Salmon and Sorrel Troisgros

by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan, 1999, Scribner

“The celebrated Troisgros brothers created thousands of dishes for their Michelin-three-star restaurant in Roanne, France, but this dish, Salmon and Sorrel Sauce, became a touchstone in French culture. It, more than any dish created by any other chef, marked the passage from the classic cooking of Escoffier to ‘la nouvelle cuisine’.  Today, with food so spare and light, it might be hard to imagine the excitement – and discord – this dish provoked. The components of the dish were not the newsmakers – they’d been used singly and in combination for years by chefs in France. It was the way in which the salmon was cooked and the manner in which the plate was arranged that rocked the culinary establishment. In the old order of things, the salmon would have been poached and placed on a warm plate, and the sauce would have been spooned over it. In the Troisgros’s instant classic, the salmon was flash-cooked in a pan, a radically new way to cook fish, and it was the sauce that was put on the plate – the salmon topped it. It may not sound like much now, but then, it changed the way food was experienced.

If the dish did nothing but start a revolution, it would be interesting enough, but it is, in fact, a pleasure to eat. The salmon, cut into thin slices (you can cut the salmon at home with a long thin very sharp knife or ask the fishmonger to do this for you), is seared on the outside so that the inside – what little of it there is – is pink, velvety, and only just warm; the cream sauce is rich, smooth, and sorely sour. Saumon à l’Oseille is still on the Troisgros menu and still, as the Michelin guide would say, worth a journey.
This dish is a replica of the original Troisgros recipe; or, at least, it comes as close
as a French dish made in America with American ingredients can come. While
many of the ingredients in this country are very comparable to those found in France, cream is the exception, so my sauce may taste just a little different from
the Troisgros sauce.”

Makes 4 servings

the sauce:
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 medium white mushrooms, trimmed but stems left on, cleaned,
and finely chopped
1 large shallot, peeled, trimmed, finely chopped, rinsed, and dried
1 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 ounces sorrel, stemmed, washed, dried, and cut into very thin strands

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat, then add the mushrooms, shallot, and white wine and season with salt and pepper. Bring the wine to a boil and cook, keeping a close eye on the pan, until the wine has completely evaporated. Pour in the heavy cream, lower the heat – it should be at its lowest possible setting – and let cook very slowly for about 15 minutes, until the cream is just thick enough to barely coat a metal spoon. Strain the cream into another small saucepan. (You can make the sauce to this point up to 2 hours ahead and keep it covered at room temperature.
2. When you are ready to sear the fish, add the sorrel to the cream and put
the saucepan over medium heat. Bring the cream just to the boil and then
pull the pan from the heat; taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

the salmon:

2 center-cut salmon fillets, each about 1 1/4 inches thick, 6 inches long,
and 4 to 5 inches wide (size is more important than weight here,
but each fillet will probably be about 3/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

1. Using a long knife with a very sharp thin blade, slice each salmon fillet into 2 scallops by cutting across the top of the salmon – you’re cutting horizontally in order to have 4 slices that are each about 6 inches long, 4 to 5 inches wide, and about 1/3 inch thick. The sliced salmon will look like the fish version of veal scaloppini – and, because you cut the salmon across, not downward, you’ll have a scrap of flesh and skin left over. Season the fillets on one side with salt and pepper.
2. Coat the bottom of 4 warm dinner plates with sorrel sauce and keep them warm while you cook the fish.
3. Heat a large nonstick – it must be nonstick – sauté pan or skillet (or 2 smaller pans) over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, slip in the fillets. Cook for no more than 2 minutes (seriously) – you want the salmon to be only half-cooked (the edges will be cooked and the center will be raw, but warm) – then flip the fish over for 10 seconds before serving.

to serve:  Quickly lift the salmon out of the pan and place one fillet in the center of each sauce-napped plate. Serve immediately – there’s no time to lose – before the salmon cools.

to drink:  The classic accompaniment to this nouvelle classic dish is a