What Is a Salmis?

Eugene P.

A salmis is a classic French preparation for game meats that involves cooking the meat and preparing a dense sauce, cooling them and then reheating the dish to develop very deep flavors. The cooking process for a proper salmis takes a very long time and can at times be an intricate process. In addition to cooking, cooling and reheating the entire dish — sometimes several times — it also can involve flaming liquor, creating a stock, making a roux and, in some recipes, boning raw game. The lengthy process has led to the dish being adorned with high-end ingredients such as truffles, expensive liquors, exotic mushrooms and rare wild game. There are different ways to serve the salmis once it has finished, but most involve a starch such as polenta.

A salmis is often made with truffles.
A salmis is often made with truffles.

Traditional salmis usually includes freshly killed game birds such as duck, squab or pheasant, although rabbit also can be used. It was created to help make foods with a strong gamey flavor more palatable and, in later versions, was adapted for use on more common meats such as pork or chicken. Fast versions of salmis exist in which the meat is cooked and then added to a sauce, but these are not authentic and lack the long cooking time required to develop flavors and textures.

A traditional Salmis may include duck.
A traditional Salmis may include duck.

Nearly all salmis recipes begin with the cooking of the game meat. It is usually seared and then set aside, with the remaining brown bits on the bottom of the pan used to help create a roux with flour. The roux can then have liquor such as cognac added and set on fire to reduce the alcohol content and add a slightly burnt taste. The thick sauce is thinned with wine, usually red wine, and some stock. The entire sauce is taken to a boil, after which the meat is added back into the liquid and placed in an over to stew for several hours.

Once the meat has been cooked through and the flavors of the sauce have married, it is removed and allowed to cool. The salmis could be eaten at this point, but it would not be an authentic preparation. For authenticity, the entire dish is allowed to cool, placed in a refrigerator, and allowed to age for anywhere from a few hours to two days.

After being fully cooled, the dish becomes a salmis when it is reheated. The delicate process heats the food only until it is warmed again, without cooking the meat anymore to prevent it from becoming overcooked. This can be done for a long time over a low flame or, in some more elaborate cases, in a bain-marie, or hot water bath. Once the dish has been reheated, it can be served over polenta, pasta or toasted bread along with the thick sauce.

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