Many years and a few careers ago, I was working as a program coordinator for a University office. The job was lovely in a lot of ways - I worked on the same beautiful campus where I had just completed a graduate degree, I came to know brilliant and interesting folks in departments where I never imagined I'd tread (astrophysics, anyone?), and on multiple occasions, I got to eat a really good sandwich.
Once a quarter, we'd gather a group of graduate students for a little meeting-work session thing and order sandwiches from Jerry's. Jerry's, with a sandwich menu five pages long. Jerry's, who organized those sandwiches by protein (the only logical way to organize a sandwich menu that big and I still love them for it). Jerry's, up on Madison back then, who would lovingly drive a relatively modest catering order all the way down to 59th & Ellis, those angels. Jerry's, who introduced me to salmon on bread.
Sure, I'd had plenty of salmon fillets for dinner growing up. I'd even discovered salmon Caesar salad in the early aughts and felt immensely pleased with my sophistication.
But this sandwich. I should point out now that it is no longer on Jerry's menu. (I checked before cobbling together this salad, looking for some guidance.) Seems they've moved on to even more inventive pastures, so all I can do is tell you about it from my memory. And my memory of it contains a few elements that were probably there, but two that were definitely there.
A soft, sturdy Turano roll was probably there. Also lettuce, probably shredded and crunchy. Maybe thin slices of onion? I can't be sure. Seems like fresh dill would make sense, but I can't swear it. But most definitely I can tell you this sandwich came filled with well-seasoned roasted salmon fillet - pink and substantial, salted and peppered, broken up by hand - and a bright lemon mayo.
On a day a few weeks ago that looked like spring but felt decidedly like winter, studying the contents of my fridge at lunchtime, wondering just how long those radishes had been bumping around, wondering if I'd had the decency to spare an adequate serving of brown butter roasted salmon from my maw at dinner the night before, I remembered the sandwich. And I remembered there was pretty red butter lettuce somewhere in the back of the fridge. And maybe, fingers crossed, one more medium-boiled egg. And those elderly radishes. And if I didn't have enough salmon to recreate Jerry's sandwich, I certainly had enough for a salad.
The only question mark was the dressing. I couldn't make a sandwich-inspired salad without a creamy, kicky dressing, an homage to that lemon mayo. After a few tests, I finally hit on something that brought out the richness of the salmon and boiled egg, and rounded out the cool crunch of the radish and lettuce.
I think most of the magic here is in the variety of textures and the way that, like any truly good entree salad, you can make each bite a little bit different. It's made to use up leftover salmon, like the brown butter roasted salmon here, but it's pretty transcendent if you want to use warm, just-cooked salmon. In the name of kitchen economy, if you don't feel like going out and buying fresh parsley and dill when you have everything else or wouldn't use it other than in this salad, don't. But if you're a fresh herb fiend like I am, they're worth the bit of extra effort. This salad is downright beautiful considering it can essentially be made from fridge scraps - leave the shapes irregular and the texture a bit craggy to catch the dressing and herbs.
Salmon and Radish Salad with Lemon Aioli Dressing
For the dressing:
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
zest and juice from 1/2 a lemon
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 clove, or 1 small clove, garlic, grated
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
1 head butter, Bibb, or Boston lettuce leaves, washed and dried
1/2 recipe brown butter roasted salmon, or other cooked salmon, chilled or warm
2 medium-boiled (I like mine at 6.5 or 7 minutes) or hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into quarters
3 medium radishes, cut into eighths
1/4 cup fresh parsley and/or dill, very roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Taste to check seasoning and add salt and pepper as desired. You can make the dressing a day or two in advance, which can also help temper the fresh garlic taste. Store extra dressing in a jar, refrigerated, for up to a week.
On a large plate or platter, assemble the lettuce leaves. For the larger outer leaves, tear into pieces just bigger than bite-sized. For the medium and small leaves, leave whole. Tuck large leaves behind small ones, and vice versa, so there are plenty of nooks and crannies to nestle the other salad ingredients.
Break up the salmon gently with your hands and place the rough pieces on and between the lettuce leaves. Do the same with the eggs and the radish wedges. Spoon the dressing all over the salad, holding the spoon at a height for a light drizzle, rather than a heavy pool. Scatter the herbs across the salad, then do a final season with salt and pepper.
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