An Authentic Thanksgiving Dish: Roasted Salmon

I am currently hard at work planning my Thanksgiving day menu and, as usual, trying to fit as much seafood into the day as possible. Swapping out “traditional” fare for seafood is pretty easy for me, considering my proximity to the ocean and my general ambivalence toward turkey. It’s not that I dislike turkey, I’m just not overly fond of the birds. If turkey was on my plate, I would eat it, but I would be much happier if fish was on my plate.

For the main dish this year I’m thinking of serving a large salmon, stuffed and roasted whole. This idea appeals to me partly because I just love salmon, but also because fish was one of the foods served at the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Fish was a staple food for both the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. The Wampanoag taught the pilgrims to catch fish, grow crops (pretty much saved their asses) and joined them in their first Thanksgiving feast.

File:Edouard Manet 068.jpg

Still life with salmon, a painting by Edouard Manet

I don’t plan on having an entire historically authentic Thanksgiving meal, but I was curious what that might look like. After doing a little research I discovered that the only foods we know for sure were at that first Thanksgiving feast between the Wampanoags and the Pilgrims were deer (five of them to be exact) and fowl (most likely waterfowl like duck, geese, or swans, but possibly wild turkey). It is most likely that seafood (fish, eel, lobster, shellfish, etc..) was served because it was such an important part of everyone’s diet at that time.

Pilgrims (I’ve read) often stuffed whole fish with onions and herbs – a great and timeless combination – but I wanted to take the recipe a little farther.

If you wish to roast a salmon for Thanksgiving this year, seek out the biggest wild fish you can find. An eight pound fish will serve around twelve people. If you can find a fish with the head and tail on – wonderful! Often the head has been removed from the fish before it reaches your grocery store, and that is just fine.

Roasted Whole Salmon

  • A large whole salmon, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 large onion, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • 2 lemons, sliced into 1/4 inch thick rounds
  • Bunches of fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, fennel, or basil
  • 3 TBSP butter
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup white wine

1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a sheet of parchment paper or cheese cloth in the bottom of a large roasting pan or sheet pan and place the fish on top. Cut three shallow diagonal slits in the skin of the salmon on both sides. Season the salmon generously with salt and pepper inside its cavity.

2. Stuff as much of the onion, lemon, and herbs (leave them in sprigs or chop them up) into the cavity of the fish as you can. Measure the thickness of the stuffed salmon with a ruler.

3. In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the lemon juice. Baste the outside of the salmon withe the butter-lemon mixture and place on the middle rack of the oven. For every inch of thickness, bake for 10 minutes (for example, if the fish is three inches thick, bake for around 30 min). Click here to read more about this technique. Baste the fish thoroughly every 10 minutes with the butter-lemon. Test the flesh every 10 minutes as well, and take the fish out of the oven when the flesh flakes apart with a fork. If the tail or head are looking too brown or are getting dried out, cover them lightly with aluminum foil.

4. After pulling the pan out of the oven, pour the white wine into the pan to help loosen the fish from the paper or cheese cloth. Carefully slide the fish onto a platter to serve.

If you would like to cook a side dish at the same time – and save room in your oven – roast your salmon on top of a bed of vegetables. Green beans, squash, or potatoes would all work well if you cut them into smaller pieces so they cook quickly. Just toss your veggies in olive oil, lay them in a single layer in you roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt before laying your fish on top of them. You might need to add a few more minutes to your cooking time.

Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of presenting a whole fish with the head and tail on. It seems very appropriate for a feast, and a good reminder to be thankful for the bounty that our oceans, rivers and lakes provide. May we keep our waters clean and healthy so they continue to feed us for ever and ever!

The Foolproof Fish Trick

“There’s a trick to cooking fish that few people see to know about.  Maybe that is why fish isn’t as popular in this country as it deserves to be – it is usually so badly cooked”.  – James Beard

This tip for cooking fish comes from the “Dean of American Cooking”, James Beard, one of the most influential chefs this country has ever seen.

What I am providing here, courtesy of James Beard, is a simple tip for determining the precise amount of time to cook a fillet of fish in order to prevent overcooking.  Overcooking is, by far, the most common crime against fish because it happens so easily.  And it is such a tragedy when a beautiful fresh piece of fish is converted into a dry hard chunk that fights its way down your throat.

Not that I am completely innocent of this crime.  I have overcooked more fish than I care to admit.  I only really started cooking fish when I began dating a fisherman (now my husband) and it took me years before I realized just how quickly fish cooks.  After one too many fish was forgotten in the oven until it was a barely edible mass, I overcompensated by hovering over the oven, checking the flesh with a fork every couple of minutes to test if it flaked apart yet.  If only I had known about this trick years ago, I would have saved myself from countless dried out fish and hours of my time.

