A French recipe for herb crusted salmon with a crumble topping that clings to the fish under the grill. I call this fancy French food at its best, since the cooking technique is called 'à la viennoise' but it's simple to make at home.
The delicious bonus is that the herb and parmesan topping freezes well, so it's a handy make-ahead dish for entertaining.
Herb Crusted Fish
I first made this recipe in 2011 and published the topping as part of a recipe for John Dory fish.
However, over the years of delicious experimenting, this parmesan herb crust is best with the more robust flavours and texture of salmon, haddock, or mahi-mahi. As John Dory (Saint Pierre in French) is such a delicate fish, it's best to leave it be.
While the recipe looks a bit longer than a quick herb topping done in the oven, I urge you to try this way. It's not just aesthetically pleasing but the texture is extra crispy.
What is 'à la Viennoise'?
Traditionally, to cook à la Viennoise, is to pan fry escalopes of veal (Wiener Schnitzel, meaning 'slice of Vienna'), poultry or fish in a mix of flour, breadcrumbs, egg and seasoning.
Normally fried in saindoux (lard), the Viennese escalopes are simply served with lemon wedges and browned butter (according to Larousse Gastronomique).
Instead, this recipe method is adapted to a simple crispy herb crust for salmon that grills in the oven - and also works well with chicken.
After tasting an incredible fish dish in Paris with a herb crust on a fillet of cod, I found a similar recipe by French chef, Vincent David. It's not a breadcrumb crumble piled high but a thin and elegant topping with a savoury tuile effect (for my sweet recipe, see French tuiles).
Ingredients for the Parmesan Herb Crust
The ingredients are equal amounts of breadcrumbs (great with Panko), melted butter, freshly grated parmesan and some fresh lemon thyme. The whole lot is stirred together then the crumble mixture is flattened to produce a thin film.
Once chilled, it is cut to size and placed on top of the salmon fillets. It simply hugs the fish under the grill.
How to Make Salmon Crispy
This recipe makes the salmon extra crispy - without overcooking it. You control the cooking, keeping the texture firm yet tender pink inside.
First, the skin is seared quickly in the pan. Keeping the skin on the fillets gives more flavour to the fish. If you prefer without the skin, then sear for less time.
The salmon is then finished off under the oven's grill, creating a thin crispy herb crust that clings to the fish.
Make-Ahead Herb Crust
What's more, the herb crust freezes well. As the quantity is, deliberately, double amount than needed for 6 portions in this recipe, cut the leftovers and store away like money in the bank for another dinner party.
The secret is to keep the crust topping chilled.
Pre-cut into rectangles and place each between baking/parchment paper in a freezer-proof container. Just defrost at room temperature for 15 minutes before use.
What Country has the Best Salmon?
As a Scot, you'd think I'd be biased, but really the best salmon comes from Scotland. Scottish salmon, whether wild or farmed, is considered the best in Europe.
I often ask this at the market, which is constantly confirmed by French fishmongers (poissoniers), thanks to the superior taste and quality of the fish. It contains more healthy fat (omega 3) and vitamin D than others (according to researchers at the University of Stirling - source Fishfarmer magazine).
What's more, their reputation of sustainable salmon farming in Scotland make it a firm favourite. Evidence isn't difficult to see on the fishmongers' polystyrene crates, stamped 'Scottish Salmon' which 'catches' the eye in France!
Which Herbs Go with Salmon?
Salmon traditionally is paired with lemon (and lime) but it also goes well with many fresh herbs. Flat leaf parsley, lemon thyme, chives, chervil and tarragon.
The herb topping uses lemon thyme. As it's a strong herb, it can cope with being cooked without losing its flavour, so only a little is needed. If you don't have fresh at hand, use dried but less is needed.
To serve with fresh flavours of tarragon, parsley and chervil, put them together and you have a classic Béarnaise sauce. Normally served with steaks, it's just as delicious with salmon, either warm or cold.
For more classic parsley, toss at the last minute to conserve its vitamins in vegetables. Anything goes such as fresh spinach, cauliflower/broccoli and asparagus. If you prefer salad, then serve with fresh watercress, full of vitamins.
Serve with new potatoes cooked covered in just a little water with some salted butter and serve with finely chopped herbs: chives, parsley and chervil are great. Also good with a gratin Dauphinois.
Herb Crusted Salmon - the Recipe
Grate a block of parmesan (please don't make this with packaged powder - it's not the same result) and weigh it to 100g (about a cup).
Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, herbs and pepper. (If using unsalted butter, then add ¼ teaspoon of salt.)
Spread the crumble mixture out evenly on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
Top with another sheet of baking paper and flatten it out it with a rolling pin until it’s about 3mm thickness.
Chill for at about 30 minutes until set and easy to cut.
Meanwhile, in a hot frying pan, heat the oil and immediately sear the salmon fillets, skin side down, until the underside is crisp for about 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes (depending on the size). Place aside in the roasting tin (I use 2 roasting tins for 6).
Cut the chilled crumble topping into rectangles, the size of each fillet or escalope, and place on top.
Place under the hot grill for about 2 minutes or until golden, crispy and clinging to the salmon fillets.
This crumble topping also works well with other firm white fish fillets (haddock, mahi-mahi) and chicken.
If making with chicken, ensure to pre-cook the chicken for much longer to cook it right through, then finish under the grill to crisp.
What to Serve with Herb Crusted Salmon
For this parmesan herb crusted salmon, the flavours and textures are full on. It's important not to overcook the salmon, keeping it succulent and rosé pink in the middle.
Add a little samphire (salicorne in French), steamed just for 2-3 minutes. I say a little, as it's seaweed so particularly salty.
Here the silky beurre blanc sauce (recipe below) is given a cheeky hint of smoke by adding a Lapsang Souchong teabag. Although optional, I recommend you try this addition, as it just gives that salmon an extra intrigue.
For wine pairing with such parmesan flavours and to cut the salmon fat, a gutsy yet floral white wine would go really well - as would Champagne - even rosé (Billecart-Salmon comes to mind, which is a happy naming coincidence with the dish!)
Pair with a white Burgundy such as Chablis, Meursault, or from the Loire (Savennières, Saumur, or a white blockbuster, Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe.
Herb Crusted Salmon
- large non-stick frying pan
- roasting tin or frying pan that can transfer to the oven
- 100 g (3.5oz/ ½ cup) butter salted
- 100 g (3.5oz/ 1 cup breadcrumbs Panko
- 100 g (3.5oz/ 1 cup) parmesan grated from a fresh block, not from a packet
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped or grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- pinch (¼ tsp) pepper add ¼ teaspoon salt if butter unsalted
- 6 150g (5oz) salmon fillets or cod, hake, mahi-mahi
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Herb Crust Topping
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and mix in the breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic, herbs and pepper.
- Spread the crumbly mixture out on to a baking sheet lined with baking parchment.
- Top with another sheet of baking paper and flatten it out it with a rolling pin until about 3mm thin. Place in the fridge to set for about 30 minutes.
- In a hot frying pan, heat the oil and immediately sear the salmon fillets, skin side down, until the underside is crisp for about 3 minutes. Turn them over and cook for another 1-2 minutes (depending on the size). Place aside in the roasting tin.
- The herb crust topping is now ready to cut into 6 rectangles the size of the salmon fillets. Pre-heat the grill.If you have any extra, cut them into portions, place each between the paper and freeze until needed.
- Layer the topping on each fillet and melt under the grill for 2-3 minutes or until the herb crust is golden and clings to the salmon. Keep warm while ready to serve with the side dishes.