Tag Archives: dill

Fish 101 – Oven Baked Salmon with Lemon and White Wine

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

Once upon a time I loved salmon; then 5 or 6 years ago my family passed around a particularly bad stomach virus. The night it nailed me, what do you think I had for dinner? Why salmon of course. After that night I swear I could hardly even look at cooked salmon without feeling a little lightheaded, let alone eat the stuff! As the years went by though I slowly regained my taste for cooked salmon; a little at first, sampling small bites here and there, then by preparing my childhood favorite, salmon cakes. Before long I was actually cooking and enjoying salmon again.

My wife came down with that nasty virus that same night and she too refused to touch cooked salmon for even longer than I did! In time, she came around and once again she too enjoys cooked salmon (especially that crispy skin). So what is the point of my story? Well I believe that salmon, more than any other fish, is an acquired taste. Like coffee, caviar, and even beer; salmon is one of those foods that, for many people, seems to be an acquired taste. My wife and I learning to love salmon all over again is a perfect example.

Think about how many people you know that love fish yet claim to hate salmon. Curiously, I also know those that would tell you that salmon is the only fish they will eat! Why? Because for whatever reason salmon is a fish they developed a taste for or for those that hate it; maybe they never ate enough salmon to learn to like it. Which brings me to my final point, that salmon is one of the healthiest and sustainable foods in the ocean…it is well worth giving it another chance!

If until now you’ve avoided salmon I encourage you to give it try. If you’re ready…here are a few ideas on how best to enjoy this wonderful fish.

What to choose…

When it comes to fish, I have been known to preach about freshness and with salmon, freshness is paramount! Why? Simply put, the fresher the salmon is, the sweeter and milder the flavor will be. If you’ve had unpleasant, strong tasting salmon it may be that it wasn’t the freshest. When buying fresh salmon look first for whole fish with bright (not cloudy) eyes, and skin that is so moist that it has a sparkle to it (never dry looking!).

The gills should be bright red or healthy pink (not dull or off-color) and if you poke the fish in the shoulder (I’m snickering at the mental image of poking a salmon in the shoulder but it works!) the flesh should spring back firmly rather than leaving a divot. Finally, there should be no “fishy” smell. A fresh fish should have little smell, perhaps only the pleasant scent of the mist from a breaking wave or an ocean breeze, if any smell at all.

Once you’ve found your perfectly bright, moist, firm, and nice smelling whole salmon, most fishmongers will be happy to fillet it for you. But, you’re not always going to be able to find whole salmon…the next best thing to whole salmon is fresh, skin-on, salmon fillets. Again, look for firm, moist (the skin helps retain some of that moisture) fillets with little or no smell at all. I often buy fresh salmon fillets at Costco and I have no qualms at all about opening one little corner of a sealed package to sniff the fish for freshness. If it smells fishy…don’t buy it!

What about frozen?

Salmon actually freezes quite well and I often buy frozen salmon when fresh fish is not available. Look for a package that states the salmon is ICQ or “Individually Quick Frozen”. (These fillets are usually flash frozen while still very fresh, sometimes even still on the boat.) It’s ok if the fish portions are individually wrapped…I actually prefer it since I’m usually cooking for only two.

Frozen salmon to avoid would be whole fillets that are packed loosely, fillet portions that are not individually wrapped and are all stuck together in one big frozen lump, or any fillets that have frost directly touching the flesh. If the only salmon fillets you can find fit any of the descriptions in this paragraph; now might be a good time to go with the canned salmon!

To thaw frozen fillets, move them from the freezer to the fridge the night before you plan to cook them. In a pinch, if you forget to thaw your fish ahead of time, you can also thaw them quickly by placing them in a cold heavy bottomed steel pan. Cast iron works very well for this but a good heavy stainless pan will work too. The metal of the pan draws the cold out of the frozen fish and will thaw frozen salmon portions completely in about ½ hour or less. (This is also a good trick for quick thawing frozen boneless chicken breast.)

OK, I’ve got my fish…now what?

Now that you have found your salmon, treat it with respect and do not overcook it! For the best flavor, cooking the fish properly is nearly as important as freshness. When overcooked, salmon dries out very quickly which ruins both the texture and the taste. It’s actually amazing to me how often restaurants serve dried out, overcooked salmon. It’s so rampant in fact that I would bet many of the people that do not like salmon have simply never had a piece that was perfectly cooked.

Salmon should be cooked just through to the center leaving just a trace of pink in the very middle. There is really no trick to it, just keep a close eye on the fish while it’s cooking and when you think the fish is almost ready, use a fork to test for doneness. When the fish is done the flesh will flake easily but still hold together towards the center. It’s important to note: If you wait to remove it from the heat, until the fish flakes all the way to the center, then it will likely end up overcooked. This is because residual heat will continue to cook the fish for a little while, even after you take it off the heat.

Again, baked salmon, like most fish, is done perfectly when you can flake it easily with a fork, but the flesh still holds together towards the center. Below is a rough guideline for baking your salmon. Remember, this is strictly a guideline so start checking your fish early…if you let it go too long it will overcook.

If baking at 400 degrees salmon fillets 3/4” to 1” thick should be done in 8 to 10 minutes, 1” to 1-1/2” thick, 10 to 12 minutes, and 1-1/2 to 2” thick, 12 to 15 minutes.

What else?

Quite often salmon fillets will have small pin bones running along part of the center line. These should be removed prior to cooking. To easily remove pin bones, drape the fillet skin side down, over an inverted bowl. This will arch the fillet so that the pin bones stand out making them easy to find and remove using just your fingers or a pair of kitchen tweezers. Needle nose pliers will even work in a pinch.

Are you ready?

This is a super easy recipe, so easy actually, that for just the two of us, I baked it in our toaster oven!

