Sweet and sour salmon with lemon, ginger, and brown sugar

This recipe was a favourite of Joan’s German grandmother


Photo: Gabriela Herman

I found this recipe for sweet-and-sour carp, one of the dishes my father recalled relishing in Augsburg, in one of the handwritten, well-worn books of favorite recipes that my grandmother Lina Bernheim Nathan passed on to her daughters. Most Friday nights, when the family would gather at Great-Grandmother Rose’s apartment, she would start the meal with a carp dish, especially for Rosh Hashanah. She would use carp or black cod (also called sable); she always used the head and bones to make stock, because they add thickness and flavor to the sauce. And she served it with either a sweet-and-sour or a parsley sauce.

Today I use a large salmon fillet, cutting it raw into individual portions to poach in a fish stock flavored with spices, brown sugar, lemon, gingersnaps (added to give a sweet gingery flavor and dark color, and to thicken the sauce slightly), and then some crystallized ginger to spike the dish even more. It is easy to make, a real crowd- pleaser, and, in a modern way, reminds me oh so much of my childhood.

Makes: 12 small slices for an appetizer or 6 servings as a main course


1⅓ kg) salmon fillet, skinned and cut into 6 or 12 portions

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

About 1.4 litres fish or vegetable stock

3 lemons, 2 thinly sliced and seeded, the other juiced

2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings

1 bay leaf

80g raisins

½ tsp whole cloves

71g light- or dark-brown sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

6 gingersnaps

2 tbsp diced crystallized ginger

2 tbsp chopped fresh dill


Season the salmon with salt and pepper in a large heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven large enough to hold the fish in one layer. Add the stock, plus water if needed to barely cover the fish, arrange the lemon and onion slices on top, then drop in the bay leaf, raisins, and cloves. Simmer over medium heat, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the fish is almost cooked through.

Add the brown sugar, ground ginger, gingersnaps, and crystallized ginger, and continue cooking for about 5 minutes, taking care not to overcook. You’ll know the fish is cooked if it is firm to the touch; sometimes I pierce a fork into the center to make sure. Once the fish is cool, remove the bay leaf, then transfer the fish to a serving plate. Scatter the onion and lemon slices on top. Boil the liquid over medium-high heat until it has reduced by half, then pour it over the fish.

Taste, and drizzle with the juice from the third lemon. Refrigerate until serving, then serve at room temperature, sprinkled with dill.

Both recipes extracted from: My Life in Recipes: Food, Family, and Memories
© 2024. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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