Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I was a seafood hater for the first 20 years or so of my life and I’ve been trying to make up for it since, but the fact remains that I’m still something of an innocent when it comes to fish. Although I’ve got halibut fish and chips and fish tacos nailed, I can’t quite convince myself to love salmon (except in sushi, where it’s my fave). I’ve tried a number of worthy salmon recipes over the years, but mostly out of a sense of healthful duty, and nowadays I rarely seem to make them because eating salmon feels like such a chore. No matter how delicious the seasonings, after the first few bites I just don’t enjoy the texture; it seems so dry and chewy in comparison to the unctuous, buttery feeling of the raw stuff. So I wish someone had told me earlier that there’s an easy solution to Dry Salmon Sadness: letting it come to room temperature and then cooking it very gently at a low heat. In other words, try a little tenderness.

Now that I look, this cooking method seems to be widely represented on the Internet, but I stumbled across it at my new food blog addiction Anger Burger, where Sunday (who calls it “Improbable Salmon”) writes, “I’m acutely aware that many people reading this are terrified of cooking fish, to which I can only say: start with this recipe first. It is very difficult to screw up. The idea is that you cook the salmon in a very low oven for a twice as long as you’d normally cook it, and the result is fish that is buttery soft and moist. And you have a window of like 10 minutes where you can go ‘Wait, is it done? Did I screw up?’ and it will A) yes, be done, and B), no, you did not screw up.” Armed with this assurance, I forged ahead with the recipe, which provides a generic template for a Dijon vinaigrette to marinate and sauce the fish; I adapted it to my tastes, as written below (lemon, parsley, dill), but there are a lot of other combinations of acids (like orange juice) and herbs (like basil) you might try. (Or—oh!—lime and cilantro?!) I loved my version of the sauce, though—lemon and dill are so classic with fish, so perfect for spring, and so excellent with mustard, which, yes, is fast becoming my new BFF. And the fish was incredibly easy to make and just as freaky-pink and excitingly juicy as promised. It still wasn’t as good as eating salmon sashimi, but it was a damn sight closer than any recipe I’ve ever tried.

Now that I’ve done this, I’m sort of shocked that so many of the other salmon recipes I’ve encountered have been the exact opposite, baking the fish into submission at temps as high as 500 degrees. Obviously, the high heat is necessary to get a crispy pesto or caramelized sugar, but in retrospect I mostly liked those recipes because they covered up the salmonyness of the salmon, whereas this recipe lets it shine. I still won’t be eating salmon every week (unless I win the lottery and then someone builds a sushi restaurant next door to my apartment), but when I do want to make it, this recipe’s the one for me.

By the way, I served this with arugula, potato, and green bean salad and it was a perfect pairing.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 small clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
8–12 ounces salmon fillet

1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients except the salmon and whisk until emulsified (or you can use a small jar and shake it well). Taste for seasonings; make sure it’s a little saltier than you think is right, because it will be diluted when on the fish.

2. Remove salmon from the fridge, rinse under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Cut the salmon into two pieces of equal size. Coat each piece well with the sauce and place 1 inch apart on a baking sheet or dish coated with aluminum foil. Pour remaining sauce over fish.

3. Allow salmon to marinate at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes while you heat the oven to 250 and make any side dishes you plan to serve.

4. To bake, put the fish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, test for doneness by breaking open the largest piece of salmon and checking that it flakes. (The fish will still be dark pink and very soft—not the firm and opaque salmon you’re used to—but it is actually cooked and safe to eat; however, you can cook it for 5 more minutes if you’re unsure.)

Serves: 2
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Unknown

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