I sprinkled my fish with a little dried dill but you can use any herb you like. Fresh rosemary or parsley would also be good with salmon and even a little lemon zest would be nice…don’t be afraid to use your imagination. On the plate pictured, I served the baked salmon over a bed of fresh spinach sautéed with just a little olive oil and lemon juice. Along side is a white bean puree topped with a few green onion curls, lemon wedges, and a little creamy dill sauce. Dinner was on the table in about ½ hour and was elegant enough to serve to company.

Salmon is a versatile, healthy, and delicious fish that can be very easy to prepare. If it’s been a while since you’ve tried it…I hope you will give it another try! 

Oven Baked Salmon with Lemon and White Wine

2 to 4 – Salmon fillets, 3/4″ to 1 inch thick, in 4 – 6 oz portions
Olive oil
Lemon juice
White wine
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Dried dill (or your herb of choice)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Rinse and thoroughly dry your salmon portions by patting them with a paper towel. Cover a ½ or ¼ size baking sheet with aluminum foil and place your fish on the sheet with plenty of space in between. Drizzle the salmon evenly with roughly ½ tablespoon of the olive oil, turning it over a time or two just to coat. With the salmon skin side down, drizzle with roughly ½ tablespoon each of the lemon juice, then the wine.

Sprinkle the fish with a pinch of kosher salt and approx. ¼ tsp each of fresh ground black pepper, and dried dill. Place the fish in the pre-heated oven and bake 8 to 10 minutes, checking for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven when the flesh flakes easily with a fork but still holds together slightly towards the center.

Serve immediately.



“Absolut” Fish: Pan-Seared Fish with Vodka Lime Butter Sauce, Capers and Fresh Dill

Photo by KathyHuntPhoto.com

This has long been one of my favorite fish recipes. I love the taste of the lime and the capers and the vodka is always an interesting ingredient; together these flavors compliment the fish perfectly. The fresh dill brings a nice finishing touch by adding a fresh bite as well as an attractive visual component. Once you’ve had a little practice it only takes 10 minutes or so to prepare and it’s an impressive and tasty enough dish for company.

Pan-Searing 101

There is really nothing complicated about pan-searing. You may have noticed already, I use the technique a lot. It really is a very convenient way to cook fillets, steaks, or chops when you don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. What makes pan-searing even more appealing to me is the browning really gives whatever you are cooking a real boost of flavor. Called the Maillard Reaction, this crust of caramelized goodness is the secret behind many delicious restaurant dishes.

With just a couple of key things in mind most anyone can use the pan-searing method, in most any kitchen…

Moisture prevents browning – You will often hear me preach about getting the surface of your fish (or any other protein) dry before searing it. When pan-searing it’s especially important to remember that moisture will inhibit browning. Oil on the other hand promotes browning.

How hot is hot? – Ok, as well as I can describe it; when you heat a pan and add olive oil, then leave the oil to get hot, there is a point just before the oil begins to smoke. At this point the molecules in the oil have loosened or thinned about as much as they are going to and the surface of the oil takes on a shimmering look. That is the right heat for pan-searing.

Wow! That’s really hot! – Always remember: you can move that pan off the fire. Any time you feel your pan might be getting too hot the first step is to simply move it off the burner. Never panic! Be careful and be confident.

Notes: Firm white fish is ready when the fish flakes easily with a fork and the flesh in the center is almost solid white showing very little if any transparency. Remember, fish will continue cooking for a minute or two after you remove it from the heat so be careful not to overcook it. Depending on the thickness of your fillets it should take no longer than 5 to 7 minutes in the oven to finish cooking through.

Side notes: Yes, this recipe contains butter…possibly as much a 1 tablespoon (or pat) per serving which if you think about it really isn’t that much. Once in a blue moon I do allow myself the pleasure and I hope you will too!

Pan-Seared Fish with Vodka Lime Butter Sauce, Capers and Fresh Dill

2 to 4 – (6 Ounce) Firm white fish fillets at least 1” thick. (Such as Mahi-Mahi, Grouper, or Halibut)
¼ Cup – Premium vodka, unflavored
1 Ounce – Fresh squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp – capers
2 Sprigs – Fresh dill
4 Tbsp – Butter, well chilled, cut into 16 equal cubes
Olive Oil
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400 and use a paper towel to dab the fish to dry it very well. Season both sides with salt & pepper then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Swirl the pan to evenly coat the cooking surface and carefully place the fish, skin side up / flesh side down, in the pan. Cook 3 minutes (without moving) then gently turn over and cook 3 minutes more. Carefully remove the fish to an oven-proof dish and place it in the oven to finish cooking through.

While the pan is still hot, pour out any excess oil and with the pan still off the heat add the lime juice. Swirl the sizzling juice for about 30 seconds then add the vodka and return the pan to the heat. Simmer, swirling the pan from time to time until the liquid begins to thicken, about 3 minutes. Add 4 of the butter cubes and swirl the pan as they melt.

Reduce the heat to medium and when the first 4 cubes of butter have melted swirl or whisk in 4 more while alternately moving the pan on and off the heat. (Note: The pan should stay hot enough to keep the butter melting but not so hot that the butter burns or separates from the sauce.) When the butter has melted, add the capers along with 4 more butter cubes. Continue gently whisking as the butter melts, finish the sauce by melting the last 4 cubes of butter and set the pan off the heat while you plate the fish.

The fish should be done about the same time as the sauce. Check to make sure the fillets have cooked through, leaving it a little longer if necessary. Carefully (it’s hot!) remove the fish from the oven and place each fillet on a plate. Spoon some of the sauce and the capers over each fillet then use a pair of kitchen shears or scissors to snip a sprinkling of fresh dill over each serving. Serve with a little sprig of dill and a slice of lime on the side.