Salmon with Fennel & White Beans

There has been a fresh and flavorful shift in our kitchen over the past couple of weeks, and it feels so right! My husband, Les, and I have been eating healthier after the holidays, not for keeping resolutions (we don’t bother with those), but out of simple desire to care for our bodies better after a season of splurging. Seafood has been the star of this menu reboot, and I’ve brought back into rotation one of my favorite all-time recipes, a seared fillet of fish rested on a mélange of tender sautéed fennel with creamy cannellini beans and sweet tomatoes.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess right here that I actually did not use salmon this time, but steelhead trout. This is a sweet and creamy fish, similar in texture (and appearance) to a farm-raised salmon, and when I can get my hands on steelhead trout, I love to swap it into favorite salmon recipes, including the salmon in phyllo dish that I shared in December. But steelhead trout isn’t always easy to find, especially while adhering to the best practice standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (sustainability means a lot to me). The dish is every bit as delicious when made with your favorite salmon, which is usually much easier to find.

This dish is satisfying, healthful and full of flavor!

It looks and tastes more extravagant than it is, and although I’ve named it “fish with fennel,” it would be better described as fennel with fish, given that the fennel shows up in three different forms—the seeds are ground to a powder for crusting on the fillets, the vegetable is caramelized in the mélange beneath the fish, and the fronds are chopped and sprinkled on top.


Would it surprise you to know that you can have this meal on the table in about 35 minutes, start to finish? It’s true. And Les, who is practically a living nutritional calculator, announced after cleaning his plate that our meal probably checked in at fewer than 400 calories per serving, which is not too shabby for such a flavorful, satisfying meal.

Ingredients

So few ingredients, yet so much flavor!

2 portions salmon*, skin removed (see notes)

1 tsp. fennel seed, ground to a rough powder

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 bulb fennel, sliced* (should measure about 1 cup)

1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned, drained well)

1/4 cup low-sodium vegetable broth + 2 Tbsp. dry white wine* (or all vegetable broth)

15 oz. can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped or minced


*Notes

Any type of salmon (wild sockeye, king, coho, etc.) works well in this recipe, but you might also consider swapping in another fish, such as arctic char or steelhead trout, which I used. If you are not comfortable removing the skin yourself, ask the seafood clerk to do it for you. Learn this task, and you’ll be unstoppable!

Fennel is a less common vegetable, one that you may have passed over in the supermarket for something more recognizable. It resembles something between celery and bok choy, but tastes nothing like either. It is crunchy with a slightly licorice flavor, and it pairs beautifully with all kinds of fish, especially when sautéed or stewed. The seed part of fennel might be more familiar to you. It’s the flavor that makes Italian sausage taste Italian.

If you use wine to deglaze the skillet, make it a dry one, such as pinot grigio. Alternatively, I frequently reach for dry vermouth, given that I always have a bottle open in the fridge. If you prefer to not use wine, just add another splash of vegetable broth, no problem.


Instructions


  1. Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the fennel seeds to a rough powder. Don’t have either? Try putting the seeds into a bag and use a rolling pin to crush them. Season the fish fillets with kosher salt and pepper, then sprinkle the fennel powder onto both sides of the fillets and press to fully adhere it.
  2. Heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is hot and shimmery (but not smoking), lay fish fillets into pan. Cook about two minutes, then carefully turn fillets to cook the other side another two minutes. Transfer fish to a small plate and keep warm. I usually slip it into the microwave while I make the mélange.
  3. Add fennel pieces to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté, tossing occasionally, until fennel is caramelized and tender, about five minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, then broth, plus wine. Stir until combined and liquid is simmering.
  5. Add beans and mustard. Toss to combine, reduce heat to low.
  6. Return fish to the pan, resting the fillets on top of the mixture. Cover and simmer on low for about 8 minutes, which is just about enough time to set the table and chop the fennel fronds.
  7. Plate the meal, with fish fillet resting on top of the fennel-bean mixture. Sprinkle the chopped fennel fronds on top and serve.

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If you’re hungry for more seafood, check out these easy recipes from the Comfort du Jour archives.


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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Mahi Hemingway

Friends frequently ask my husband and me how it’s possible we aren’t gaining 10 pounds a week, given all the “rich foods” they see on my blog or his Facebook page. It’s a fair question after you’ve seen the Waffled Mac & Cheese or some of the unconventional creations on my Pizza Party page. But we don’t always eat heavy foods, and sometimes our meals just look more decadent than they really are thanks to presentation. That’s important to remember: If a food looks beautiful, it may be more appetizing, but that doesn’t mean it’s decadent. This Mahi Hemingway—a recipe I’ve adapted from a local restaurant—is a good example.

