By America’s Test Kitchen
Piccata sauce is a simple but powerful mix of lemon, capers, white wine and butter. This tangy, bold sauce is a great match (and foil) for salmon’s rich, full flavor.
When cooking salmon fillets, we like to buy a whole center-cut piece and cut it into individual portions ourselves. Doing this ensures that each fillet is similar in size, which means that they’ll cook at a similar rate.
Because fish is prone to sticking in the pan, we decided to pat the fillets dry and sear them in oil in a preheated nonstick skillet. We found that if we covered the pan, the steam gently cooked the fish without requiring a flip, keeping the fish from breaking apart. This method provided browning on only one side of the salmon, so we opted to use skinless salmon and served the fillets browned side up.
After cooking the fillets to 125 degrees (for medium-rare), we let them rest on a platter to ensure that they’d still be juicy when we dug in.
While the salmon was resting, we started the piccata sauce by sauteing some sliced garlic in the oil left behind in the pan. Then we added flour to help thicken the sauce, along with a good glug of white wine, water to temper the sharpness, a handful of punchy capers, and lemon zest and juice for energetic citrus flavor. We cooked the mixture down before whisking in butter, one piece at a time, off the heat to ensure a viscous pan sauce and then finished with a sprinkle of dill.
1 (2-pound) center-cut salmon fillet, about 1 1/2 inches thick
1 teaspoon table salt, divided
1 teaspoon pepper, divided
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1. Cut salmon crosswise into 4 equal fillets. Pat salmon dry with paper towels and sprinkle all over with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
2. Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add salmon flesh side down. Cover and cook until browned on the bottom and registering 125 degrees (for medium-rare), about 5 minutes, or 135 degrees (for medium), about 7 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer salmon, browned side up, to a platter or individual plates.
3. Return skillet to medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in flour and cook for 15 seconds. Whisk in wine, water, capers, lemon zest and juice, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring to boil and cook for 30 seconds.
4. Off heat, whisk in butter, 1 piece at a time, until combined. Stir in dill. Spoon sauce over salmon. Serve.
Recipe note: For skinless salmon, we refer to the side opposite where the skin used to be, which is typically more pink in color and more rounded, as the flesh side.
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