Saturday, 26 May 2012

Fennel and orange salad with poached salmon

Happy days - it's hot, finally, meaning I can stop having my oven on for an hour every day. It's salad time, which is good because when the temperature goes above 25C outside the heat tends to kill my appetite and I only want the lightest food. Two days in from this late May heatwave and I thought I should stop picking at olives and bowls of hummus for my tea and make proper food.

This is a proper meal, one that requires a plate rather than a lap tray filled with nibbles, substantial but light enough that you won't feel like a boa that swallowed a horse.

What you need: 
Half a small fennel bulb
1 orange
4-5cm cucumber
Olive oil
1 salmon fillet

What to do:
Trim the root off the fennel and then slice it wafer thin until you reach the top stems. If there are any fronds, cut them off and set aside. Zest the orange, cut it in half and juice one half. Put the shredded fennel in a bowl, pour over the orange juice, toss and leave. Cut the peel off the other orange half, making sure you remove all the pith. Halve it and slice thinly. Slice the cucumber thinly.

Poach the salmon in a heavy lidded pan in an inch of water - bring the water to simmering point and as soon as it starts to bubble turn it right down so it's barely moving. Let the fish poach for 5 minutes until it's only just turned pale pink, then switch off the hob and leave the fish to cool slightly in the liquid.

Add the orange slices, zest and cucumber to the fennel, season and pour over 2 dessertspoons of olive oil. If you have any fennel fronds, chop them finely and add them. Mix everything well, then plate up with the salmon and some new potatoes on the side.

Cook's tips: 
The easiest way to shred the fennel and slice the cucumber thinly is with a mandoline. The fennel especially needs to be as thin as possible so it can soften in the orange juice. If you don't have a mandoline, a heavy, very sharp knife is essential.

If you prefer a sharper, less fruity dressing, swap the orange juice for the juice of half a lemon.

Don't overcook the fish. You need only 2-3cm of water in the pan and if you use a shallow sauteuse the water will reach simmering point much faster, while the lid will help the steam circulate in the pan to cook the fish from the top. As soon as the top is as pale as the bottom of the fillet take the pan off the hob. If you have an electric hob, as I do, that means moving the pan and placing it elsewhere. The fish will continue to cook in the water as it cools, leaving you with a perfectly moist portion. In hot weather I prefer to eat my salmon cool rather than hot or chilled. You can poach ahead - it'll keep in the fridge a day or two if covered in clingfilm.

It's still the season for Jersey Royals if you can find them. They are more expensive than the other varieties of new potato but the season is so brief I think it's worth paying the extra to enjoy their nutty flavour. I usually cook more than I need for a meal so I can turn the remainder into a salad.