I have an emotional attachment to salmon. When I was a child growing up in Sonoma County, my beloved grandfather would go salmon fishing in Bodega Bay. When I was very young, I did not appreciate the fresh catch. I always “tasted it” though, and have since learned that having your child take “just at taste” is the way to teach them to learn to like new foods. Sometimes it takes over 20 tastes!
I do remember one specific occasion when I was older, working at a restaurant, and learning how to cook from professional chefs. I had just learned how to make hollandaise sauce, which is an artery clogging emulsified concoction of egg yolks, butter and lemon juice. The chefs were old style, trained at the Cordon Bleu, so I made the hollandaise by hand using a whisk and it was definitely a test of wrist endurance! But it was also a source of pride and I wanted to show it off at home.
One day my grandfather brought us a large fresh salmon he had caught in Bodega that day, and I prepared a fresh hollandaise sauce for it, and the whole family enjoyed it together. I still remember that meal, and I remember that day as the day I learned to love fresh salmon.
It has been a sad time for the California salmon fisheries the last few years, as the salmon counts have been so low that the season has been cut short or sometimes curtailed altogether. This summer, for the first time in a long time, I had the chance to eat some California King Salmon fresh from Bodega Harbor. I hope that is the sign of a rebound for the California king salmon.
The Alaskan salmon fisheries are well-managed, and Alaskan salmon is considered to be one of the most sustainable seafood options. Salmon is very high in the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA and is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, so it is on my short list of fish to eat as often as possible. But instead of topping it with a butter and egg yolk emulsion, in the fall I make a sauce based on beautiful red peppers and garlic with extra virgin olive oil.
I love this recipe because it is the absolutely easiest way to make salmon, and it stays moist. I credit the idea to my culinary heroine, Alice Waters, although I have altered it some.
I turned my oven on to 225 degrees. That is correct, only 225 degrees. Then I put a baking sheet or shallow large baking pan in the bottom of the oven and poured about 3 cups of water into the pan. While this was warming, I got the salmon ready.
I bought 2 good-sized filets of salmon. They weighed a total of 3 1/2 pounds. Adrian likes to make salad with the leftover salmon so I bought a lot. He makes it like a tuna-fish salad, hopefully one of these days I can post his recipe. These salmon filets had quite a few bones. How did I know that? Well I ran my hands down the seam (that is what I call it) in the middle of the filet. That is where the bones like to hang out and you can feel them with your fingertips if you press on the flesh. I pulled them out one by one with a pair of needle nosed beading pliers that I keep around the kitchen for just such a task.
Once all the bones were removed I put the salmon face down on a baking sheet that had 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil poured onto it. I rubbed both pieces of salmon around in the oil face down until they were well covered, then turned them so the skin was down and rubbed that around until it was covered with oil also. Now I sprinkled both pieces with salt. I used about 1/3 teaspoon altogether for both pieces, then ground some pepper over them lightly and they were ready for the oven.
I popped them in the oven on a shelf right above the one with the now hot water. I cooked them for 40 minutes. The thinner filet probably could have gone for only about 30 minutes but I left them both in the whole time. How do you know it is done? You gently separate the flesh somewhere near the middle of the filet with a fork and see if it flakes easily. It also should be more pink and opaque, not the darker, more shiny color it is when it is raw.
I served the salmon with my spicy garlic red pepper sauce (California Red Pepper Aioli, on this site) but you could just have it with a squeeze of lemon. Salmon can take a sauce with assertive flavors, so you might try a fresh salsa with it instead.
This is how the salmon looked when I took it out of the oven. You can see how moist it is. This is about as easy as cooking can get, so for those who say “I can’t cook fish” this recipe is a great place to start.
© 2015. Dayna Green-Burgeson RD, CDE. All Rights Reserved.