The trick is: measure the thickness of your fish and cook it at 450°F for ten minutes for every inch of thickness.

That’s it!  This rule works for any type of fish, any size, whether it is filleted, whole, stuffed, or breaded.

  • Preheat your oven to 450° F
  • Line a baking sheet with foil or butter a baking dish and lay down your room temperature fish
  • Measure the thickness of the fish at its thickest section
  • Season your fish however you like (salt, pepper, lemon, and butter work for any fish)
  • Pop your fish in the oven and set your timer for 10 minutes for every inch of thickness

Something you might want to consider: if your fish is significantly thicker in one section than another, make a compromise and use a measurement halfway between the thickest and thinnest sections.  For example, if the thickest part of the fish is two inches and the thinnest part is one inch, use the measurement of 1.5 inches and cook it for 15 minutes.  Also, you can cook your fish from a frozen state, just cook it for twenty minutes for every inch of thickness instead of ten minutes.  And if you want to seal your fish in a foil “envelope”, just add 5 minutes to the total cooking time.  

my fillet of sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay

I tested this out myself with a fillet of sockeye salmon that I pulled out of my freezer the other night.  I thawed out the salmon, laid it on a foil lined baking sheet and measured its thickness.

Why does my hand look so wrinkly?

I drizzled it with lemon juice and generously salted and peppered it before placing a few pats of butter on top.  After my ridiculously old oven took forever getting up to 450° I placed my baking sheet on the middle rack and set my timer.  Because my salmon measured just a tad over one inch, I set the timer for 11 minutes.  I backed away from the oven and resisted the urge to open the oven door and poke it with a fork.  I wanted to make sure I was doing an accurate test of this fish formula so I didn’t open the oven door until my timer rang at 11 minutes.  I immediately pulled the salmon out and let it cool on the counter for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Success!  I am happy to report that the salmon was perfectly done – barely cooked all the way through, and still moist and soft.

Testimony to my success. If only you could taste it too.

As you can see from the photo above, the flesh flakes apart but is still semi-transparent and deep pink in color.  When salmon is overcooked the color of the flesh changes to an opaque, light pink.

In case you can’t tell, I’m really excited about my discovery here!  I’m excited that I won’t have to guess and worry over baking fish anymore, and I’m excited to share this tip with my readers.  As a fisherman’s wife, I get asked all the time for advice on cooking fish.  It seems that many people in my part of the country feel uncertain about it and I really do believe that most people would buy fish more often if they felt confident in their ability to prepare it.

Hopefully this post will encourage a few people to pick up a fish from their market and test out the “ten minute per inch tip” themselves (or maybe you already know this trick?).  Any readers that try it, please report back to me on your results!  I would love to hear how different types of fish turn out in different ovens.  Just remember, 10 minutes at 450° for every inch of thickness.  Happy cooking!

Simple Seafood Pasta Formula

Okay, maybe “formula” sounds a little scientific, but this isn’t really a recipe so much as a guide.  I am not going to give any specific measurements or necessary ingredients, but I promise it will be as simple as the title claims!  I really like making pasta dishes that have the protein and vegetable all mixed in – a whole meal in one bowl – and with the weather getting warmer I am craving more simple fresh dishes and less heavy comfort foods.  Also, I have two little kids and a husband that’s always gone, so I don’t often have time to prepare elaborate meals, or have anyone other than myself to appreciate them.  A meal like this can easily be completed in under 30 minutes and everyone is happy.  Simple is the key to my survival as a “single” fisherman’s wife!

The most important part of this meal is the seafood.  The seafood is the foundation for everything else, so if you choose a quality fish, shellfish, or crustacean, the rest of the meal will fall into place.  You can pick any type of seafood for this dish: salmon, smoked salmon, shrimp, scallops, clams, crab, lobster, but these are only suggestions.  To keep my promise of a simple meal, I suggest using a seafood that requires minimal preparation.  You can grill a filet of fish and cut it into pieces, but it will probably be easier to just throw some shrimp or scallops in a pan with some butter or oil, steam some clams until they open, or chop up some smoked salmon.

The beauty of quality seafood is that the less you fuss with it, the better.  It would be a shame to cover up the fresh and subtle complexities of your seafood with a bold sauce or heavy seasonings.  The Italians are the masters of letting quality ingredients shine through simple preparations and it works for me too!

This is a dish I made recently with brown rice pasta, smoked salmon, zucchini, chives, and Parmesan.

