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Poached salmon with zucchini tzatziki is an easy but impressive dish

By Ellie Krieger Special to The Washington Post

Poached salmon will always hold a spark of romance for me because it was the first dinner I ever made for my husband, roughly this time of year 30 years ago. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say we fell in love over that meal of buttery, flaky fish draped in a cool, creamy yogurt sauce.

Making poached salmon, like nurturing a good relationship, involves a measure of care and attention, but there is an overall ease to it. You start by getting the poaching liquid together in a pan wide enough to hold the fish in a single layer. You season it – in this case with lemon juice, sliced shallots and dill, but any combination of acid, aromatic and herb will work – and bringing it to a boil.

Then you add the salmon, reduce the heat, and cook the fish it until it flakes easily but is still tender inside. You don’t want the poaching liquid to boil – it’s best to attentively adjust the heat to keep it gently simmering, just like with a new relationship. Once the salmon is transferred to a plate and is cool enough to handle, the skin is easily removed and the tender, pink fish is ready to be eaten either warm at that moment, or chilled for later. In this recipe it is first seasoned with a lovely sprinkle of lemon zest, salt and pepper.

The creamy yogurt sauce for the fish in this recipe is similar to a Greek tzatziki, but is made with zucchini instead of the traditional cucumber, a twist, which gives it earthier flavor and more substantial texture. A key step is to remove as much liquid as possible from the grated vegetable by letting it drain for 15 minutes, then giving it a good squeeze.

The zucchini is then stirred with yogurt, garlic and olive oil, plus lemon, shallot and dill, which echo the flavors in the salmon poaching liquid. I like to add some fresh mint, too.

The creamy sauce is spread onto each plate, then topped with a fillet of the poached fish, and adorned with a drizzle of olive oil and feathery fronds of dill for a meal, which – just like true love – brings ample pleasure and nourishment.

Poached Salmon With Zucchini Tzatziki

In this light, summery dish, tender poached salmon sits atop a creamy yogurt sauce similar to a Greek tzatziki. This version, however, is made with zucchini instead of the traditional cucumber, a twist that gives it an earthy flavor and more substantial texture. Adorned with a drizzle of olive oil and feathery dill fronds, it’s a meal that delivers ample pleasure and nourishment. The poached salmon can be served either warm or chilled.


1½ teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)

2 medium shallots (2 ounces total), divided

1 medium zucchini (8 ounces), coarsely grated

¼ teaspoon plus ⅛ teaspoon fine salt, divided

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from the same lemon), divided

1 large sprig plus 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill, divided, plus more as needed

Four (6-ounce) skin-on salmon fillets

1 cup plain Greek yogurt (low-fat or whole-milk)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves (optional)

⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Place the lemon zest in a small bowl and cover with a clean, damp towel to keep it from drying out. Coarsely grate about 2 teaspoons of one of the shallots and transfer to a medium bowl. Slice the remaining shallots.

In a colander or fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, toss the zucchini with ⅛ teaspoon of the salt and let drain for about 15 minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out (and discard) as much liquid as possible; you should get about ¾ cup zucchini.

While the zucchini is draining, in a large (12-inch) lidded skillet with tall sides set over high heat, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. (In a separate saucepan or kettle, bring an additional 2 cups of water to a boil, in case it’s needed.) Add 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, the sliced shallots and dill sprig to the boiling water in the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low and place the salmon in the skillet, skin side down. If the fillets are not completely submerged, add boiling water from the kettle to the skillet until they are.

Cover the skillet and poach the salmon, checking occasionally to make sure the water is at a bare simmer, until the fish is opaque, flakes easily under the tines of a fork and reaches an internal temperature of 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare, about 10 minutes for 1-inch-thick fillets. Use a slotted spatula to transfer the fillets to a plate, let sit until cool enough to handle, then remove and discard the skin.

While the fish is cooling, transfer the drained zucchini to the bowl with the grated shallot. Add the yogurt, 1½ tablespoons of the oil, 1 tablespoon of the dill, the remaining 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, the mint, if using, and ⅛ teaspoon of the salt, and stir to combine. You should have about 1⅓ cups.

Add the remaining ⅛ teaspoon of salt and the pepper to the lemon zest, and stir to combine. Sprinkle the zest mixture on top of the salmon.

To serve, spread about ⅓ cup of the sauce on each plate, top each with a salmon fillet (warm or at room temperature), drizzle with the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil and garnish with dill.

Yield: 4 servings