I really wanted to tweak this recipe so as to bypass the whole fennel situation. For those of you unfamiliar with fennel the vegetable (versus fennel the seed), it has a subtle black licorice taste (causing some markets to brand it as ‘anise’) and a fairly fibrous texture, a bit like a tougher version of celery. I can’t say that I love fennel – or anything that reminds me of black licorice – hence the desire for a change in vegetable with this dish. Fennel, however, is a difficult ingredient to substitute for, it would seem. Not so much on the texture front, which can be replicated easily enough, but because the taste is so unique. I worried about upsetting the whole balance of the dish by substituting an imposter in fennel’s place, but wound up sticking to the original recipe due to last minute “cook’s block” (like writer’s block, but you’re left hangry). I’m rather glad that my lack of creativity led me to make the dish as it was prescribed because the fennel was actually lovely in this application. The black licorice taste became very muted when combined with the orange juice and olive oil in the vinaigrette, plus the fine shavings of fennel left no trace of fibrous stringiness. The dish winds up beautifully balanced between the crisp, citrusy notes of the fennel salad and the rich, oiliness of the salmon, not to mention the fact that crispy fish skin is so very underrated in its deliciousness. Surprise yourself – make this elegant little number and count yourself as the only one amongst your friends who has a) cooked with fennel and b) mastered a perfect piece of salmon. Two-in-one; what a steal!
BA’s Best: Pan-Roasted Salmon w/ Fennel
Taken from BA’s Best arsenal
1 large fennel bulb and stalks
2 tbsp freshly-squeezed orange juice
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp grapeseed oil (or similar)
2 salmon filets, ~ 6 oz each
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the knobby end off of the fennel bulb along with the entirety of the stalks. Set the stalks aside, discard the knob. Cut the bulb in half, then slice papery half-moon shavings from the cut end of each piece. Alternatively, you could use a mandoline to achieve thin shavings as well. Dress the fennel in the orange juice and olive oil, tossing to combine. Strip the fronds from the fennel stalks and lightly chop about half of them. Add to the sliced fennel and season lightly with salt and pepper. Reserve the remaining fronds for garnish.
Heat the grapeseed oil in a large ovenproof skillet set over medium-high heat. Season the salmon filets generously with salt and pepper. Once the oil is very hot (but certainly not smoking), place the salmon skin-side-down in the skillet. Cook, without disturbing, for ~5 minutes, until the skin is very crispy and golden. Gently press a spatula down on the filets occasionally to ensure full contact with the heat. If things are getting at all smoky, turn the heat down to medium. Once the skin is looking crispy (just take a quick peek), transfer the skillet to the oven and cook for another 3-5 minutes. If you bought good-quality salmon, you should be able to cook it to medium-rare, which may mean a shorter cooking time. I had quite thick fillets and wound up turning the broiler on for an additional 2 minutes to finish up the tops.
Divide the fennel salad among 2 small plates or shallow bowls, draining the liquid with your hands. Gently place the salmon skin-side-up on the fennel and garnish with the reserved fronds. Drizzle with the remaining fennel dressing if desired. Fool yourself into thinking that you have been transported into a chic dining room, instead of your cramped Vancouver housing situation, even if just for a moment.