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A Grandmother’s Poached Salmon Swims Up to Harlem

A Grandmother’s Poached Salmon Swims Up to Harlem


Recipe Roots: New York City > Minneapolis > New York City
Shared by Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern’s grandmother Henrietta “lived and died almost her entire life on West End Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets,” Andrew, a noted chef and food television star explains. “She grew up...on one side of the street in a building and then she married my grandfather Lee. They moved across the street to 411 West End Avenue, that was in her 20’s and she died in that building in her late 80’s.”

Andrew knows that stretch of Manhattan’s West End Avenue well. He grew up across town on the other side of Central Park, but was a regular visitor to Henrietta’s home — particularly her kitchen where he would sit on a stool and keep his grandmother company as she cooked.  “She taught me how to cook. The only thing we had in common was food,” he explains. “She was one of the great food influences of my life.”

On Fridays during the spring and summer Henrietta would poach salmon, so she could serve it on Saturdays. On Sunday, the leftover pieces were made into a salmon aspic flavored with tomato and lemon. “She always overcooked her salmon and it just used to drive me crazy even as a young kid,” Andrew confesses. “But I put up with it all the time because I was so in love with her tomato lemon aspic.”

The dish, which was made in a bundt pan, was one of many that appeared on her Sunday table when the family would visit. There was often pickled tongue with caramelized onions and raisins and smoked fish too.

Andrew isn’t certain where the recipe hails from. Many of Henrietta’s recipes came from a Hungarian housekeeper (Andrew still makes a version of her goulash), but the aspic, he believes may have been inspired by supermarket label. “During the 40s, 50s, and into the 60s, the biggest evolutionary event was the development of the supermarket and canned and packaged goods came into the marketplace…. I suspect it was something that came off of a box of aspic, or a can of salmon or off of a jar of tomato juice.”

Today, Andrew makes the poached salmon often. “It’s the easiest entertaining recipe in the whole world [and] I don’t overcook it,” he says. He recently served it at the Shabbat dinner in Harlem that we co-hosted as part of Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem EatUp! festival. Andrew also shared it with us here, adding two sauces, tonnato, which is briney and full of capers and olives, and sauce vert, loaded with fresh herbs. Pair the fish with his pickled cucumber salad, which was the first recipe his grandmother taught him. Both are perfect for the season when Henrietta would make her salmon.


Henrietta’s Poached Salmon

Serves: 8-10
Time: 30 minutes + 2 hours chilling time

1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
2 cups white wine
1 fresh bay leaf
4 sprigs parsley
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 - 3 lb. salmon fillet, tail and belly trimmed and pin bones removed

For garnish:
1 English cucumber, thinly sliced
½ pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs dill

1. Fill a fish poacher or pan large enough to fit the salmon with 2-3 inches of water. Add the onion, celery, lemon, wine, bay leaf, parsley, and peppercorns and bring to a gentle boil.

2. Add the salmon to the pan or poacher, cover, and simmer over low heat until just cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Turn off the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

4. Transfer the fish to a large platter and let chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

5. Garnish with thinly sliced cucumbers, cherry tomato halves, lemon slices and dill sprigs. Serve with Tonnato Sauce, Sauce Vert, and Pickled Cucumber Salad on the side.

Tonnato Sauce

Makes: ~1 ½ cups
Time: 20 minutes

4 oz. Italian oil-packed tuna, drained
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup mayonnaise
Lemon wedges, for serving

1. Place the tuna, anchovy fillets, capers, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth.

2. Slowly incorporate the olive oil, pulsing until well combined.

3. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and fold in the mayonnaise.

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sauce Vert

Makes: 2 cups
Time: 30 minutes + 3 hours resting time

1 bunch parsley, leaves picked, chopped
⅓ cup fresh tarragon leaves, loosely packed
⅓ cup fresh dill
6 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
12 anchovy fillets, chopped
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed well
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
Red wine vinegar to taste
Lemon, for serving

1. Place the parsley, tarragon, dill, scallions, shallots, anchovy fillets, capers, Worcestershire sauce, and lemon juice in a blender and pulse to combine.

2. Transfer to a medium bowl and whisk in the mayonnaise and sour cream. Add a splash of red wine vinegar and whisk to combine.

3. Refrigerate for 3 hours to allow the flavors to bloom. Before serving, season with salt, black pepper, and lemon juice to taste.

Pickled Cucumber Salad

Serves: 8-10
Time: 20 minutes

8 Persian cucumbers or 2 english cucumbers, thinly sliced
1 shallot, thinly sliced
¼ cup dill, chopped
1 cup vinegar
½ cup sugar

1. Place the vinegar and sugar in a medium bowl and whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cucumbers and shallot and toss to combine. Just before serving, add dill and toss to combine.

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

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