Salmon in Phyllo with Champagne Cream Sauce

If you think “elegant” and “easy” cannot co-exist in the kitchen, allow me to introduce you to this moist and flaky salmon, wrapped in layer upon layer of crispy buttery phyllo and dressed with a champagne-and-cream sauce that sends it over the top. As impressive and fancy as this sounds, you may find it hard to believe that it is easy to make. But if you can use a paintbrush and wrap a small birthday gift, you have the skills to do this.

Don’t be intimidated by the delicate, flaky layers of phyllo. This paper-thin wheat dough that is popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine is not as fussy as it may seem. My first experience with phyllo was years ago in a catering kitchen, where I worked part-time during peak seasons, including holidays. The kitchen team wrapped this stuff around nearly everything in those days—appetizers, entrees and desserts—and though I was nervous at first about handling phyllo, I got over it quickly with a few helpful tips. Give it time to thaw overnight before you start, brush or spray every layer with oil or melted butter, and do your best to keep the extra sheets covered so they don’t dry out. Those are the key rules. Get it right and the rest is easy.

There is flexibility in this recipe, too. You can swap out the seasonings, use different fish and even change up the sauce if you want. Once you nail the technique of phyllo (which you will after this), there are many possibilities. Finally, whether you’ll be serving two people or eight, you’ll appreciate being able to prepare these cute little “packages” ahead of time and just pop them in the oven in time for dinner. Yes, so much easier than it looks. But every bit as elegant; the champagne cream sauce can be whipped up while the salmon is in the oven.

For a restaurant quality presentation, here’s a simple trick I learned from pro caterers: place the salmon phyllo packet on top of the sauce rather than smothering it. You’ll want your loved ones and guests to see the full beauty of the delicate phyllo. This little flip is one of the simplest things you can do at home to elevate a meal that includes a sauce. Let the swooning commence.

My recipe is for two adult servings. Adjust accordingly for extra portions.

The butter between layers makes the phyllo extra flaky, and the salmon remains moist inside the packet.

Ingredients

Fresh salmon fillet (5 oz. for each serving), skin removed* (see notes)

Salt and pepper

Fresh or dried dill leaves

5 sheets phyllo dough*

1/2 stick salted butter, melted (possibly more if you brush heavily)


Champagne Cream Sauce

1/2 cup champagne (or dry white wine, such as pinot grigio)

1 small shallot, finely minced*

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup half & half (or light cream)

1 1/2 tsp. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

A couple of pinches of white pepper


*Notes

If your supermarket offers pre-portioned salmon fillets, that’s a good way to go. Ideally, you want the skin removed from the fish (they will usually do this for you at the fish counter, but I will teach you how to do it yourself).

Any kind of salmon (sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works for this recipe, but you may also substitute steelhead (ocean) trout or arctic char. Both are mild in flavor but similar in texture to farm-raised salmon. In the photos for this post, I used steelhead trout and it was delicious.

Phyllo is a paper-thin wheat dough, popular in Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine. You’ll find it in the freezer section near the pie crusts and puff pastry. The brand I buy comes in 9 x 14” sheets, which are very manageable and large enough to wrap two fillets.

If you don’t have shallots, substitute very finely minced sweet or red onion. Do not confuse scallions for shallots. As you can see, they are most definitely not the same. 😊


You’re about to see how easy it is to make this impressive phyllo-wrapped salmon, but first, a few tips for success when working with phyllo:

Use melted butter on every layer of the phyllo. Keep the new sheets covered with a clean towel to prevent them drying out as you work. Use a pastry mat for brushing the phyllo with butter or clean your counter really well before and after. Transfer unused phyllo to a gallon-sized zip top bag and seal, squeezing out as much air as possible. Store it in the refrigerator but try to use it within a week.


Instructions

Gather up the tools you’ll need, including a sharp chef knife (to remove salmon skin), a pastry mat or clean section of counter space, a heavy-duty baking sheet and a pastry brush for spreading butter on the phyllo layers.

