Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon with Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns and Dill Sauce

seared salmon

One cooking feat that has eluded me until now is searing fish with extra crispy skin. I've finally managed to do it after much experimentation and lamentation. After eating so many fish dishes with crispy skin in restaurants, some so crispy that it seemed I was eating a potato chip, I've wanted to try cooking it myself. The technique I use here is a lot like the one used for roasting chicken, where you smear it with butter before setting it in the oven to ensure a crispy brown skin. Here I smear the salmon skin with butter and sear it skin-side down. The result is not only crispy but also a lovely brown—it's just delicious.

For a unique springtime pairing, I adore fiddlehead ferns, which can only be found in early spring. You won't necessarily find them at the market since they're harvested in the wild, but more likely at the farmers' market. But it just so happens that I did find mine at my local supermarket to my surprise. They were so beautiful that I couldn't resist buying a bagful. They look quite funny, because they're actually furled fern leaves. Don't worry, they are edible. Some say they taste like a cross between asparagus and artichoke, but I think they taste even better—of fresh spring.

To prepare fiddleheads for cooking, soak them in a few changes of water to remove any sand or dirt. Trim off the brown stem ends. Let them air dry or spin dry in a salad spinner. They can be steamed in a steamer basket, boiled, or blanched. I like to start them in a sauté pan, then steam for a bit, and then continue to cook them with garlic for additional flavor. The fiddleheads will turn a brighter green once cooked.

Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon with Sautéed Fiddlehead Ferns and Dill Sauce

for the pan-seared salmon:
2 6-ounce salmon fillet pieces, about 2-inches thick
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon canola oil

for the sautéed fiddlehead ferns:
3/4 pound fiddlehead ferns, stems trimmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the dill sauce:
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
fine sea salt
dill sprigs, for garnish

To prepare the salmon, remove any pin bones using tweezers. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Liberally season pieces with salt and pepper. Let stand for few minutes before spreading skin side with 1/2 tablespoon butter per fillet. Warm oil in a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat. Add fish and sear skin side for 5 minutes. Turn and sear flesh side until cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a long flexible spatula to handle fish.

To cook the fiddleheads, warm a large sauté pan set over medium heat. Add ferns and 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and steam until tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and allow any residual liquid to evaporate. Once pan is dry, add oil and garlic; sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.

To make the dill sauce, combine crème fraîche, lemon juice, and dill. Season with salt. To assemble, divide fiddelehads between two plates, top with salmon, and drizzle sauce over fish. Garnish with sprigs of dill. Yield: 2 servings.