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Crispy Salmon


It can be far too tempting to reach for the soy sauce, the garlic, the garam masala, the peanut butter, the bottle of teriyaki marinade, the jar of spaghetti sauce or any of the myriad other items I keep around the kitchen to goose the flavor of whatever I’m cooking. Particularly when it’s a “spontaneous” evening meal — i.e., a Tuesday-night dinner slam. When I don’t have time, I’m attracted by the promise of instant flavor.

The trick is keeping things simple.

Here’s a dinner that didn’t cost much and tasted great precisely because I slapped my hand when it started to reach for the Cajun seasoning mix. This fillet of salmon was simply seasoned with salt and pepper and pan-roasted until it was crispy all over.

What you see here is fresh farm-raised salmon. Normally, wild salmon is preferable — even if it’s frozen — for its flavor. But for this preparation, you’ll get better results with farmed fish, which tends to be oilier.

Simple Crispy Salmon

Start with good, heavy, oven-safe skillet (cast iron is best) and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Then, heat a decent film of oil in the skillet over a medium-high flame until it shimmers. Place the well-seasoned salmon fillets skin side up (if the skin has been removed, still make sure to put the more curved side down in the pan.

Saute the salmon in the oil and resist the urge to move it about for at least 3 minutes. Once the surface is crisp and brown, flip the fillets carefully. (You will notice that by this point they have expressed a fair amount of fish oil.) 

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for about 8 minutes — until a knife tip inserted into the center of the thickest fillet shows it cooked to your liking. (I usually look for the bit of white coagulation that usually seeps from the cut surface of the salmon. As soon as it appears, the salmon is cooked to just the medium temperature we like.)

Blot any excess oil from the fillets and transfer them to plates. Cooking fish this way renders it quite pungent, but you can neutralize the smell and complement the flavor with a serious squeeze of lime. Try a half lime per fillet.

By the way, the fish here is served with couscous and a quick braise of kale and leek. I simply sauteed the veggies in olive oil with a pinch of salt until they were glossy, then added a quarter cup of water and covered the pan and let them simmer until the water had evaporated and the veggies were tender — about 3 minutes. Just before serving, I spritzed them with some balsamic vinegar. 

Simple. Clean. Children who wanted seconds. Good dinner.

2 comments Add your comment


January 15th, 2009
6:05 pm

That’s so great that your kids wanted seconds! I love serving fish simply, without too many flavor-maskers. I want to TASTE the little buggers!


January 15th, 2009
6:15 pm

I agree. My test for any fish preparation in a restaurant is to ask myself: would it just be better with lemon and butter?