New York, 2001. I am living in a 7 bedroom NYU dorm suite on Broome Street for the summer. The place is a pit. My "internship" passing out fliers for a music producer competes glamorously with my waitressing gig at a midrange, midtown restaurant. I have no money. I am on top of the world.
Despite being a lifelong Long Islander, I am totally unprepared for what it's like to actually live in the city. There's so much to see, so much to buy! We may be broke, but we sure can pretend. While my friends ogle Fendi bags and Gucci sunglasses, I ogle French restaurants. Daniel. Pastis. Montrachet. And Balthazar.
Oooooh Balthazar. The quintessential New York French bistro, all high ceilings, huge mirrors and dusty tiled floors. Food and wine I can't begin to pronounce. Frite piled high. Towers of glistening raw shellfish. Skate wing, snails, sole... Balthazar was my first taste of France, through a shimmering haze of New York summer smog.
Today's recipe is adapted from the Balthazar cookbook, and is probably the first decent meal I ever cooked in an apartment I could call my own. Salmon is crusted with mustard and breadcrumbs and simply seared, then served over a bed of lentils simmered with carrots, celery, onion and bacon. It's an incredibly simple dish, difficult to mess up, but because it's Balthazar, it has glamour, mystique. A certain je ne sais quoi.
Mustard Crusted Salmon with Lentils
Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 20 min Cook Time: 40 min Total Time: 1 hour
1 cup / 225g green lentils
2 slices of bacon, diced
a few sprigs of thyme
0.5 medium onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs butter
1 carrot, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
dash of white pepper
4 salmon filets
salt and pepper
4 tsp dry breadcrumbs
2 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
Combine lentils and 4 cups cold water in saucepan. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.
In another saucepan, sauté bacon and thyme over medium heat about 2 minutes. Add onion, garlic and salt and cook for 5 minutes until onion is translucent. Add butter, carrots, celery, pepper and 1 cup / 235 mL water and cook for 5 more minutes.
Drain lentils and add to the bacon-veg mixture. Simmer lightly for another 5-10 minutes and lentils are very tender.
Preheat oven to 500F / 260C.
Season salmon on both sides. On the rounded side of each filet, spread about 2 Tbs mustard, then press in 1 tsp breadcrumbs to form a crust.
Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. When oil is shimmering hot, add the salmon, mustard-side down. Lower heat to medium. Sear for 2 minutes, then carefully flip and sear 1 minute more. When flipping, take care to keep the crust from breaking off the fish. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 3-4 minutes more, depending on size of salmon.
Serve salmon over a bed of lentils. A simple green salad dressed with a mustard shallot vinaigrette would be a great pairing for a meal.