under the dappled light of the grapevines, with a glass of the latter - and he cooked. I remember being dreadfully embarrassed by my cheap knives and truly awful saucepans. But my what a lunch! It was the first time I tried beurre blanc and I think I may have actually closed my eyes.
I was too shy to ask for the recipe and perhaps just a little unconvinced I could ever make it anyway, but I spent the next several years trying to recreate that sauce. Along the way, I read many a beurre blanc recipe, including one by Jane Webster which suggested serving the wonderful, buttery sauce with salmon with watercress. Once I finally had the sauce right it became my favourite meal - ready in just half an hour.
Atlantic Salmon with Watercress and Beurre Blanc (GF)
100g shallots (approx. 2-3), very finely diced
100ml white wine
100ml champagne vinegar
1 sprig thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
10 black peppercorns
200g unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
Unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil, for cooking salmon
Atlantic salmon portions, 150-180g per person
Watercress, washed and picked to yield a generous handful per person
Preheat oven to 180C.
Place shallots, white wine, champagne vinegar, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns and cream into a small, heavy-based saucepan over high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until there is just a little liquid covering the base of the pan - about 50ml; 15-20 minutes. Keeping the heat quite high, add cold butter a few cubes at a time, whisking as it melts until it is all incorporated. Strain over a fine colander into a jug and season with sea salt.
About 15 minutes after you start the sauce, heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and season salmon generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Once the pan is hot, cook salmon skin-side down pressing with a fish spatula or tongs to ensure it is flat. After 2-3 minutes, turn and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes, then move the pan to the oven for a further 3-5 minutes.
Serve salmon on watercress with the sauce poured over.
- Be sure to use a frying pan that can go in the oven, otherwise remove from the pan and place on a lined baking tray
- Cook salmon for more or less time depending how rare/well-done you like to serve it