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Signature Dishes of Famous Chefs: Jerry Traunfeld Salmon

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Jerry Traunfeld's beloved slow-roasted salmon

Jerry Traunfeld's beloved slow-roasted salmon

What Makes a Chef Famous?

There are good chefs, great chefs, and chefs who are known not only by how they cook but are acknowledged, remembered, and immortalized for a "signature dish," a meal synonymous with its master chef.

Today we'll discuss Jerry Traunfeld and his Herb Garden slow-roasted salmon with white wine and butter sauce with rough-chopped herbs.

The first hot dish I remember making on my own was [Child's] potato soup. I taught myself mostly from cookbooks, and throughout junior high and high school, cooking and baking were my main hobbies.

— Jerry Traunfeld

A Brief Biography of Jerry Traunfeld

Once upon a time, there was a teenage boy who lived in Silver Spring, Maryland. He didn’t fit into the jock, nerd, or popular kid’s cliques. When everyone else was into sports or dating or generally misbehaving, Jerry Traunfeld was cooking in his family’s kitchen. His inspiration was Julia Child.

Those hobbies became a career in 1983 when Jerry graduated from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He quickly landed executive chef jobs, first at Ernie’s and then at the prestigious Stars. While still in his 20s he moved to Seattle to become the executive chef of The Alexis Hotel.

Jerry had another artistic passion—gardening. In 1990 his love of cooking and gardening merged when he became the executive chef of The Herbfarm, a small restaurant in Woodinville, Washington, just 30 miles north of Seattle.

Originally The Herbfarm was little more than a few dining tables adjacent to a working herb nursery. But with Jerry’s expertise, it became a top-rated dining destination, gaining national attention when he won the James Beard award for “Best Chef Northwest.”

Traunfeld is the author of The Herbfarm Cookbook, published by Simon & Schuster, and The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor, published by Harper Collins.

A trip to India in 1997 took his career in yet another direction. While researching a new cookbook, he discovered thali, round platters filled with six individual “small bites” that feature sweet, salty, bitter, sour, spicy, and umami.

So, it came to pass that after 17 years of working for The Herbfarm, he opened his own restaurant in 2008.

Poppy (named after his mother) fused the small-platter dining with his signature flair for using seasonal produce and fresh herbs.

Jerry sold Poppy in 2019 and he and his husband now live in Palm Springs.

The Recipe

For many years Jerry presented slow-roasted salmon with herb sauce to guests at the Herbfarm. He shared the recipe with the Food Network so that you can recreate it in your own kitchen.

What Makes This Recipe So Good?

The key is freshness and careful cooking to preserve and enhance the beautiful flavors of perfect ingredients. Slow-roasting the salmon insures that the fish remains supremely moist and flavorful, not dry and dull. And, fresh herbs? There is no comparison between fresh and dried. If you do not have fresh herbs in your garden, you should be able to procure a fine selection in the fresh produce section of your local grocery store.

King (Chinook) salmon filet

King (Chinook) salmon filet

Main Components of Slow-Roasted Salmon with Herb Sauce

Salmon

Of course, salmon is at the top of your shopping list for this special dinner. Jerry uses King or Sockeye salmon.

  • King is also known as Chinook: This “king” of salmon has earned its name because it is the best tasting. It has a high fat content, and that’s what makes it so luscious.
  • Sockeye is also known as Red: The meat of this salmon is bright orange-red and rich in flavor. They are called reds because when they move upstream to spawn they develop a startlingly bright red color.
Chives

Chives

Fresh Herbs

Jerry uses a mixture of tender herbs that "play nicely" with the sweet flavor of the salmon. Here are some suggestions and a brief description of each.

Chives: Chives are a perennial, meaning that they return year after year. Unlike other members of the onion family, only the top (green) part of the plant is harvested. The bulb remains in the earth. Chives are one of the first plants to appear in early spring.

French Tarragon

French Tarragon

French Tarragon: French tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus sativa) did not originate in France. Its origins can be traced to Siberia—but please don’t confuse it with Russian tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus inodora). French tarragon has smooth, glossy dark-green leaves and a sweet anise flavor.

Mint

Mint

Mint: Mint is a perennial herb with the sweet, delicate scent and flavor of menthol. It's the menthol that delivers that characteristic cooling sensation in your mouth and on your skin. Crushing or chopping the leaves intensifies the mints impact.

Lemon thyme

Lemon thyme

Lemon Thyme: This Mediterranean herb is another perennial. Its small leaves have a distinctly citrus scent and taste.

Lovage

Lovage

Lovage: One glance at the frilly green leaves of lovage will tell you that this annual herb is a member of the carrot/parsnip/celery family. The taste is bright and refreshing—a bit like parsley but bolder.

Chervil

Chervil

Chervil: This delicate annual is also a member of the parsley family but it's nothing like lovage (above). The flavor is more like a mild tarragon.

Sorrel

Sorrel

Sorrel: This member of the knotweed family grows in thick, bushy clumps. Also known as "dock," it has a distinctive lemony, sour taste that can't be replicated by anything else.

© 2023 Linda Lum