This dish is deceptively easy to make, and its flavor and presentation both rival the restaurant I “borrowed” it from. The restaurant version has a light and elegant white wine, lemon, tomato and caper sauce, served over delicate angel hair pasta and topped with a pan-seared fillet of fresh grouper. I first tasted it more than 15 years ago, and it’s still on the menu for $30. I’m not going to say it isn’t worth it, but I do know you can make it at home (with exactly the same flavors) for a fraction of that price, and it’s easy.

If you have never tasted capers (first of all, where’ve you been?), expect a briny, pickled flavor—kind of like a tangy green olive, but about the size of a green pea. I don’t use much in any recipe because capers pack a lot of flavor. You’ll see capers in Mediterranean cuisine, especially paired with seafood. I also love to chop and add them to condiments for seafood, such as tartar sauce.

The lemon is straightforward citrus, and it’s crucial (as I declare in most of my recipes) that you choose fresh. Bottled lemon juice is full of weird preservatives and has no place in my kitchen, as long as lemon trees are still alive somewhere on the planet.

The remaining ingredients are petite diced tomatoes (fresh is great, but canned works fine), a splash of white wine, about half a medium onion, your favorite long pasta and a couple of pats of butter. I’ll assume you already have extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

Lots of great flavor, and all perfectly good for you.

The Prep

I love a recipe that comes together quickly, especially on a busy weeknight, and this one takes only about five minutes to prep. First, cut thin slices of onion, and then dice them small. Cut the lemon in half. Measure out a heaping teaspoon of capers (no need to rinse them). Cut up a roma tomato into small diced bits or use a slotted spoon to scoop about 1/3 cup from a can of petite diced (it’s OK if you also get some of the juice). Put on a pot to boil for your pasta, and salt and pepper the fish.

This is a very simple recipe, including these items plus a splash of white wine. You’ve got this!

About the fish

The restaurant version I mentioned is made with grouper, which isn’t always easy to find. I substituted mahi the first time I made it myself and liked it so much I never looked back. Mahi is a firm fish—stronger in flavor than grouper or tilapia, but not as “fishy” as a sea bass or mackerel. Choose any firm-fleshed fish you like. I keep the skin on during cooking because much of the healthy omega-3 fats are very close to the skin. I’ve found that with most fish, the skin is super easy to remove once that side has been cooked, but this is strictly a matter of preference. If you don’t like the skin, ask the fishmonger (I love that word) to remove it for you.

Mahi is an oily fish, with loads of good omega-3 fats. It’s concentrated in that red line down the middle.

Choosing your pasta

For pretty presentation, choose a “long” pasta—something delicate like spaghetti or angel hair works nicely. Whole grain is an excellent choice, and today, I’m using a new thin spaghetti Les picked up for us. It’s durum wheat (ideal for pasta), and made with spinach, zucchini, broccoli, parsley and kale. We are adding a whole serving of vegetable to our dish, but without extra effort. I’m good with that!

This “super greens” pasta is such a dark green, it almost resembles seaweed!

So far, this recipe is ticking all the boxes—healthful, quick, easy. I’m loving it.

Putting it all together

The fish and sauce will cook quickly, so get going with the pasta first. Remember to use plenty of water and salt it generously.

I use the same skillet for the fish and the sauce. Begin over medium heat, sautéing the onion with a little olive oil until it begins to soften. Move the onion to the edges of the pan, and add the mahi fillets, flesh side down. For the best sear, resist the urge to move it around much. After about seven minutes, it will release freely so you can turn the fish and cook the skin side.

Add the tomatoes, capers, lemon juice and white wine to the skillet, give it a gentle shake to mix the ingredients, then cover and allow it to simmer on low heat until the pasta is cooked al dente. Remove from heat. Transfer the fish fillets to a plate and cover to keep them warm. Add a pat of cold butter to the sauce and use a fork to swirl and melt it. This technique creates a silky richness without a lot of extra fat. Immediately drain the pasta and use tongs to give it a quick swish through the sauce to coat it before plating. Spoon some of the sauce over the pasta, then top with the mahi fillet and the remaining sauce. Sprinkle a little fresh, chopped parsley on top and enjoy!

The slides will give you a visual walk-through of how easy this is to make. If you want to save the recipe for later, there’s a button at the end of the post to download and print for your recipe book.


Ingredients

Makes two servings (easy to double; choose a large enough pan)

2 6 oz. fillets fresh mahi or other firm fish

2 servings thin spaghetti or angel hair pasta

1/2 medium sweet or yellow onion, thinly sliced and diced

1/3 cup petite diced tomatoes, strained from can or chopped fresh

1 heaping teaspoon capers

Juice of 1/2 large lemon

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 Tbsp. cold butter

Fresh chopped parsley, for serving

Every bit as good as the high-dollar restaurant.

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