Each Passover seder I attend, I am surprised all over again at how welcome the tastes of parsley, hard-boiled eggs, apples and nuts, and horseradish are. Why are these such delicious tastes in the spring, when most years (not this one) we’re greedily counting crocuses, desperate for delicate green tastes? Shouldn’t we be craving asparagus and chives? And maybe we are, but I also believe the seder plate – beyond the tale of the Haggadah, which anoints the six foods with a symbolism retelling Jewish exodus from Egypt – these foods are primal tastes of spring, examples of realistically, in a time without grocery stores, what was available for a celebration. There are new lambs in the fields. The chickens are laying again. Sturdy parsley maybe have wintered over. A few last apples and nuts are rolling in bins in the pantry. Horseradish?
Representing the “bitter herb,” or “maror” in Hebrew, horseradish on the Passover seder plate symbolizes the suffering the Jews endured as slaves under the Egyptians. Amoracia rusticana, a member of the Brassicaceae family which also include mustard, broccoli and cabbages, horseradish was deemed “worth its weight in gold” by the Delphic oracle – probably the origins of that phrase – most likely for its medicinal properties. An ancients’ treatment for urinary tract infections, bronchitis, and sinus congestion, horseradish was considered antibacterial from 1500 BC Egypt through the European Middle Ages, and then settled into modern times as a spicy way to upgrade boiled meat.
But its appearance in many cultures’ spring celebrations is significant. Horseradish appear in Easter dishes in Romania, Slovenia, and the Veneto region of Italy. In the Silesia region of Poland they eat horseradish soup on Easter Day.
Horseradish roots are harvested in the autumn; there must be something about horseradish being the last of the strong flavors held over from winter. At Passover and Easter, the new spring greens – if any – are still too delicate, and horseradish is the one element left in the larder, there beside those rolling apples, to strike a high note of flavor in the meal. In our primal taste memories, our taste buds are still dining from an early, almost empty spring pantry, and horseradish, parsley and apples together still taste so good.
This recipe combines those tastes in an entree, hopefully appropriate for the meal after a seder or for an Easter dinner. Horseradish and parsley sauce, bound with creme fraiche, tops seared and roasted salmon, first given a quick brine scented with orange peel.
A note: the brine ingredients are enough for ten servings of salmon, although this recipe is for 4 – 6. Invite more guests if you wish!
Salmon with Horseradish and Parsley Sauce
one half cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 3 medium oranges)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2-3 pounds of salmon, cut into serving fillets, preferably wild
one half bunch parsley, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoons mayonnaise
one half teaspoon lemon juice
pinch of salt to taste
In medium bowl, whisk together salt, sugar, orange zest, and pepper. Coat salmon fillets with rub and transfer to rack set over large rimmed baking sheet. Transfer to refrigerator and chill 1 hour.
Mix together the ingredients for the sauce, and chill until ready to use.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Oil a large rimmed baking sheet. Using paper towels, pat salmon fillets dry. In large nonstick pan over moderately high heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add 3 to 4 fillets, skin side down, and sear until undersides are golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer, skin sides up, to baking sheet. Sear remaining salmon, wiping pan clean and adding 2 tablespoons oil between each batch. Transfer salmon to oven and roast just until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Serve with horseradish crème fraïche.