It seems a zillion years ago that I owned a restaurant—another life or two at least. My restaurant was in Atlanta on the banks of the only river that runs through the town—a murky, mossy number curiously called The Chattahoochee. My restaurant, The Patio By The River, was incredibly picturesque—old waxed-brick floors and walls, huge windows overlooking the terrace, which itself overlooked the river. It was a tranquil, pleasant place in time. That is, when the creek didn’t rise…
I was really proud of our food. We served what was known in those days as “Continental Cuisine,” which is super-forgiving in its interpretation. We defined it as classic French and Italian dishes and techniques combined with indigenous Southern ingredients and recipes, but the concept wasn’t exactly set in stone. If we took liberties enough to add a pastrami sandwich with melted Gruyère on grilled rye bread to the lunch menu, or a New York Strip Steak cooked “Pittsburg” at dinner, who was to notice? Inspired by my partner’s and my experiences in France, we defined the cuisine as we saw fit.
The pecan is the regional nut in the South—beloved and ubiquitous. In a region full of regional nuts, it’s a stand-out. In those days, salmon was gaining popularity as a health beacon, and our customers seemed to be asking for it much more. So we created this dish, Pecan-Crusted Salmon, to make use of some extra pecans we had left over. Who knew it would be the easiest, most delicious thing you’d ever taste? We ran it as a special on Thursday nights—the biggest night of the week—and it sold like hotcakes. If we had 250 customers that night, more than half of them ordered this new dish. We ran out. We tried it several times again as a special—running out of it each time—before permanently adding it to our menu. Hands down, bar none, this dish was the number-one seller at The Patio By The River. It may have been the dish that defined that restaurant. When I was selling frozen food on QVC and HSN, this dish, yet again, was my number-one best-seller. To date, I have sold some 9,000,000 pieces of it…
Secret Weapon: I add here a recipe for Sauce Gribiche, a highly flavored herb-mayonnaise sauce that is French via New Orleans. Or vice versa. At first it may seem an unlikely combination for salmon—it was never meant to go together per se—but when I was testing recipes for my first book, My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist, it just so happened that these two recipes were being tested on the same day. I dipped some of the salmon into the Sauce Gribiche in a moment that’s now destiny: a happenstance, a mistake. It was an incredibly exciting bite. And then more and more bites until I just couldn’t stop eating it. Lightning struck. See how easy that was?
The magic of Sauce Gribiche is that its emulsion is created from hard-cooked eggs and oil rather than raw ones, and is so full of flavor that you’ll want to do it at least the day before you serve it to allow the ingredients a chance to get to know each other. I’m actually going to insist on it. Don’t even taste this sauce until the next day because it just won’t be the same. Trust me.
And, as long as we’re telling secrets, another secret of this dish is not to overcook the salmon. Don’t you dare! Only you know your oven, and my instructions are very clear, but you’ll want it to be no more than medium-rare so that the moisture and texture of the fish combines with the garlic, dill, pecans, and butter of the crust in the most perfect way I can dream of. No use ruining all that deliciousness with an overcooked piece of fish! Serve the salmon cold, room-temp, or hot, it really makes no difference at all. Any old way, it’s superb—even if he does say so himself.
So from the restaurant business, to the TV shopping world, to countless lunches and dinners I have served at home, here is my “secret” recipe for Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Sauce Gribiche, which, if it were any easier, would make itself.