Justin Johnson describes his
cooking as classical French with
a contemporary twist. Executive
chef at U W Health Partners
Watertown Regional Medical
Center, Watertown, Wis., Johnson
says he likes to let ingredients
speak for themselves and allow
the natural flavors to be the star.
“I don’t use a lot of spices,
unfamiliar flavors or molecular
gastronomy,” he says. “I like for
you to be able to taste what you
see. Having said that, I also try
to throw guests a curveball.”
Johnson does this by focusing
on food that is clean, simple and
recognizable, yet somehow not at all
what was expected. For his modern
rendition of salmon a la nage, he
created a bright, rustic summer
dish that strays from the classical
presentation while holding onto
many of the dish’s main components.
“The trickiest element to modernize
was the most important one—the
sauce,” Johnson says. “I needed to
bring a liquid into the dish without
making it a rich sauce or stew.”
The solution? Fish milk foam. It is
also one of the aspects that gives the
plate an ultramodern appearance. To
make, he uses milk, fish fumet and
agar-agar. If the plate won’t sit for
long, you can go without agar-agar.
Johnson wanted to present each
element separately. His linear
display draws the eye to the seared
salmon in the center, with the
varying shaped vegetables and
colorful garnishes complementing
the overall aesthetic.
“When I’m creating a dish, I'm not
looking to create the most involved,
time-consuming and challenging
dish possible, because regardless
of how creative an idea might be,
I always think first about whether
or not we will be able to cook and
present 50 of them on a busy
night,” he says.
Simple, yes, but Johnson does offer
a few tips for those who will recreate
the recipe. Knife cuts, such as the
brunoise for the croutons
and the salmon cuts, must be clean
Also, the fish milk foam needs to be
watched closely so it doesn’t boil
over or burn, he says. “Once it starts
to foam, it will increase in volume
quickly, by three or four times.
But, if you stop here, it will quickly
deflate to straight milk. Keep it
going and really agitate it, keeping
control of the output of heat until
it calms to only twice its original
volume. That's when you'll know
a La Nage
¼ cup diced turnips
½ cup diced onions
burn). Remove from heat; cool.
Reserve for service.
Flash-Seared Salmon with Fish
1 lb. halibut bones, rinsed
Milk Foam, Radish Confit, Carrot
2 bay leaves
Mousse, Baby Pumpernickel
Croutons and Watercress
Yield: 8 servings
1 T. whole black peppercorns
1 slice pumpernickel rye bread
¼ t. white pepper
cooked carrots; purée until
smooth. Divide puréed carrots
in rectangular-shaped silicon
molds. Place in cooler until set,
approximately 2 hours.
1 t. agar-agar
UW Health Partners
1 lb. Atlantic salmon, cut into
2 oz. rectangular pieces
5. Prepare fish milk foam: In
saucepot on high heat,
combine remaining milk,
1 T. fish fumet and agar-agar.
Whisk constantly until it begins
to foam and triple in volume
(do not to burn). Set aside.
1 t. kosher salt
1 t. fresh cracked pepper
24 watercress sprigs
8 fennel tops
2. Prepare radish confit: Spread
radishes on sheet tray. Drizzle
2 T. sunflower oil over radishes.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper;
arrange 3 thyme sprigs over
top. Cover with parchment lid.
Do not wrap tightly. Cook at
200°F for 1½ hours. Reserve
6 baby organic carrots,
sliced on bias
6½ t. butter, divided
6. Prepare salmon: Season
salmon with salt and pepper.
Put oil on paper towel; wipe
dry skillet. Put skillet on high
heat; heat until oil coating
begins to smoke slightly. Add
salmon; sear quickly, about
45 seconds on each side
(salmon will cook only about
¼ inch up each side, staying
“blue” in the middle).
1 quart + 2 T. water
1. Prepare carrot mousse: Glaze
carrots in the classic French
method. In saute pan, combine
carrots, 2 T. butter and 2 T. water;
cover with parchment lid.
Cook gently on low heat for
¼ t. sea salt
1 t. nutmeg
1 T. unflavored gelatin
(or gelatin sheets)
20 minutes or until tender.
Season with sea salt and
nutmeg. Soften gelatin in
¾ cup cold milk, divided
24 radishes, stems removed
2²∕³ T. sunflower oil, divided
Salt and pepper, as needed
5 thyme sprigs, divided
¼ cup diced celery
½ cup cold milk until milk
thickens (if using gelatin sheets,
follow instructions). Transfer
gelatin to saucepot. Place
over low heat; stir continuously.
Heat until fully melted. In
blender, combine gelatin and
3. Prepare fish fumet: In medium
stockpot, melt remaining butter.
Saute celery, turnips, onions
and bones until vegetables
are translucent. Add remaining
water, remaining thyme sprigs,
bay leaves and peppercorns.
Simmer uncovered on low
heat for 1 hour. Strain through
chinois or strainer with
cheesecloth. Reserve for use in
fresh milk foam.
4. Prepare pumpernickel croutons:
In dry skillet, toast pumpernickel
brunoise with remaining
sunflower oil and white pepper,
tossing continuously (do not
7. To plate: Arrange salmon and
1 square-inch cube carrot
mousse in line on plate. Place
croutons on top of mousse.
Place 3 radishes in line with
mousse and salmon. Garnish
with watercress and fennel.
Finish by reactivating foam;
spoon generous amount