Niki Segnit, author of The Flavor Thesaurus (2012), has a fresh take on combining the bounty of the sea with that of the land: “Surf ‘n’ turf is all very well, but fish goes best with ingredients that truly taste of turf, not just graze on it . . .” The French duo of buttery salmon and gently braised lentils, with its deeply comforting textures and rich, savory flavors, proves that she was onto something.
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That said, my first attempt missed the mark. A fan of efficiency, I was drawn to an en papillote scenario: Combine drained canned lentils with vegetables on a sheet of foil, perch a salmon fillet on top, enclose the lot, and roast it in the oven. But freed from its steamy packet, the salmon was pallid and its skin squidgy. The lentils, sodden with juices, had lost their delicate earthiness. I needed to cook the two parts separately.
Lentilles du Puy (French green lentils), a variety grown in the mineral-rich volcanic soil of the Auvergne region, were my choice, not just because of their provenance, but also because they hold their shape when cooked. Lentils can be boiled like pasta, but the excess water washes away flavor. Instead, I sautéed a mirepoix base and then added the lentils with just enough water to be absorbed by the time they cooked through. A spoonful of tomato paste augmented the lentils’ meaty depth, and garlic and thyme added unmistakable Gallic flair.
For the salmon, I used our revolutionary cold‑start technique: Place brined fillets skin side down in an unheated nonstick skillet that’s been strewn with salt and pepper (no oil) and turn on the heat; soon the fish releases some of the fat that lies just beneath the skin, crisping it. When the bottoms of the fillets start to turn opaque, flip them to brown the flesh side in the rendered fat.