Have a look at the slides first, then keep scrolling for written instructions and a downloadable PDF for your recipe files.

  1. Follow package instructions for thawing the phyllo. It usually requires overnight in the fridge or a few hours on the counter.
  2. Preheat oven to 375° F, with oven rack in the center. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Remove the skin from the salmon if the fishmonger did not do this for you. Beginning at the tail end with the flesh side up, carefully slide the tip of a sharp knife between the flesh and skin, just enough to loosen about 2 inches of skin. Grab the skin with a paper towel. Position the knife at a low angle, and gently tug the skin side to side, holding the knife firmly in place. Continue to pull the skin until it releases from the fillet.


  4. Cut the fish into equal portions, approximately 5 ounces each. Sprinkle the fillets with salt, pepper and dried dill leaves. Set aside.
  5. Spray a pastry mat or clean section of the counter with olive oil spray. Melt butter in a small bowl. You may need to re-heat the butter as you go. Unroll the phyllo dough so that the sheets are lying flat.
  6. Carefully spread one sheet of phyllo dough onto the counter, gently pressing down the edges to keep it in place. It may tear or fold on itself in some place, but this is OK. The layers will help to hide imperfections so just keep going. Remember to cover the remaining phyllo sheets with a clean towel and damp paper towel to prevent them from drying while you work.
  7. Brush melted butter all over the phyllo sheet, starting in the center, and cover the full sheet all the way to the edges. Repeat with four more layers of phyllo.
  8. Using a sharp knife, cut the phyllo stack in half, creating two smaller rectangle-shaped stacks. Arrange the salmon fillets, face side-down on the center of each new rectangle.
  9. Fold the short end of the phyllo stack up over the salmon, then fold in the sides and the other end. Brush the packet with melted butter, then turn it over and brush the other side. Transfer the packet to the cookie sheet and repeat with the other fish packet. If you are working ahead, cover with plastic film and refrigerate. When you’re ready to bake, remove from fridge while oven preheats.
  10. Bake at 375° for 25-30 minutes, until phyllo is golden brown. Prepare sauce while fish is baking.
  11. Spoon a portion of sauce onto each serving plate. Carefully cut fish packet in half and stack the halves on top of the champagne cream sauce.

Serve with your favorite roasted vegetable or a fresh crisp salad. Oh, and about the rest of that champagne… 🙂 🍾

Champagne Mustard Cream Sauce

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine champagne and shallots. Cook over medium heat to a light boil, then reduce heat and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Whisk flour into half & half until smooth. Add to champagne mixture and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Dijon mustard, white pepper and salt to taste. Keep sauce warm until ready to serve.


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Hearts of Palm Citrus “Ceviche”

In case you haven’t tried them (or maybe even heard of them), hearts of palm are exactly as the name implies—the inner core of a palm plant. For whatever reason, you don’t often see them on restaurant menus, unless you’re in a swanky place with chandeliers and linen napkins and one of those servers who is compulsively whisking the crumbs off your table. I first learned of them during my tenure as a part-time catering kitchen helper, and though I didn’t mind hearts of palm, I have largely ignored them.

Until now.

There’s nothing terribly exciting about hearts of palm on their own—they’re neither strong in flavor nor impressive to look at. They’re just slender, creamy white-colored stalks which you might occasionally find playing a background role in a salad. But ever since I spotted a faux crab cake recipe on Pinterest, where hearts of palm stood in for crab, I’ve had it in my mind to give them a starring role in a vegan version of ceviche, and you know what? It works!

Ceviche is traditionally a tropical appetizer type of dish, centered on raw fish cured with citrus juices, and it is usually flavored up with some combination of onions, hot peppers, cilantro and avocado. But this is a Kentucky Derby party, so we are putting a classy twist on those ingredients, serving it up salad style, and swapping out the tropical notes for fresh spring flavors—cucumber and mint. Along the way, I’ll show you some of the easy tricks I learned from my catering mentors for making a dish prettier—which, obviously, also makes it tastier. Enjoy!

