How to make a luxurious salmon salad at home for Mother’s Day

By Evan Kleiman

Kathy Ternay’s Luxurious Salmon Salad recipe features a luxurious upgrade to the common pink fish, plus eggs pickled with beets. Photo by Kathy Ternay.

This is a salad that my dear friend Kathy Ternay, who was chef of Angeli for decades, developed for our many catering gigs. It’s genius in that it takes salmon, the pretty pink fish that everyone seems to want on special occasions, and gives it a luxurious upgrade. The eggs pickled with beets are easy and add a hit of color. But if you don’t have the bandwidth for that additional recipe, don’t make it. The salad is beautiful enough without the eggs as garnish. All the elements of the recipe can be made ahead, so that on the day you can combine them quickly and easily.

If wild salmon is in season and you can afford it, buy it. It’s leaner than farmed salmon, and the flavor is unsurpassed. If farmed salmon is what is available, buy from a reputable fishmonger instead of the supermarket. Not all farmed salmon is the same. Local fish specialists that have high-quality ocean-farmed salmon and wild salmon in season: Fish King in Glendale, McCall’s in Los Feliz, and Santa Monica Seafood.

There are two ways to make delicious, moist salmon in the oven. You can either bake it at a low temperature or roast at a higher temperature. The idea of low temp baking is that the fat in the salmon renders and keeps the flesh moist. I am an impatient person, so I will be sharing the high temperature method here. Do not overcook the fish. It’s easy to do, which is why an instant read digital thermometer is so useful, especially if you’re using the low temperature cooking method. The fish will still have a translucence when it’s done. If you see the white stuff called albumin seeping out of the flesh of the fish, then you have gone too far. Do not use it as a marker of doneness.

You don’t need to go out of your way to get preserved lemons for this dish, but if you have them, you might as well use them. They add a welcome complex sour to the richness of the salad. 

Because cooking time is based on the thickness of the fish at the highest point, the amount of time doesn’t vary much from a one-pound piece to a three-pound piece. If you’re making a whole side of salmon, you might want to cut it into two pieces horizontally. But do yourself a favor and make more rather than less. This “salad” makes an incredibly tasty sandwich for afters.

If you don’t want to make the aioli, you can doctor prepared mayonnaise with the garlic, dijon, dill and lemon juice.

Kathy’s Luxurious Salmon Salad

Ingredients 

  • Figure 6 oz of salmon per person
  • 1 to 3 lbs salmon fillet in one piece
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest or chopped preserved lemons
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 bulb fennel, top and bottom trimmed and tough outside layer removed, sliced paper thin (use a mandoline if you have) or 1 large or 2 small celery ribs cut thinly on the diagonal
  • ¼ red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup aioli (recipe below) or 1 cup prepared mayonnaise mixed with garlic, lemon juice, dijon mustard and dill in the amounts called for in the recipe below.

Instructions 

-Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Set rack in the middle.

-Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly drizzle the paper with oil. Lay the fish fillet skin side down. Lightly drizzle the salmon with the oil then season with salt and pepper then rub the lemon zest or minced preserved lemon onto the flesh.

-Pop the pan in the oven and cook for approximately 8 to 12 minutes or until the internal temperature taken in the thickest part is 135℉. The fish should feel firmish but not hard. Since you’re going to be turning this into salad feel free to use a fork or knife to peek inside to see the flakes. Again. Do not overcook.

-Remove the pan from the oven and let the fish cool to room temperature.  You can cook the fish the day before, but it’s truly more special if it’s not refrigerated after cooking and even a little warm.

-Using your hands (with gloves), gently remove the cooked flesh from the salmon skin to a mixing bowl. It will break up as you do this. Add the fennel, red onion and aioli to the bowl. Now very gently mix it all together trying to break up the salmon as little as possible.You want big flakes not a mush like tuna salad. See the photo above for reference.  

Aioli
Makes approximately 1 cup Aioli

This aioli recipe is based on Kenji Lopez Alt’s recipe in Serious Eats.  I started making mayonnaise and aioli using the immersion blender recipe and wow, what a difference I’ve had in making successful mayo every time.  Because of the delicacy of the salmon salad I use less garlic than his recipe and add and dill because salmon loves it.  

Ingredients 

  • 1 whole egg
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons fresh dill snipped with a scissors
  • 1/2 cup canola, vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions 

-Place egg, garlic, lemon juice and mustard in the bottom of an immersion blender cup. Pour oil on top and allow to settle for 15 seconds.

-Place the head of the immersion blender at the bottom of cup and switch it on. As the mixture thickens or form and emulsion, slowly and lift the head of the immersion blender until all oil is emulsified.

-Transfer aioli to a medium bowl and whisk in the dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper.