It’s getting warmer outside, the first flowers are sticking their heads out of the soaked soil and the first little travelers of the season have arrived and taken up the stage in the trees outside, merrily singing us a song every morning (Fantastic way to wake up, even if it’s the song of a literal early bird!). It seems, Spring is nosing its way in – About time, too~!
Of course, Spring’s arrival makes me think along the lines of all things zingy, fresh and vibrant whenever I try to figure out the “Next in Line” dinner candidates and, of course, the Island of Eternal Spring, Madeira, frequently pops up front and center. I’ve told you guys about our very Foodie’esque Early Morning Hike along the valley of Ribeiro Frio and Balcoes last year in my Herby Lamb Gyoza & Nasci Pear and Leek Salad Recipe over here, so I’ll spare you the details (I would certainly spin off into again if I let myself walk down memory lane right now…) this time around. Suffice it to say that this glorious, lemony and deliciously leeky hug in a bowl represents yet another pearl on the string of recipes that particular experience on Madeira has inspired me to cook up~
The Leek & Lemon Soup… and the Salmon
750g Leeks – about 5 medium-sized leeks – white and light green parts only, finely chopped
300-350g / 1 Small Fennel Bulb, finely chopped – keep the greens for deco
2 Cloves of Garlic, finely chopped
2 Shallots, finely chopped
4 Sprigs of Marjory – or 2 Tbsp dried Marjory Leaves
3 Sprigs of Tarragon – or 1 Tbsp dried Tarragon
1 Tbsp Ghee
1 Tbsp Brown Butter for the dot on the i
800ml Chicken or Vegetable Stock
2 Unwaxed Lemons, juice of one and zest of both
1 Salt Lemon, fruit pulp removed, pickled skin finely sliced
100ml Low Fat Cooking Cream
1 heaped Tsp each of Coarse Sea Salt, Mixed Peppercorns, Hot Chilli Flakes and Fennel Seeds – all ground up together in a pestle & mortar set – I always have a mill with coarse sea salt and caramelized fennel seeds in easy reach, so I usually just go with that to begin with
½ Tsp Nutmeg
Opt: 4 Tsp Créme Légère and a crack of pepper
4x 200g Salmon Fillets, ready-to-use
Sea Salt Flakes
1 Tsp Ghee
1) Place a large pot on medium-high heat and give the ghee a couple of swirls until it has melted.
2) Pop in the leeks, fennel, garlic and shallots and sauté the veggies until the shallots turn translucent.
3) Deglaze the lot with the stock and add the herbs and spices once you’ve made sure nothing’s sticking to the bottom of the pot.
4) Turn the heat down to medium-low, close the lid and allow the soup to simmer away for 15 mins.
5) Time for a change in scenery: place a large, heavy-based pan on medium-low heat and sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt flakes across the bottom of the pan.
6) Place the salmon fillets on top of the grains and drop 1 tsp of ghee or butter between them.
7) Sprinkle the surface of the fillets with a pinch of sea salt and a crack of pepper.
8) On that note, here’s one of my little kitchen-secrets: For things like this, I always use a salt-mill filled in a 2:1 ratio of Coarse Sea Salt and Caramelized Fennel Seeds. Simply pop the seeds into a wide pan and allow them to warm up at medium-low heat until they start to release their precious essential oils. Once that’s the case, give them a very light dusting with icing sugar, flip them a couple of times until there’s nothing white to see anymore, then allow them to cool off entirely before blending them into a pile of salt and filling the lot into your mill. Ta~daah!
9) Anywhoo… back to the salmon! Leave the fillets to their own devices for the next 10 mins – or, to be precise, until you’re done with the next 2 steps. If everything goes according to plan, the built-in cook-o-meter of the salmon aka the color of the fillets should tell you that they’re cooked through ¾ of the way at the same time the soup is wizzed up and ready to poach the last ¼ of the fillets to juicy deliciousness. If the soup is moving along faster or much slower than the salmon, adjust the heat of the salmon pan after the first 10 mins.
10) So, go with the flow and, once the first 15 mins are up for the soup, add the chopped salt lemon as well as the juice and zest of the fresh lemons and close the lid again for 3 more mins.
11) Take the pot off the heat (turn the stove to low while you’re at it) add the cream and carefully transfer the whole shebang into the jug of your blender, removing the woody remains of the herb sprigs as you go.
12) Blitz the soup until it’s silky smooth (I always put it through 2 whole rotations of the “hot soup” program of my trusty gizmo for good measure).
13) Pour the soup back into the pot, stir in the brown butter and adjust the seasoning if necessary – careful with the salt, the salmon will bring some of that to the table as well.
14) Gently submerge the fillets in the soup and allow them to finish their cooking process – as soon as the color of the fish has turned from pink to a soft and creamy white, you’re golden (with a perfectly pink core~!)
15) Ladle the soup into warmed dishes, place the fish in the center and garnish the servings with dots of crème légère and a crack of pepper – maybe some fennel greens if you remembered to save them for the occasion~!