Chef's Note: While visiting the town of Deia on the island of Mallorca, I watched a young chef at the Residence Hotel simmer various pieces of fish and shellfish in quarts of olive oil.
I was fascinated by the way he cooked each variety for a different length of time and at a low temperature to achieve a glistening, almost translucent, texture and an incredible succulence.
For example, he cooked thick chunks of squid for up to 6 hours at 140 degrees Fahrenheit; shelled thick clams for 4 hours; and freshened slabs of salt cod for 2 hours. In no case did this lengthy,
slow simmering produce overcooked fish.
As he explained it to me, “So long as the internal temperature and the temperature of the oil remain the same, the fish will not be overcooked.
This is a very old way of preparing and preserving all kinds of chewy textured fish in my hometown of Soller,” he told me. “Nowadays, we use the same low-temperature method to cook fish fillets,
such as turbot and salmon, but we don’t cook them as long. What we do now is flavor the oil with browned garlic and let it steep so it will be flavorful for cooking the fish.”
The chef told me that because the oil never rises above 155 degrees Fahrenheit it can be reused again and again, including in fish salads or for poaching more fish. The oil will keep for up
to one week in the refrigerator.
(Paula Wolfert recommended to California Olive Ranch that the salmon be served with a sharp, acidic salad such as arugula with oranges.)
- 1 pound center-cut thick salmon, preferably sushi grade, skinned and pin bones removed
- Coarse sea salt
- 2 1/2 cups California Olive Ranch extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 1 sprig of thyme
- Freshly ground pepper
Lightly salt the salmon and refrigerate it for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, in a cazuela or straight-sided skillet just large enough to hold the salmon, heat the olive oil with the garlic and thyme to simmering. When the garlic turns golden brown,
remove from the heat and let stand until ready to cook.
Discard the garlic and thyme. Heat the oil to 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse the salmon, pat dry, and slip into the oil. Add additional oil, if necessary, to completely cover the salmon.
Bring the temperature of the oil to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit and poach the salmon for 12 minutes. Remove the cazuela from the heat. The fish will continue to cook in the receding heat.
The salmon is fully cooked when the flesh flakes. Use a spatula to remove the salmon, which will look amazingly rare but will be fully cooked. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with pepper.
Let the salmon rest for 5 minutes, then cut into four pieces. Serve warm, with the room-temperature sharp, acidic salad arranged on top.
Recipe credit: The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen (John Wiley & Sons, 2003), by Paula Wolfert; photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Paula Wolfert. Photo reprinted with permission from Christopher Hirsheimer.