Seafood Pasta Formula : Seafood + Pasta + Vegetable + Herb + Cheese = Awesome

1. Seafood: about one pound.  Make sure frozen seafood is thawed out.  If you are using…

  • shrimp, toss them in a pan with butter and a little salt until pink all over.
  • scallops, sprinkle with salt and sear in pan until golden.
  • clams, place in a pan on the stove top, add some liquid like water or wine, put a lid on and steam until they open.  Or go super-simple and open a can:)
  • smoked salmon, just needs to be cut into bite sized pieces.  If you are on a budget or don’t have access to fresh/frozen seafood, you could easily use canned salmon.

2. Pasta: any kind will do!  Cook about one pound in boiling salted water until it is al dente.  Drain it (saving 1/2 a cup of the pasta water) and toss it with olive oil.

3. Vegetable: at least one pound.  Use your favorite vegetable(s), or do what I do and use up whatever I have in my fridge.  Some good options are broccoli, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, swiss chard, onions, snap peas, or asparagus.  Use one type of veggie or use several, it doesn’t matter.  Chop it up into bite size and saute in some butter or olive oil until softened and slightly browned, but not mushy.  Tomatoes can be added raw if you prefer.

4. Fresh Herbs: It is best if the herbs are fresh not dried, but in a pinch, dried will do.  Some good ones are parsley, basil, chives, mint or dill.  It is best to choose just one.  Chop or tear it into small bits.

5. Cheese (optional): sprinkle some grated Parmesan (or other aged cheese), crumbled feta, or goat cheese on top.

Instructions:  Toss together your cooked seafood, pasta, sauteed veggies, and chopped herbs.  Add the reserved pasta water and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Stir gently and if the pasta seems too dry, add a little more olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Eat.

Optional additions: If you feel so inclined, you could also add…

  • crushed red pepper, to taste
  • garlic, saute a couple minced cloves with your vegetables
  • lemon juice, one or two tablespoons adds a fresh kick, and add the zest for even more zing

I know I gave you a lot of options there, so I hope that wasn’t intimidating.  I know some people prefer to follow an exact recipe, but my cooking style is a lot more spontaneous.  Plus, I think it is hard to go wrong with this formula.

Want some more help?  My favorite combinations are:

  • Clams+ Tomatoes+Parsley+Parmesan+Garlic (a splash of white wine really completes this dish)
  • Shrimp or salmon+Asparagus+Goat cheese (chevre)+Dill
  • Shrimp+Peas+Feta cheese+Mint

Want a recipe?  Martha can help.  Here is a great simple seafood pasta recipe…  with a video to illustrate…

Or check out Martha’s archive of seafood recipes and cooking tips.

If you have a favorite easy seafood pasta recipe, please share it!

The Deconstructed Sushi Roll

This recipe has all the elements of a salmon sushi roll, but it is served in a bowl instead of a cylinder.  All the ingredients are chopped and assembled on top of the rice.  Unfortunately I can’t take credit for this invention, it’s called Chirashi, which means “scattered” in Japanese.  Traditionally it is made with sashimi (raw fish), but I make it with cooked salmon, or even canned salmon if I want a quick lunch.

This last time I made chirashi, I used leftover salmon from the night before, which I had glazed with soy sauce and brown sugar.  Here is my recipe for the salmon…

Soy Glazed Salmon

2 lb fillet of salmon, skin on

1/4 cup of soy sauce

1/4 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

2 TBSP olive oil

1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400°.  Place salmon, skin side down, in a shallow baking dish (do yourself a favor and put a layer of foil down first or you will be scraping that pan for a week!) Mix soy sauce, brown sugar, olive oil and pepper in a small bowl, then pour over salmon, making sure to coat all of the fish.  Bake the salmon in the center of the oven for about 15 minutes or until opaque all the way through.

As I said, I cooked this salmon for dinner the night before and used the leftovers for the chirashi the next day.  The whole point of the chirashi is that it is quick and easy, so feel free to use canned sockeye salmon.

Simple Salmon Chirashi Recipe

Photo: Leo Gong; Styling: Robyn Valarik

Get the original recipe from MyRecipes.com

Simple Chirashi

1 lb of cooked salmon skin removed, or canned sockeye drained

1 cup of (dry) white rice, cook it according to directions on package

1 cup sliced cucumber

1 cup cubed avacado

1/2 cup chopped green onions

4 small sheets of seaweed ( I use Trader Joes seaweed snacks, 99¢ a pack) torn into small pieces

2 TBSP sesame seeds

1/4 cup soy sauce (I like reduced sodium soy sauce)

2 TBSP rice vinegar

2 TBSP wasabi powder

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Divide the cooked rice between 4 bowls.  Divide the salmon into 4 servings and place a piece on top of each bowl of rice.  Arrange cucumber, avacado, green onion, seaweed, and sesame seeds on rice with the salmon.  Make the dressing by mixing soy sauce, rice vinegar, wasabi powder and sesame oil and drizzling it over each bowl.

