Tag Archives: Salmon

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

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Smoked salmon patties

When I was a kid, one of my mom’s go-to dinners was salmon patties. They were one of those genius feed-a-family-in-minutes recipes, made entirely with pantry and fridge staples: canned salmon for substance, crushed-up cornflakes for bulk, and egg for binder. I loved those patties–loved them!–except for one thing: the canned salmon always had bones in it. My parents tried to convince me they were edible, but I would have none of it. I remember the ritual, every time, of carefully dissecting my salmon patties and removing the tiny white vertebrae. It was a meticulous operation, but necessary before I could chow down on my delicious dinner.

Now that I’m an adult, I get to put my own spin on my mom’s recipes. That means taking things I’m not crazy about–like bony canned salmon–and finding alternatives I do like. Where my mother always had canned salmon in the pantry, I find I usually have smoked salmon in my fridge. So here’s a posher, slightly fresher take on those beloved salmon patties: my smoked salmon version. These would be lovely for a brunch party, or a light summer lunch. And best of all, no bones!

These patties are firm and slightly crisp on the outside, then dense and almost crab-cakey within. The texture of these is almost Proustian for me–it really does take me back to those childhood dinners. For me the key is to break the salmon meat down until it’s about the consistency of lump crab meat. You could leave the smoked salmon in quite large flakes, I suppose, for a more sophisticated result, but I’ll have it no other way than this. (By the way, this also means you don’t need to use fancy or expensive smoked salmon here, since the texture would be lost. Anything you can get your hands on will work, as long as it’s the firm, hot-smoked kind of salmon.)

The cakes are flavored with many of the usual accompaniments: mustard, onion, lemon, and dill. I’ve already played with this flavor combination once before, and it remains a favorite in my household. I could have added some drained capers too–and feel free to, if you want–but I didn’t want their damp crunch to ruin the familiar texture of my salmon patties. In fact, this is one of those recipes that stands as a canvas for anything you want to do with it. I never make these the same way twice, and that’s part of the fun.

smoked salmon patties

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Manhattan lox chowder

My boyfriend doesn’t like bivalves. Clams, mussels, oysters–he thinks they’re strange and unpleasant to eat. When we order paella at a restaurant, he carefully picks out every nugget of meat and places them all on my plate. He’s suspicious of cioppino, and bouillabaisse, and pretty much everything else that’s served with a cluster of shells poking out. And he has never in his life eaten clam chowder.

I, on the other hand, have been known to eat a pot of steamed clams for dinner and then drink the leftover liquid with a straw. (Don’t judge–you know you’ve always wanted to.) So this aversion of his is perplexing to me. But I love him, so I’m willing to play along. Which means getting creative sometimes. Like the day I started craving a good seafood chowder, and decided to make it with something he’d be happy to eat.

I love a good New England clam chowder as much as the next guy–creamy and gloopy and salty and rich, studded with potatoes and chewy nuggets of clam. But I was home, cooking for me and mine, and a whole lot of cream and starch didn’t sound fun. So I went with a Manhattan-style chowder, tomato-based and chunky with vegetables. And, inspired by a recipe in the Grey Lady herself, I decided to go full-on New York and flavor the chowder with lox instead of clams.

Once that happened, a whole cascade of tweaks presented themselves: red onion, dill, a scattering of capers and a little spike of horseradish. As it turns out, smoked salmon isn’t a perfect substitute for clams in a chowder, but it’s flavorful and fun in its own right. Exposed to a brief simmer, the fish turns firm and flaky, and the caper-horseradish spike at the end helps boost the flavor of the soup beyond the usual tomato-herb thing.

Because this is San Francisco, and bread bowls are our birthright, I hollowed out a couple little sourdough loaves and spooned the soup into the hollows. We gobbled every last morsel of chowder with our spoons, then tore the crispy-soggy bowls apart with our hands. There’s really nothing better than that.

lox chowder

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Smoked salmon salad

I love improvising in the kitchen. But lately I’ve been doing less and less of it. Part of it is distraction: there’s a universe’s worth of recipes out there, and most of the time I’m just chasing them around, like a child with a jar in a firefly swarm. Part of it is laziness, the temptation to just follow someone else’s breadcrumbs rather than start a new trail myself. Part of it is a hunger to learn new techniques and tricks, which I can only practice by trying what someone else already knows inside and out.

But there’s also a big pinch of self-doubt, and an awful lot of inertia. I find myself listening more and more to the perfectionism-goblin, who’s diabolically skillful at talking me out of things. My creative well feels low and muddy these days, for both food and writing; he’s always right there to stir the muck at the bottom for me, to let me see for myself that there’s nothing left. Using someone else’s recipes is safe, comforting, an easy way to keep the goblin satisfied. So I’ve found myself doing more meticulous planning, and less aimless riffing.

Which is a shame, because it’s usually the aimless riffing that yields the most exciting results. Like the addictively flavorful salmon salad I made not long ago. I’d bought a brick of smoked salmon for a lunch party, but there was a riot of other food on the table and it went quietly uneaten. Two weeks went by, and I felt guilty for leaving it in the fridge, alone and unloved. I could have just flaked it onto some dark bread with mustard and called it a day–in fact, I was sorely tempted–but something in the back of my mind said, Come on. Try something different. You haven’t played in a while.

So I gathered up all the traditional trappings of a good salmon dish: mustard, dill, capers, lemon, shallot, and cream. I mashed them all together in a bowl with a mound of flaked salmon, then opened a box of crackers and called some friends over for snacks. While I waited for them, I took a taste–then a bigger taste–then said to hell with it and started heaping salad onto crackers for myself. It was perfection in a bowl, tangy and salty and rich and just a little zippy, like a brunch platter you could eat with a spoon. It’s the kind of totally improvised dish I will be making again, and again, and again–perfectionism be damned.

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Day of the Dad

Awright. Time for me to gush about my pops.

You know how, whenever you hear about tall, sturdy guys, the first thing everyone says is, “Oh, he’s just a big teddy bear?” In my dad’s case, that’s 100 percent true. He’s 6’4″, and an utterly gentle soul. He’s a born-and-bred intellectual, a fierce verbal sparring partner, and a profoundly moral thinker. He’s also the first person I ever heard call himself a feminist. He’s a remarkable man, and an amazing father. And given the events of the past month, with our family’s first-ever cancer scare, I’m struggling all the more to express how much he means to me.

So, instead of going completely mushy splat all over your computer screen, I’m going to tell you about the Manly Man Macho Meal I made for him for Father’s Day. Salmon burgers, grilled to perfection.

Yeah, you’re jealous. Don’t lie.

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