“Why do Americans insist on grilling salmon?” asked Jessica, my Irish friend, in her lyrical accent. “You are such an impatient lot!”
She went on to explain that a big salmon fillet should be cooked slowly using low heat, so its lush juices and healthy fats don’t burn off, enhancing the rich flavors and firm texture.
Jessica basted the fish with olive oil, lemon juice and zest and sprinkled it with red pepper flakes for color and oomph. In this simple method, the cooking juices turn into a light sauce and, served over pasta or rice, it’s a great dish for large gatherings and makes a pretty presentation. One caution is that the skin doesn’t crisp. If you’re after those crunchy, salty bits, you’re better off frying smaller cuts — salmon steaks or thinner fillets — in a cast-iron skillet over higher heat.
The slow, gentle method works beautifully for wild-caught Pacific sockeye or king salmon filets, the darker, more succulent species with the more distinct salmon taste. It also works nicely with just about any large fillet, especially a big lake trout or whitefish.
Cooked this way, the salmon is delicious served at room temperature or chilled, and can be made ahead. This time of year, Pacific salmon isn’t in season; what you’ll find at the market has been flash-frozen in the hull of a fishing boat. It is a better product than anything you might find fresh from a fish farm on the Atlantic coast. Look for Alaska salmon sold by the fishermen themselves at many of our winter farmers markets, or in our co-ops and grocery stores. The quality and flavor make it well worth the price.
I keep a few fillets in the freezer, ready for a casual dinner with friends in the warmer evenings to come.
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Roasting the salmon in oil with a little lemon keeps it from overcooking. Serve this over cooked soba noodles or rice for an easy party dish. It will keep a day in the refrigerator if made ahead, and is good served warm or at room temperature. From Beth Dooley.
• 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tbsp. lemon juice
• 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
• 1 (2-lb.) skinless salmon fillet
• 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
• Dash of coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. In a small dish whisk together the oil, lemon juice and zest.
Pat the salmon dry. Remove any pin bones with a tweezer. Pour a little of the oil into a baking dish large enough to hold the salmon. Place the fillet into the dish flesh side up and pour the rest of the oil mixture over the fish. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.
Bake, occasionally basting with the pan juices, until the salmon flakes easily, about 15 to 20 minutes. An instant-read thermometer will read 120 degrees.
Serve the salmon over cooked soba noodles, pasta or rice, drizzled with the pan juices.
Beth Dooley is the author of “The Perennial Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.