I am tempted to call this a leek recipe with salmon (rather than a salmon recipe with leeks). The word order in a recipe title is important. It usually emphasizes the star of the dish first, followed by any supporting ingredients. In this recipe, the salmon is notably a main ingredient; however, I will argue that the leeks deserve to be the star.
Leeks are in the allium family, which includes onions, garlic, shallots and chives. As a proper allium, they do indeed have an onion-y flavor, but leeks are buttery and milder than their sharp and pungent siblings when cooked. They often play an important backup role in soups, stews and braises, where they subtly boost flavor and melt into the background of the dish.
In this recipe, leeks are quite literally the bed or base of the dish. They are chopped and sauteed until slippery soft and squidgy, creating a rich, sludgy compote on which salmon fillets rest. While the fish is arguably a focal point, the leek compote elevates this dish. A splash of white wine and chicken stock are added to the compote for savory oomph, and herbaceous tarragon adds a pop of freshness to each bite. It’s a sweet and buttery complement to the richness of the roasted salmon, with neither key ingredient overpowering the other — a wonderful double act.
When cooking leeks, it’s important to clean them well to remove any grit or dirt between the layers. Simply trim the roots and the dark green tops, leaving the white and pale green parts for eating. (You can save the green tops for making a vegetable stock if you like.) With a sharp knife, halve each leek lengthwise, and peel away the tough outside layer. Thinly slice the leeks into half-moons and place in a salad spinner or colander. Run under cold water to rinse away any grit. Then spin or pat dry.
Roasted Salmon With Leek Compote
6 leeks, medium thickness, green tops and roots trimmed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon, plus more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
4 center-cut salmon filets, each 6 to 8 ounces, skin and pin-bones removed
Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)
Finely chopped chives for garnish
Finely grated lemon zest for garnish
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
Remove the roots and dark green ends of the leeks and discard any tough outer layers. Halve the leeks lengthwise, then thinly slice into half-moons. Place in a colander and rinse under cold water to remove any grit. Pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Melt the butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute until the leeks are bright in color and slightly soft, about 4 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer until the wine is nearly evaporated, about 2 minutes, stirring up any brown bits. Add the stock and continue to cook until the liquid is absorbed and the leeks are soft and sludgy, about 4 minutes more, stirring frequently. (If the pan dries out before the leeks are fully cooked, add chicken stock 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time.) Remove from the heat, stir in the tarragon, and season with black pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired. Keep warm.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the salmon filets in a baking dish. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and Aleppo pepper flakes (or additional black pepper). Transfer to the oven and cook until just cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon.
Divide the leek compote between serving plates. Arrange the salmon over the leeks. Sprinkle the chives and lemon zest over the plates and garnish with additional tarragon. Serve with lemon wedges.
Lynda Balslev is an award-winning writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in northern California. Visit TasteFood at TasteFoodblog.com.