Lost Italian: Celebrate Syttende Mai with Chilled Poached Salmon

Poached salmon with dill cream sauce is a lighter spring meal. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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Norwegians love their salmon, and to celebrate Syttende Mai (the 17th of May) this Friday, we’re sharing one of our all-time favorite salmon recipes, Chilled Poached Salmon with Dill Cream Sauce.

This specialty was a lunchtime favorite at our former restaurant, Sarello’s, and it is the perfect dish for a summer lunch, brunch or even light supper. There is so much to love about this dish: It’s nutritious, delicious, elegant and, best of all, easy to prepare.

Poaching is often overlooked when it comes to cooking fish in favor of methods that are perceived as easier, like baking or grilling. While I’ve made my share of dry, overcooked fish when using both methods, I have never had a bad result from poaching.

In fact, poaching is one of our favorite ways to cook fish, and Tony even likens it to giving the fish the spa treatment. The fish is gently cooked in an aromatic bath of liquid over very low heat, which results in fish that is tender, moist and perfectly cooked. This is as close to foolproof as it gets when it comes to cooking fish.

For our poaching bath, we use a combination of water, white wine, lemon juice, fresh dill and parsley, one bay leaf and a half-teaspoon of whole peppercorns. These ingredients subtly infuse the water with their flavor and fragrance, which the fish lightly absorbs as it poaches. The fish is ready when the center is flaky and opaque, which takes only about eight to 10 minutes depending on the size of the fillets.


For this recipe, salmon is poached in simmering water. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

You could serve it immediately at this time; however, for this recipe we’re chilling both the salmon and dill sauce before serving. I love this because I can poach the salmon fillets and make the dill sauce a day or two ahead of serving so that all I need to do is assemble the platter when ready to serve.

Salmon is a superfood, and this pretty pink fish is packed with protein, low in calories and unhealthy fats and a great source of those all-important omega-3 fatty acids. With so much nutrition on the plate, we don’t feel even the slightest bit of guilt about serving it with a lush and creamy dill sauce.

Skin the salmon before poaching. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

The sauce is made in a food processor and combines softened cream cheese with heavy cream, fresh dill, lemon juice, salt and pepper. The ingredients are blended together until the sauce reaches a smooth, batter-like consistency.

We have given specific measurements, but feel free to taste and adjust as you go along. The sauce should chill for at least one hour to give the flavors time to meld together, and overnight is even better.


I’ll be chaperoning a group of Sullivan Middle School eighth graders at Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minn., this Friday, and I’m already looking forward to my late-night Syttende Mai celebration. I’m making this recipe today so that all I’ll need to do when I get home is open the fridge, plate it up, eat it, wash it down with an Aquavit nightcap and tumble into bed.

Happy Syttende Mai!

Syttende Mai can be celebrated with Chilled Poached Salmon with Dill Cream Sauce. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

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Chilled Poached Salmon with Dill Cream Sauce

Serves: 4

Ingredients for Dill Cream Sauce:

8 ounces cream cheese (1 package), softened to room temperature


2 ½ tablespoons fresh dill, stems removed, roughly chopped

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

¾ cup heavy cream

Sauce directions:

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients, except the heavy cream, and pulse until combined. Turn the processor on and add the heavy cream through the feed tube in a slow, steady stream until a smooth, batter-like consistency is achieved. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but not gloppy. For best results, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Makes about 2 cups.

To store: Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Ingredients for Chilled Poached Salmon:

1 quart water

2 cups white wine

½ cup fresh lemon juice

1 bay leaf

2 sprigs of parsley (keep whole)

2 large dill sprigs

½ teaspoon whole peppercorns

4 salmon fillets, about 5 to 6 ounces each, skin removed

Salmon directions:

In a large saucepan, add all the ingredients, except the salmon, and bring to a very gentle simmer over medium-low heat.

Reduce the heat to low and add the salmon fillets. Cook at an almost-simmer (little bubbles should float just at or below the surface of the liquid) for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the salmon turns opaque in color and is firm and flaky in texture.

The salmon can be served warm or chilled. To chill, let cool at room temperature until just slightly warm, then cover in plastic wrap or in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days.

To serve chilled, place salmon fillets on a platter or individual plates and spoon a generous portion of Dill Cream Sauce over 1 end of each fillet. Serve with remaining sauce on the side and a simple salad of mixed greens tossed in red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive, salt and pepper.

Sarah’s Tips:

  • This dish is excellent for brunch, lunch or a light supper.
  • The salmon may be cooked in advance and is best served within 2 days of poaching and will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • The dill cream sauce may be prepared several days in advance and is best when refrigerated for at least 24 hours so that the flavors can meld together.

Recipe Time Capsule:

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at

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