salmon with white beans and leeks

salmon with white beans and leeks

It wasn’t until summer of 2015 that I learned about the magic that is Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons cookbook, along with her blog of the same name. I suppose it goes without saying that I’m unfashionably late on this one.  But for this recipe (and the handful of others that I've made from her cookbook), better late than never is absolutely true. This salmon supper is phenomenal and you must make it immediately if only for one reason - and please take my word for it because it is a very good reason - this recipe uses the salmon skin as crunchy. topping. {mic drop}

This simple, but brilliant use of salmon skin has been a total game-changer for me in the way I prepare salmon.  It’s sort of a shame that I didn’t discover this recipe sooner because salmon is on the menu at my house every week without fail and has been for years, so I have thrown out a LOT of salmon skin. I'm a little embarrassed to admit this [because: waste not want not for real!] but it's true. Back before Tara O’Brady so kindly brought the reality of salmon skin’s highest calling to my kitchen, I was completely grossed out by the skin and viewed it as a total nuisance.  This recipe changed all of that by guiding me through the (crazy simple) steps to turn slimy fish skin into one of my favorite food groups. Crunchy topping is a bona fide food group in my world - graham crumbles on my bourgie ice cream, toasted nuts on a salad, tiny bits of fleur de sel lodged in the top layer of the chocolate bar I had last week, salty buttery breadcrumbs on anything! Basically what I’m saying is bless this crunchy salmon skin.  It’s crispy umami perfection.

When I started writing about this recipe a memory came to mind about a friend of mine, named Penny, who I met while living in New Orleans, though he originally hails from the Midwest. During parade season, Penny was known to show up at our place, which was just one block off of the St. Charles parade route (!), with an old school, home-cooked casserole.  Sometimes even two, because when celebrations include not just a little day drinking you’ve gotta get that sustenance in! Penny’s one pan delicacies always hit the spot and tasted like home. The base was usually pasta with some type of vegetable or maybe chicken, plenty of cheese, bound together with a creamy essence, all topped with a glorious crunchy topping. [Sidebar, was that "essence" probably cream of mushroom? Yup, and I have no shade to throw on the culinary (mis)adventures of my yesteryears! Or the present, for that matter. I wouldn’t choose to eat cream of anything out of a can these days, especially not when I take pleasure in making my own from scratch, but you have to start somewhere with cooking. And if that’s with Sandra Lee? I say DO YOU, BOO. Just get in the kitchen and feed yourself!]

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Ahem! Where were we? Right - Penny’s casseroles. Penny knew what the most important part of the casserole was and he didn’t skimp on it either. No good friend would!  His crunchy topping layer was always generous, though he didn’t actually call it crunchy topping.  He called it intrigue. According to Penny, it was his mom, a maker of many killer casseroles and the one who showed him the ropes, who had coined the term. She swore that anything could be intrigue as long as it had a good crunch and would brown nicely in the oven. She was right!  This crunchy salmon skin just might be the most delicious, and certainly is the most umami-filled, intrigue I’ve ever known.

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In case you need another little nudge, here’s my lightening round on why you need this salmon in your life: This recipe is flexible and forgiving, and comes together with very minimal fuss.  Slow baking the salmon creates the perfect timetable for bringing the remaining ingredients together and also makes it difficult to flop.  The fish consistently comes out luscious and juicy (trust me, I’m a professional at forgetting food in the oven). Any white beans can be subbed in for the butter beans, and now that I think about it, I almost enjoyed it more with the cannellini beans I used for the first preparation. Take the proportion of beans to leeks as a loose suggestion and adjust it to your tastes and needs. Using more beans will stretch the leeks out over more servings if you’re, say, looking to have some leftovers for tomorrow and avoid the #SadDeskLunch scenario altogether (I am!). It's simple, satisfying, and perfect with a little intrigue.

Salmon with White Beans and Leeks, adapted from the Seven Spoons cookbook

1.5 lbs salmon (as one piece or individual filets)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 branch of fresh rosemary
4 small or 3 medium leeks
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
1 - 2 cans of butter beans (or any white bean), drained and rinsed
1/3 cup (80 ml) creme fraiche
salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 300 (150 C) degrees.

Slice the leeks into 1/4 inch rings and toss them into a relatively deep bowl of water (so that the leek rings will float). Swish the leeks around a little and then let them rest so that the dirt on them will sink to the bottom of the bowl.  At this point I like to prepare the salmon to bake, then return to the leeks for a second wash. Washing leeks twice is necessary and worth it (IMHO) because there is always dirt at the bottom of the bowl on the second rinse.

Season the salmon on both sides, then place the filets skin side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Thinly slice a lemon and arrange the slices around and between the filets. Bake the salmon for 25-30 mins. [Tara recommends that you bake the fish until until it is “almost opaque in the center of the thickest part," but I live in a house-divided on the subject of salmon “doneness” so I cooked mine until just opaque.]

While the salmon is cooking and the leeks are draining (after their second wash), chop up a couple cloves of garlic and sauté it in a pan with the 1/4 cup of oil and the rosemary branch. When the rosemary begins to sizzle and look a little fried, remove it and set it aside for later.  Add the leeks to the pan, along with the water and a big pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft but still bright green, about 5-10 mins. Don’t brown them unless you’d like them extra silky and slightly over-stewed later.  The second time I made this dish, I left these in the pan a little two long and sort of didn’t mind it (probably because it reminded me of Suzanne Goin’s braised leeks of which I’m a huge fan). But I did prefer it a smidgen more when cooked as directed.

Tip the beans into the pan, give everything a good (but gentle) stir, and let it continue cooking for 3-5 more mins to get the beans warm.  As this cooks, scrape a little zest over it all, then a little juice and probably a pinch more salt (we like salt around here, but season to your satisfaction).  Plate the beans and check on the salmon.  Once the salmon is done, remove it from its skin using a thin spatula (fish spatulas are amazing), letting the flesh break naturally, and plate it on top of the beans.  Flatten the skin back out on the pan and put it under the broiler for a few minutes.  Let the fish skin sizzle under the broiler, and flip it every 90 seconds until it’s rigid and crispy.  Scoot the crispy salmon skin onto a plate and let it cool for a minute. Then crack it into bite size pieces and sprinkle it over the plated fish and beans. Break off some of the crispy rosemary and sprinkle that over the plate as well.  Stir some grated lemon zest and a healthy squeeze of lemon juice into the creme fraiche and dollop over the plate or serve alongside.

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