Baked salmon for a crowd

Whole lemon-roasted side of salmon. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Fancy? It sure is–and also the easiest dinner party main course I’ve ever made. Full stop.

I got the idea from a Bon Appetit video, and it’s stunning in its simplicity. Oil a baking sheet, and lay down a handful of lemon slices. Plop the salmon on top and scatter over more lemon slices. Pile a big bunch of chard or beet greens around the fish. Season everything with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake for 15 minutes. Rest. Eat.

Other hunks of roast beast tend to get all the attention for an at-home feast: beef, pork, lamb, even chicken. But cooking an entire side of salmon is far faster and just as impressive. Unlike small fillets, which are prone to overcooking, a big piece of fish stays moist and flaky even if you let it linger in the oven a minute too long. And roasting greens along with the fish is the really genius bit. The top layer of greens gets crisp, the bottom layer gets tender, and you’ve got yourself a no-effort side dish.

I can’t think of another centerpiece meat dish that’s so easy to make, yet delivers such a big wow. The flavors are clean, fresh, and so, so lovely. (It’s hard to be mad at salmon, lemon, and olive oil together.) This is also a visually stunning presentation: the coral cushion of salmon with its lemon-slice buttons, wreathed with dark crispy-soft greens. I’m the world’s most inept food stylist, and yet I still draw “oohs” and “aahs” every time I bring the baking sheet to the table.

baked salmon chard 1

Salmon and greens, ready for the oven

The rest of dinner is just as easygoing. Before starting the salmon prep, I’ll get a batch of brown rice going in the pressure cooker, adding a sprinkle of caraway seeds for an aromatic boost (thanks to my friend Lucia for that trick). Then I’ll throw together the salmon and a second baking sheet of vegetables–either broccolini or green beans, which roast in the same amount of time as the salmon. These also get the olive oil + salt + pepper treatment, just to make things easy on myself. I slide the salmon onto the top oven rack, and the extra veggies onto the bottom rack. Open a bottle of wine or lemonade, and there’s your meal.

baked salmon chard 2

The finished product–perfectly cooked salmon and wilted, crispy greens

Easiest Baked Salmon For a Crowd (serves 8, or 6 with leftovers)

Adapted from Bon Appetit

Olive oil for greasing and drizzling

2 lemons, thinly sliced

1 whole side of salmon (2 1/2 to 3 lb)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 large bunch (about 1 lb) chard or beet greens, stemmed and washed (save the stems for making hummus!)

Preheat the oven to 425º F, and position a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Lay down about half the lemon slices to make a bed for the salmon. Lay the salmon on top of the lemon slices, skin side down. Season the salmon generously with salt and pepper, then lay the remaining lemon slices on top.

Tear the greens into large pieces, and pile them onto the baking sheet around the salmon. Drizzle the greens generously with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the fish is just cooked through and the greens are crisp on top.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the fish rest for 5-10 minutes. Bring the baking sheet to the table and let people serve themselves!

Variations: There are infinite ways to vary this. Add some dill or tarragon sprigs along with the lemon slices. Use orange instead of lemon, or a mix of citrus. Season the fish with any spice(s) you like–I’m partial to smoked paprika–or with your favorite prepared salmon rub. Brush the surface of the salmon with mustard, or a mix of mustard and brown sugar (plus a little curry powder, if you like). Make a sauce of some kind, or don’t. I’m sure there are other options I’m forgetting.

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