My Best Thanksgiving Salmon

An Old Thanksgiving Menu from 1864

I know, what to *%&( am I talking about? Salmon and Thanksgiving? Heresy!! You must have Pork or Poultry during the Holidays…..

I agree, our custom is steadfast and probably should stay that way, but I began thinking what if I were alone, or just two of us were together for the Holidays? What if I truly didn’t want to eat meat or simply wanted something else but taste the New England kitchen in every bite?

Here is your answer. I incorporated many tastes of our Yankee landscape and came up with what is now my favorite recipe for salmon during the colder months. I have taken liberties with New England staples and combined them to give you a tremendously refreshing taste with the comfort us Yankees are known for. Choose the type of salmon that you enjoy. I use wild Atlantic salmon because the flavor is twice that of farm-raised, plus I just have certain feelings about farm-raised fish that I just can’t quite put my finger on. Regardless, the varieties of salmon are many, from Pacific to Atlantic(which there is no difference whatsoever by the way) to Chinook, Chum, Sockeye, Coho and Steelhead, to name a few. The only discernible difference this chef can make out between any salmon is the color. Some salmon have a deeper pink color, but the taste is almost exact in every type.

New England Poached Salmon with Herbed Sweet Potatoes
When you first start making this recipe, you notice right off the smell of New England, as the marinade that the salmon is being poached in gently wafts throughout the room. And you think the aroma is nice, wait until you taste this sweet and savory recipe. Double the recipe if you are cooking for 4.

Makes 2 servings

2 (5-oz.) fresh, skinless salmon fillets
2 c. apple juice or cider
1/2 t. salt
1 T. maple syrup
1/2 t. minced, fresh basil leaves
1/2 t. cinnamon
Juice of 1 tangerine (about 1-2 T.)

Potato mixture:
1 large sweet potato
1 small apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 T. minced chives, dried or fresh
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t.grated tangerine zest
3 T. butter or margarine

Two hours before you are ready to prepare this recipe, cut the sweet potato into 1/2-inch dice. Place them in a medium pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat and gently boil until the sweet potatoes are just barely tender, no more than 4 minutes.  Drain the sweet potatoes in a colander and add chives, salt, pepper and the grated zest while hot, tossing very gently. Let cool in a bowl, in the refrigerator.

When ready to prepare recipe, add 2 c. cider, salt, maple syrup, basil, cinnamon and tangerine juice in a large skillet. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and continue boiling for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium(so that it is just barely bubbling) and add the salmon. Let gently poach for 3 minutes, uncovered, and gently flip to cook an additional 3-4 minutes, or until just done.
Meanwhile, in another skillet, add the butter and melt over medium-high heat. Add the apples and cook for 2 minutes. Add the potato mixture. Cook, carefully stirring to fold over and cook all sides of potato, for about 4-5 minutes or until nice heated, slightly browned but not mushy. Turn off poached salmon and 3 T. poaching liquid to potatoes. Stir gently and remove from heat. If you would like more sauce, add another 3 T. poaching liquid. Remove from heat and assemble.

Assembling the meal. Remove sauteed sweet potato/apple mixture from pan and put in middle of plate. Remove salmon from poaching liquid and place atop potatoes. Remove from heat, season with salt and pepper and spoon some of the sauce on top if desired. Serve

I enjoy offering this dish with Sweet Pea-Chestnut Puree. Now how can you pass up a chance to add the New England favorite chestnut to a dinner? You can’t! That’s why I love to make as a side to this dish.

Sweet Pea-Chestnut Puree

1 1/2 c. frozen peas
10 cooked chestnuts*
2 T. creme fraiche, sour cream, plain yogurt or heavy cream
1 t. grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
1/4 t. black pepper

Bring a pot of water to a boil and then add the peas. Cook until tender, drain, and put into a food processor, or blender, and add the chestnuts, creme fraiche, cheese, and pepper. Puree the peas until as smooth as possible and check the seasoning, adding salt if you need to. Keep warm until needed.

*Use whatever nut you like.

Choose your method of preparing chestnuts

Using a microwave is a fast and easy way for the whole family to enjoy the taste of fireplace roasting. Make a slit in the bottom side of each nut or cut in half. It is important to at least make a slit or the chestnuts could explode! Place 8 to 10 chestnuts on a paper plate and use a roast setting for 2 minutes. Each microwave is different and you will have to experiment with your time and heat settings. When the nuts are roasted enough, the skins will begin to pull back slightly and the outer shell will separate easily from the nut.

Another variation for microwave use is to cut the fresh chestnuts in half. Lay them down in a small microwave dish with a small amount of water in the bottom. Microwave on simmer or low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Usually the chestnuts will just pop out of their shells.

If you have time to plan ahead, soak the nuts in water overnight to soften the shells. The next day, boil the chestnuts for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before peeling. Using a slotted spoon, take out a small batch and drain, then peel off the shell and skin. Keep the remaining unpeeled chestnuts hot until you are ready to peel them as it is heat which keeps the shells and skins loose. No incision is needed using this method and the nut keeps it’s full flavor.

The quick method:
When you need to be quick about peeling the chestnuts, use your stovetop. First, lay each nut flat side down and cut it in two with a larger knife. Drop the split chestnuts into a pot of boiling water and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and drain a few at a time. Peel off the shell and skin with a paring knife or use a small fork. Sometimes the nuts may just be popped right out of their skins. They will still have good flavor, although a little is lost to the water.

Oven Roasting:
First, cut a half-inch gash on the flat side of each nut. If you don’t cut them, they might explode, so this is an important step! Next place them in a heavy cast iron pan or other oven-proof pan which you can also use on the stove top. Add 1/2 t. butter or margarine to each cup of chestnuts. Shake over medium heat on stovetop until butter is melted. Put the pan in a 400 degree F oven and roast for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven and peel off the shells with a small knife. Do it while they are still warm, if they cool, they will be harder to peel. This method accomplishes shelling and blanching all in the one step.

Whichever method you use to prepare your chestnuts, make sure they are shelled before adding them to the pea puree.


By the way, I made a YouTube video demonstrating this recipe. Please over look my technical qualifications and don’t laugh(not even a snicker) and I won’t mind you watching it. Just put in The Yankee Chef in the search engine and browse through the different videos. It is called An Alternative Thanksgiving Dinner.