The Lost Italian: Poaching keeps salmon moist

Two years ago this month, we said goodbye to James O'Rourke, a man renowned in our community for his tireless commitment to the arts and his great support of local artists and businesses. At Sarello's, we knew Jim as The Man at Table 34, our orig...

Poached Salmon in Leek Sauce
Poached Salmon in Leek Sauce is a perfect dish for your St. Patrick's Day feast. (Photos by Dave Wallis / The Forum)

Two years ago this month, we said goodbye to James O'Rourke, a man renowned in our community for his tireless commitment to the arts and his great support of local artists and businesses. At Sarello's, we knew Jim as The Man at Table 34, our original customer, and have even referred to him as our very own patron saint.

Though two years have passed since Jim's departure, it's still hard for us to imagine Sarello's without this beloved customer. With St. Patrick's Day this weekend, we wanted to feature an Irish-inspired dish, and with our memories turning back to O'Rourke this time of year, we knew there was only one option for us: salmon.

Jim was a loyal and frequent guest at Sarello's, and he rarely, if ever, ordered an entrée that was not some version of salmon. He didn't care how we served it, as long as salmon was on the menu. In his honor, we are featuring two of his favorite recipes, and we hope you enjoy them as much as Jim did.

The Irish are passionate about salmon, calling it the "Chieftain of the fish of Ireland" in old Irish poems. They respect the beauty of this fish, its strength and power, and its abundance. But, ultimately, it is the flavor of this pretty fish that makes it stand out.

There are myriad ways to prepare salmon, the most common being grilled or baked. But one of our favorite techniques is poaching. Poaching is the process of cooking in liquid, and involves no butter or oil, which makes this method extremely healthy.


For some reason, the very idea of poaching something can inspire a fearful reaction in people. Many of us, myself included, simply feel that this technique is beyond our skill set. However, I can tell you from personal experience, (and remember, I am not the chef in this family), this method is not only a great way to ensure that your salmon is moist, delicate and flavorful - it is also easy to master.

Tony's video demonstration this week is all about how to poach salmon, a process that generally takes between 10-15 minutes once your ingredients are in place. We begin by creating a court bouillon, which is a combination of liquid, spice, aromatics and an acid, such as wine, lemon juice or vinegar. Once the court bouillon has reached a gentle simmer, reduce the heat to less than a simmer, so that the bubbles are just below the surface of the liquid.

Add the salmon, and cook over very low heat for about seven to eight minutes, until opaque and light pink in color. The salmon will be delicate and flaky, with a subtle, light infusion of flavor from the court bouillon. At this point, you can serve it hot, with an Irish Leek Cream Sauce, or place it in the refrigerator for up to three days to enjoy chilled with a Dill Cream Sauce or with a salad. A very dry martini goes well, too.

I wrote a piece after Jim's passing called The Man at Table 34, and I've posted it again on our AreaVoices blog this week. We can think of no better way to end today than with this traditional Gaelic blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,


may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Poached Salmon

Serves: 4


4 6-8 oz. salmon fillets

2.5 quarts water

2 cups white wine

½ cup lemon juice


1 bay leaf

2 sprigs of parsley (keep whole)

½ teaspoon whole peppercorns


To poach the salmon, combine all ingredients in a 5-quart sauce pan or baking dish over medium-low heat and bring to a gentle simmer, then reduce to very low heat, until the bubbles are just below the surface of the liquid.

Cook for about seven to eight minutes total, until the salmon turns opaque in color and is firm and flaky in texture.

Serve hot with Leek Cream Sauce, or chilled with Dill Cream Sauce (recipes below)

To store: The salmon can be served warm or chilled. To chill, cover in plastic wrap or in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Leek Cream Sauce

Serves: 4 to 6


1 cup leeks, whites only, cleaned and sliced (approximately 1 leek)

2 tablespoons butter, unsalted

½ cup white wine vinegar

½ cup white wine

1 cup clam juice (optional)


2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon roux

Season with salt and pepper


Cut the leek in half lengthwise before cleaning. Run under cold water to remove any dirt/sand between the layers.

Once clean, lay the flat side of the leek down on a cutting board, and slice into ¼-inch half-moon pieces. Sauté the leeks in butter over medium heat until soft, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, cook the vinegar, wine and clam juice until the liquid is reduced by half, approximately 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to medium-low heat, add the cream and honey, and cook for five minutes. Add the roux to thicken, stirring frequently for about one minute.


To finish, add the sautéed leeks to the sauce, pour over salmon and serve.

To store:

Place the sauce in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. To serve, reheat in a sauce pan.


½ cup butter, shortening, lard or vegetable oil (the more flavorful the fat, the better the roux)

½ cup flour

(The ratio we use to make a roux is 1:1)

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat, then gradually whisk in the flour until it is completely incorporated with the butter.

Cook over medium-low heat for about 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly until a light straw color is achieved. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The roux will harden when refrigerated so that you can break it off in pieces.

Dill Cream Sauce

Serves: 6 to 8


8 ounces. cream cheese, softened

¾ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1½-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ ground black pepper


In a food processor, combine all ingredients except the cream, and pulse until mixed. Turn the processor on and add the heavy cream 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. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.

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

This column was written exclusively for The Forum.

Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple own Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and live in Fargo with their 8-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at .

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