Memories from Auvergne: Salmon, Lentils and Roasted Garlic

Where poaching a salmon is not a way to cook it

Meal in the European capital of river salmon
I am frequently amazed by the persistence of the olfactive and gustative memories… Something like 35 years ago, as I was at the very beginning of my professional career, I was working as a consultant in a firm depending from the French Ministry of the Industry, the role of which was to support industrial SMBs in all the French territory, and sometimes in Africa (I will probably come back on this for another persistent food memory). Thus, I was to intervene in companies restructuring and reorganizing, using the French equivalent of Chapter 11, and also, I was specialized in finance, to complete company valuations in a view of a sale or an acquisition. As such, one year, I was sent for a 6-month mission in Auvergne, a central small volcanic mountain area, with breathtaking landscapes. If you have the opportunity, I urge you to visit this region for hiking around its beautiful volcanic lakes and discovering some old cities and villages… Brioude, on the Allier river, is one of those and I discovered this small medieval city as I was to assist a SMB of the area in valuating the company and finding a purchaser. Pomel, this was its name, was a fabricant of chimney flues and other technical products made in clay. At this occasion, Monsieur Pomel, the company’s owner invited me in the small restaurant of one of his friends in Brioude. He was to invite me again several months later, in a famous restaurant in Paris and favorite of the then French president François Mitterrand, to celebrate the sale of its company to a big group at a price in line with my valuation. But this is another story. Thus, Pomel’s friend in Brioude served us a dish that I will always remember. As you have guessed: salmon, green lentils and garlic. Le Puy-en-Velay, the city famous for its green lentils is only 30 miles away from Brioude. And Brioude has long been known as the European capital of salmon angling.

Salmon migrations
In fact, Atlantic salmon, a magnificent fish, used to migrate up all main West European rivers, from the North of Portugal to the Arctic Circle. Nowadays, they have disappeared from all big rivers, except from the Loire and its main tributary the Allier. And Brioude had long been known as a capital of salmon angling. Although the flow of salmons that used to migrate every year through those two rivers has been dramatically reduced, because of the constructions of dams aiming at controlling the very impetuous Loire river overflooding, efforts have been made to save this migration, such as, for instance, the construction of salmon lifts to go through the dams. Although insufficient, this  makes the Loire-Allier salmon a unique fish in Europe. It is now the last genetic stock of large wild salmon which can be used for reintroducing the species on other large rivers in France and Europe (Rhine, Garonne, etc.). If fishing salmon is now, rightly, totally forbidden in the Loire-Allier area, back in the 80’s, it was still possible to find some and restaurants were authorized to buy a certain limited quota… This is why I like to say that this Brioude’s salmon was a poached salmon, and I am mot referring to the way to cook it.

Levels of difficulty
Preparation time
Cooking time
30 minutes
60 minutes

Ingredients - 2 servings


§  A 1 lb. Sockeye salmon fillet, non-skinned
§  2 strips of bacon (thin)
§  1 cup of green lentils
§  1 shallot clove
§  Cloves
§  2 heads of garlic
§  1 small carrot (or 1/3 of a big one cut in brunoise (small dices of 2/3 mm)
§  1 handful of red cabbage slaw
§  Olive oil
§  1 bay leaf
§  Salt
§  Pink pepper corns
§  2 handfuls of pine needles (or wood chips)

1. Preparation of the roasted garlic
§  Cut each garlic head at around 1 cm from the top and drizzle some olive oil on it
§  Put in a preheated 350F oven and bake for around 1 hour

2. Preparation of the salmon
§  When you take a salmon filet, you can see that it is divided in 3 strips lengthwise, the belly on one side of the central bone and the back which is itself divided in two distinct parts. The central part just above the bone presents an almost perfect square shaped cut, whereas the outside parts are more like a triangle
§  Cut the filet in three, following those two lines of separation
§  Cut the “square-shaped” central part in two segments crosswise, salt the flesh side and reserve them
§  Remove the skin (and keep it) of the two “triangle-shaped” side strips, and trim them lengthwise (and keep the trimmed part) to obtain two strips of the same width and thickness. Don’t salt those as they will be wrap in a bacon slice
§  Roll each side strips in a bacon slice and tie them up with a cooking twine. Keep it in the fridge if you don’t cook it immediately
§  Inflame the pine needles or the wood chips in in cast iron pan, and when the flame are off, put the trims on a grid above the pan, place a lid or an allot foil above, and smoke them for around 10 minutes. Cut them in small dices and reserve those salmon “lardons”

3. Preparation and cooking of the lentils:
§  Rinse abundantly the lentils
§  Put them in a pot with 3 cups of cold water, the carrot brunoise, the clove-studded shallot, the bay leaf
§  Do not salt the water (it would harden the lentils skin)
§  Put to boil, add the carrot brunoise and cook for around 25 minutes, till the lentils are cooked but still firm and not mushy
§  Strain them and keep them warm
§  Before serving add the smoked salmon dices

4.   Cooking of the side salmon bacon rolls
§  In a pan without any fat, sear the rolls on the bacon part, rotating them regularly till each bacon parts start to color
§  Then roast the bacon rolls for around 10 minutes in the 350F oven where the garlic probably finish cooking

5.  Cooking of the central salmon segments “mi-cuit”
§  In the same pan used for the rolls, sear the central segments on the skin side only (“à l’unilatérale”) for around 3 minutes
§  The salmon will be cooked on the bottom part remain quasi raw on the upper par9 (called salmon “mi-cuit” or half cooked). If you like it less raw, or if you are not sure of its freshness, flip it over and finish cooking out of the burner for an extra 2/3 minutes

6.     Last touch and serving
§  Warm up the lentils (with the carrot and smoked salmon dices) in the pan used to cook the salmon
§  Do the same with the red cabbage slaw, just to warm it up
§  Plate the salmon bacon roll and the salmon mi-cuit, with the lentils, the roasted garlic head (whole or split), the red cabbage, and a chips made with the salmon skin
§  The wine I had 35 years ago was a Saint-Pourçain, a rare wine from Auvergne (the most eastern wine of the Loire valley). Otherwise, a sauvignon blanc (a Sancerre, Menetou-Salon or Pouilly-Fumé) will do perfectly the job).

Basilique Saint-Julien in Brioude, Auvergne


  1. Fun story, Patrick. I know Auvergne quite well, and its people who love the land and breathtaking landscape. And ....gasp! I cannot imagine anyone poaching the fish!


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