Fatty and Pampered: Ōra Salmon Gets Special Treatment at The Musket Room

by Mary Choi
Aliza Eliazarov
September 2014

Restaurant

The best techniques are sometimes the simplest, but they can make all the difference—as with the perfectly cooked soft egg or sear on a steak. Native New Zealander and chef of New York City’s Musket Room, Matt Lambert has developed a smart and simple method for giving the superlatively fatty, incandescently mandarin-hued flesh of his country’s king salmon, the royal treatment.    

Ōra King Salmon, Satsuma, and Sunflower Seeds

Ōra King Salmon, Satsuma, and Sunflower Seeds

Ōra King Salmon, Satsuma, and Sunflower Seeds

Ōra King Salmon, Satsuma, and Sunflower Seeds

Chef Matt Lambert of The Musket Room- New York, NY

Chef Matt Lambert of The Musket Room- New York, NY

Indigenous to the colder Pacific Northwest region of North America, the king salmon was introduced to New Zealand’s Hakataramea River in the early 1900s and has since thrived. To this day, New Zealand is the only area that king salmon have adapted to and grown outside of their natural range. The astute fish ranchers at Ōra King Salmon have become highly regarded for quality, sustainable cultivation practices. The prized catch gets treatment akin to that of Tajima-Gyu cows in Kobe, Japan. Both pampered proteins are heralded for the highest, most well distributed fat content, which at Ōra, can be attributed to their feeding technique. At any given time, 24/7, an Ōra staffer is on the lookout to press a button and mechanically feed hungry salmon surfacing for food, giving the fish full control of their feeding schedule.

“King salmon has no natural predators or diseases in New Zealand, so a happy fish is a tasty fish,” says Lambert, who’ll be delving into his Musket Room menu and all things salmon at next month’s 9th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress. He’s devised a technique using a 36-hour cure, and a quick sous vide bath that is ideal for accentuating the flavors of the salmon. Having grown up in coastal Auckland, Lambert knows a thing or two about fresh seafood. “The city had a campaign called, ‘Take a Kid Fishing’,” he says. As Lambert grew up and got into the restaurant industry, the time he spent fishing stayed with him, instilling a sensibility evident in his nuanced preparation of the salmon.  

Lambert cures the salmon with salt, sugar, and orange, lemon, and lime zests. The cured fish takes on a firm texture, and after a quick but effective two minutes in a 60°C sous vide bath, the vibrant, coral colored flesh appears raw, though it’s fully cooked. “Curing the salmon prevents it from losing its high fat content—the best and sought after quality of the king salmon,” says Lambert. “And it keeps the integrity of the texture.” He’s experimented with other preparations for the salmon but they didn’t do it justice. When just cooking sous vide, the hyper fatty fish turned into mush. When searing, Lambert didn’t like how the entire fillet couldn’t be seasoned throughout.

The salmon is served with a satsuma purée—adding a clean tartness that cuts through the fat—toasted sunflower seeds, freeze dried satsumas, and a shower of herbs. A lifetime spent building fat and flavor comes down to just two minutes in Lambert’s immersion circulator. It’s good to be (Ōra) king.  

Citrus Cured King Salmon Technique

  1. Debone and skin side of salmon, place on a sheet tray lined with plastic wrap.
  2. In a bowl, combine lemon, orange, and lime zests, pink and kosher salt, and sugar.
  3. Spread curing mixture on salmon, evenly coating the flesh.
  4. Slide into a speed rack and refrigerate 36 hours, flipping the salmon every 12 hours.
  5. Rinse salmon, pat dry, and vacuum seal in sous vide bag, and refrigerate
  6. Heat immersion circulator to 60°C.
  7. Cook salmon sous vide for 2 minutes.
  8. Cut into thick slices (about 1½ ounces each) and arrange on serving plate.