Ingredients

1/2 large pink or ruby red grapefruit, cut into sections, reserve juice
Juice of 1 fresh lime, divided
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. sugar* (see catering tips)
1/4 cup (4 Tbsp.) extra virgin olive oil (mild flavor)
2 Persian cucumbers, peeled* and cut lengthwise, then sliced into half moons
1 can (14 oz.) hearts of palm, chilled in fridge
2 Tbsp. finely chopped red onion
1/2 small, firm avocado
Mixed baby greens or leaf lettuce
Chopped parsley and mint leaves for garnish

Instructions

Section your grapefruit by cutting in half crosswise, then running a knife first around the outside edge of one half, then up close to each side of the section membranes. Spoon out the sections into a medium bowl and strain the remaining grapefruit peel over a measuring cup to save all the juice. Wrap the remaining grapefruit half and save it for another use.

Juice 1/2 of the lime, and add about 1 Tbsp. of the reserved grapefruit juice. Whisk in Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Add olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly, until dressing is thick and emulsified. If your olive oil is very robust, substitute something neutral—avocado or canola oil would be good.

Cut the avocado in half, carefully split the halves apart and use a paring knife to cut a crosshatch design into the flesh, then spoon around the edges to release the avocado pieces into the bowl with the grapefruit pieces. Immediately squeeze the remaining half of lime over the avocado to prevent browning. Squeeze any remaining lime juice into the dressing.

Drain hearts of palm. Blot dry on paper towels, cut lengthwise into quarters, then slice into 1/2” pieces and empty into a medium bowl with red onions, grapefruit sections, cucumbers and avocado pieces.

Pour dressing over hearts of palm mixture and gently fold with a rubber spatula to coat the salad with the dressing. Don’t stir the mixture, lest you reduce the avocado and hearts of palm to a mushy mess. Refrigerate up to an hour before serving a generous spoonful of “ceviche” atop a mound of mixed greens, and garnish with the chopped parsley and mint. If you happen to have some of my grandmother’s beautiful Depression glass fruit bowls, use those!

On a bed of baby greens and spinach, this is so pretty.

*Catering Tips

If you’re making the cucumber or mint simple syrups for the Kentucky Derby Sips recipes, substitute a couple teaspoons of that for the sugar here. When you repeat a flavor across different elements of your meal, it’s called “echoing,” and it helps tie things together in your senses. You don’t want to go overboard, of course, or everything will taste the same. But here, it will be cool and refreshing, a contrast to the rich hot browns, and in harmony with your Sparkly Britches or Kentucky Love Child (you can’t imagine how goofy it feels to write that sentence).

This weird looking little thing is one of my favorite tools for creating a prettier presentation. You should get one of these.

A garnish zester can be used in a couple of ways—a quick scrape of a lemon with the five tiny holes produces tiny shreds of zest, and in this recipe, I’ve used the channel blade to strip away part (but not all) of the cucumber peel. It’s also fine to peel the whole thing, but I think this elevates the look of the pieces. In hindsight, I could have also prepped some of the grapefruit zest for the top of the salad. Next time!

The bed of baby greens is edible of course (everything you put on a plate should be, including flowers), but it also serves two other purposes—visually, it’s prettier than the salad in a bowl by itself, and the lettuce also allows excess dressing to run underneath, which keeps your salad from getting mushy.

If you’re serving a salad for a crowd (Have hope—one day we will meet again this way!), consider a platter rather than a bowl. Line it with greens, as suggested for single serving on this recipe, and spoon the mixture over the leaves. It’s an easy way to really show off the pretty dish you’ve made and gives the impression of a larger dish. (Don’t forget to use a clean damp towel to tidy up the platter!)

A professional would never leave drips on the plate. Be a professional.

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