Marcel Boulestin’s Society Salmon

Boulestin was a failed actor, great raconteur, cookbook writer, and superb Soho restaurateur who catered to the louche side of tout London society in the 1930s. He is making posthumous waves once again in England. His restaurant, Boulestin’s, was a stunning place with yellow walls and curtains in a deeper shade of the same tone, made from silk with a design of Dufy’s called “Paris.” I mention the color because it was much copied at the time, and also by me at Stars in San Francisco fifty years later. Except I did not have the courage to cover the paint in cheap varnish as he did by mistake, thereby achieving a dark, smoky, old amber color that gave the room a certain stature of age and became the rage for restaurants for the next thirty years.

By the “society” in Society Salmon I mean Douglas Fairbanks and Gertrude Lawrence; the fascist Oswald Mosely and the Mitfords (the Duke of Devonshire reluctantly tagging along); the Baron Schroeder, flavoring his Clicquot with peaches after a polo match; Robbie Ross telling stories of Oscar and Bosie; Lawrence (of Arabia) still brushing the sand out of his headdress; the divinely beautiful young Percy Grainger, pleading with that Catholic duke from up north to keep his hands on his Boulestin omelette instead of his knee; another Percy (this one the page boy Esme Percy) stroking his lyre while still trying to make up his and the admiring customers’ minds whether he was Apollo or Aphrodite; and Lady Diana Cooper, her Poiret compact brimming with cocaine, helping out her husband Duff after a particularly strenuous parliamentary question-time.

You can read about all of this in Boulestin’s Ease & Endurance (1948), a translation of his À Londres naguère. He writes of the “near-Eastern origin” of this salmon dish, so loved by his customers, but by none so much as the Levantine bankers sprawled lavishly across the old gold banquettes.

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Ingredients

  • 4 6-ounce pieces fresh wild Atlantic salmon fillets
  • 4 pieces parchment paper, cut in 12-inch rounds
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 8 equal pieces
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 4 tablespoons sevruga or osetra caviar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Fold each piece of the parchment over in half. Put each salmon piece on a piece of parchment just next to the fold, top each with a tablespoon of butter, and season. Fold over the other half of the paper and fold the edges together, making little overlapping folds, starting at one end and progressively folding as you go.

Put the packages on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of cold water, and the butter in the top pan of a nonreactive double boiler, and whisk over boiling water for 2 minutes, until all the butter is incorporated. Whisk in the cream, then, off the heat, gently fold in the caviar.

Open the bags and slip each piece of fish with all its juices out onto hot plates. Serve with the caviar sauce.