What We Cooked: Medallions of Salmon and Crab in Two Sauces

In 1988, the executive chef at McCormick and Schmick’s entered a cook-off. He did awfully well.

Salmon fillets on ice. (Taras Shparhala/Shutterstock)

Jim Dixon is taking a week off. In his place, we fished out a recipe from 1988, dreamed up by Bill King, who was then the executive chef at McCormick and Schmick’s. The fish house closed its last Portland location this spring. This recipe survives—although it mostly made us want to have somebody else cook. Still, it’s a fun swim up memory lane.

This story first ran in the April 28, 1988, edition of WW under the headline “Seafood King.”

My image of cooking contests is the vision of nervous housewives, recipes featuring Bisquick or Campbell’s soup, and a grand prize of a new refrigerator. Very Betty Crockeresque. The reality of today’s cooking competitions couldn’t be further from that myth.

Bill King, executive chef at McCormick and Schmick’s, has made a believer out of me. I went to visit King, the winner of the 1988 Seafood Oregon Governor’s Challenge Cook-Off, to discover why a serious cook would compete.

King has an impressive background. He was trained at the Cornell University School of Restaurant Management. He ran the kitchen at Eugene’s Pearl Street Station and cooked at the intimate Aurora Colony Inn in Woodburn. He owned and operated the dear, departed Savior Faire. And he now is in charge of everything up to direct food preparation for as many as 200 diners a night at McCormick and Schmick’s, where he has been for the past three years.

When I asked him why he entered a cook-off, King grinned and admitted that the seafood challenge was his first competition, and that he, too, was skeptical of food contests, as their reputation tends to belittle serious cooking. When he received the entry form for the seafood challenge in the mail, he put it aside and forgot about it. Only when the McCormick organization encouraged him did he retrieve it.

King claims to have no motivation for entering other than curiosity. He has quickly become a convert, however, to competition training.

Easy for him to say. At this first competition, though he didn’t know what to expect and was shamefully underprepared, King won first place the first day. He won first place the second day. He won first place the third day, which granted him a place in the finals. He won that, too, and walked off as the Oregon Seafood Chef of the Year.

Not bad for your first time out.

The local boy didn’t make as good in the national competitions held in South Carolina. King was competing against chefs who do this kind of thing all the time. The pressure was unlike anything he had ever been through. At the beginning of the finals, he swore he would never enter a competition like this again. He said, “It was the most intense experience of anything in my life.”

The South Carolina contest forced King to think quickly on his feet. The competition required him to prepare four courses with the assistance of an unfamiliar apprentice prep person. He and the other competitors were given 15 minutes to build a menu around a pre-planned signature entree using a standard competition technique called the mystery box.

Each person gets a box that is filled with a variety of fresh ingredients. No one knows in advance what his mystery box contains. “This process lends credibility to the process,” says King. “You can’t just walk in and sculpt ice.”

King’s first reaction upon opening the box was, “What am I going to do with this stuff?” Panic had set in.

King sweated bullets during his 15 minutes with his mystery box. He had to sort through it; choose what he liked; write down the menu he would do, using those ingredients; and make a list of what else he needed from the “larder” of common ingredients made available to all competitors.

He was then given four hours to prepare his four-course menu.

“All the time that this was taking place, three judges, each certified master chefs themselves, were over your shoulder, checking your technique, your cleanup, your refrigerator organization, what you throw away. The pressure was unreal,” King recollected.

For all these efforts, and of course, the actual presentation and taste of his creations, King was awarded a silver medal. The value of the competition, according to King, was the peer review. “All the judges were master chefs who provided very useful critiques. I also learned valuable tools and stress management. McCormick and Schmick’s could do nothing to me again!”

King has now decided to pursue competitions. As part of the process, different levels of certification are available, ultimately leading to the highest level of distinction, master chef.

A King recipe is below. Because this is a competition created recipe. It is written for one serving, double or increase the proportions to suit your needs.

Medallions of Salmon and Crab in Two Sauces

4 1-ounce salmon medallions (Oregon chinook or coho)

4 pieces Dungeness crab leg meat

3 ounces raspberry beurre blanc (recipe follows)

1 ounce filbert cream (recipe follows)


1. Saute, bake or grill salmon medallions. Set aside.

2. Very lightly saute crab legs just to warm. Set aside.

3. Make a pool of the beurre blanc on a plate. Streak or swirl some of the filbert cream into it. (Note: The sauce roles may be reversed by using the filbert cream as the pool sauce and the beurre blanc as the garnish.)

4. Place the medallions of salmon and the crab legs on the plate. Garnish with fresh raspberries if available.

Raspberry Beurre Blanc

2 ounces white wine vinegar

4 ounces dry white wine

2 black peppercorns

1 shallot, peeled and quartered

1/4 cup cream

1/2 cup raspberries, purged and strained

6 ounces unsalted butter, cut in small pieces and chilled

pinch salt

1. Combine first four ingredients and simmer to reduce to 2 tablespoons.

2. Add cream and puree and simmer again to reduce to 4-5 tablespoons.

3. Remove from stove. Stirring constantly, add butter little by little, waiting for each addition to melt before adding the next. Add salt to taste.

4. Strain and hold at warm room temperature.

Filbert Cream

1 tablespoon butler, melted

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup half-and-half

1/4 cup chicken stock

1/2 tablespoon honey

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon finely minced ginger

1/4 cup filbert butter (made by pureeing toasted, peeled filberts in the food processor, like peanut butler)

1. Combine melted butter and flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.

2. Add half-and-half, cream and stock and simmer until thickened.

3. Add honey, lemon juice and ginger. Blend well.

4. Add filbert butter and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Note: If sauce is too thick, thin with a little cream.

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