A few years back we celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday at my aunt and uncle’s beautiful property in California. When I offered to help in the kitchen to prepare the Wilson family feast, my aunt Claudette showed me the most stunning fillet of king salmon they had purchased from their fish monger in San Diego. She placed it in the oven on a very low temperature to slow roast. She then handed me a recipe for cucumber sauce written by Julia Child and asked me to make a version of it to accompany the salmon. I quickly went to work peeling and deseeding cucumbers while my aunt stood alongside me making her trademark vinaigrette.
When the meal was ready, we took it outside to a long table, where the warm sun was casting tall golden streams through the canopy of massive oak trees above. We ate family style, my aunt portioning pieces of salmon alongside a perfectly dressed crisp green salad. The cucumber sauce was passed around as my uncle poured the iced tea. Laughter and memories were plentiful, and the meal will never be forgotten. I took a copy of the cucumber sauce recipe home and have kept it all this time, waiting for an opportunity to write about it.
When you’re fortunate enough to have a side of wild king salmon grace your kitchen, slow roasting is a perfect option. King salmon has a milder flavor and higher fat content than sockeye, so it works beautifully with a gentler preparation and more subtle flavor profiles. As the fillet roasts at a low temperature, the fat melts ever so slowly, making the delicate meat incredibly succulent. The cooling cucumber dill sauce truly allows the king salmon to shine.
- Yield: 6 to 8 Servings
- 1 side (2.5 pounds) wild king salmon, pin bones removed
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 English cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 cup sour cream
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- Lightly dressed green salad (I recommend a subtle lemon and olive oil vinaigrette)
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
- Place a pan of warm water on the bottom rack in the oven. Place the upper rack in the center position. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil, then grease the foil with olive oil. Place the whole side of salmon onto the foil skin side down. Lightly coat the top of the salmon with more olive oil and season generously with sea salt and pepper. Place the pan in the oven on the upper rack and roast the salmon for 45 minutes. To make the cucumber dill sauce
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the cucumber, dill, sour cream, salt, sugar, and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Check the salmon for doneness; roasting time will depend on the thickness of the fillet. The salmon should be just barely firm when touched, and still pink and moist in the center for medium-rare to medium. If not done, return it to the oven for 10 minutes and check again. When done, remove the salmon from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
- To serve, break off large chunks of salmon, using forks (the meat will slide away easily from the skin on the bottom). Serve warm with the cucumber dill sauce and a lightly dressed green salad. Lemon wedges and sea salt on the side.