An orange salad is a brightening thing, a plate of citric sunshine for cold days. I often eat orange salads with salmon and fennel – either crisp mandoline slices of Florence fennel, or, when it feels right, braised half bulbs, or, more often, fennel chopped and cooked to a pulp with the seeds and a splash of booze. It’s the sort of food that cries out for Southern French rosé or light, herby red.
The flavours of all these things are superb together, somehow provencal, suggestively courtly (there’s a great Robert May recipe below circa 1660, which works a treat, pared back a bit*), even slightly christmassy, in the sense that there are oranges, wine and spice. I like food that makes you think of other places and times; it’s so transporting, and transporting is what I want and need in snowy mid-Feb.
Anyway, this made a lovely midweek supper. I sliced some leftover trimmings of fennel I cooked earlier in the week, when I’d used only the tender insides. I fried the slices in olive oil so they took a little colour, added salt, pepper, garlic, fennel seeds and a splash of Ricard, set it alight, and left to reduce into a sprightly aromatic stew, at a gentle heat. A squeeze of orange juice at the end, or lemon, brings the whole thing to life.
I love the process of skinning oranges – cutting off the two ends to reveal the triangular points of flesh, and, following the curve of the pith, cutting down, and around. You’re left with a juicy little barrel of orange, which you slice, exposing the interlocking triangles of flesh, susceptible to dressing. You strew them in one layer on a plate, trickle on plenty of olive oil and cast over some crunchy sea salt: you want it to dissolve in little points of savour, not to deliver overall saltiness, so not too much. I like to gather the remnants of orange skin and squeeze over any extra juice. It looks beautiful unadorned though for the flavour I like some little fronds of fennel herb – which are pretty too.
I fried some well-seasoned salmon gently in olive oil, spritzed with lemon and served it just as it was, with the orange salad and stew of fennel. The salt draws a good amount of juice from the oranges and makes the brightest of dressings, a sort of light sauce to spoon over salmon and fennel. This dressing, the warm fennel and slices of cool orange make a wonderful mess with neat flavours that set salmon off very nicely. Trout is good too.
*Otherways a most excellent way to stew Salmon.
Take a rand or jole of salmon, fry it whole raw, and being fryed, stew it in a dish on a chaffing dish of coals, with some claret-wine, large mace, slic’t nutmeg, salt, wine-vinegar, slic’t orange, and some sweet butter; being stewed and the sauce thick, dish it on sippets, lay the spices on it, and some slices of oranges, garnish the dish with some stale manchet finely searsed and strewed over all.
Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1660