I like to mix everything in my bowl together, but my kids like to keep everything separate and eat each piece individually.  However you eat yours – enjoy!

Indian Style Grilled Salmon

As you can imagine, we eat a fair amount of fish in our household – halibut, blackcod, rockfish, lingcod, tuna, and the occasional odd item that Zed brings home like octopus or wolf eel.  But the one fish that I never get tired of is salmon.  I could eat salmon every day… well maybe not every day, but at least once a week.  I love it!!!  And although it tastes fantastic with just some salt and pepper, I like to get creative and try something different every time I cook it.  I also love Indian food, so when I had friends over for dinner the other night I got out one of my favorite cookbooks, Relax, Honey from one of my favorite chefs, Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala.

Vikram Vij is the owner of Vij’s restaurant in Vancouver, BC (GO THERE if you ever have a chance).  He has a magical way of melding traditional Indian dishes and spices with more local, sustainable Pacific Northwest ingredients like salmon, blackcod (sable fish), and halibut.  I have both of his cookbooks and I have never made a dull meal from either of them. I picked a salmon recipe that looked amazing, and I wasn’t disappointed!  So I thought I’d share the recipe with you here, with a few little tweeks (I’m posting the recipe with the same tweeks I used myself, plus, I don’t want to break any copyright laws).  And when I was looking up more info online I found this video of Vikram cooking this very meal!  So you get an adapted recipe and an instructional video… it doesn’t get much better than that.

Grilled Wild Salmon in Green Onion Broth

For the marinade: In a large bowl whisk together 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup lemon juice, 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, 1 TBSP paprika, and 1 TBSP garam masala (or ground cumin).  Take a salmon fillet (about 2 lbs) and either cut it into serving sizes and stir them into the bowl with the marinade, or do as I did and leave it whole and pour the marinade over the salmon in a pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for around 3 hours.

For the broth:  In a pot with 6 cups of water, add 2 medium sized potatoes (peeled and quartered), and 6 TBSP finely chopped ginger.  Bring to a boil on high, then turn heat down to low, cover and boil until potatoes are soft.  Set it aside, but do not drain the potatoes – you want the liquid.

In a heavy pan, heat 1/2 cup of butter on medium heat until bubbling.   Add 1 TBSP cumin and 1 tsp garam masala, let them cook for about 30 seconds, then add 2 bunches of green onions (white and green parts chopped).  Saute until onions are brown (but not black, careful not to burn them), about 5 min.  Add 1/2 cup chopped tomato (I used canned), 1 TBSP salt, and if you like it spicy add a finely minced jalapeno pepper.  Cook for another 5 min, stirring constantly, then turn off the heat.

Take the potatoes out of the ginger water and mash them in a bowl until they are smooth.  Mix the mashed potatoes into the green onion mixture, then pour the ginger water in and mix.  Add 3 cups coconut milk (about two cans), turn the heat back on medium and stir until it comes to a boil.  Turn heat down to low and stir for about 10 min.

For salmon:  Heat grill to high, place salmon on grill skin-side down and cook until fish flakes apart easily.

Serve the salmon in bowls with about a cup of broth each.  I sprinkled some chopped green onions on top to add some color and a little fresh crunch.

Don’t get intimidated by the number of steps in this recipe, it is actually pretty easy to make, it just takes a little time…  Trust me, it’s well worth it.  And if you like Indian food, I highly recommend you get one or both of Vikram Vij’s cookbooks.

I’m always on the lookout for new seafood recipes, so readers, please share your favorites!

Eat More Seafood Part 3: Quick and Easy Recipes

This is my final post in my series “How to Eat More Seafood.”  My previous posts about working more seafood into your diet can be read here: How to Eat More Seafood: An Introduction, Eat More Seafood Part 1: What to Buy, and Eat More Seafood Part 2: You Can Afford It!

I get lots of questions from people about how to prepare seafood, and I know it can be intimidating if you aren’t used to cooking it (before I married a fisherman, I rarely cooked seafood because I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with it).  So I’m providing some advice for those who don’t feel comfortable cooking seafood.  These are easy tips and recipes from the perspective of a mother (I need recipes to be easy and fast because I have to cook to the sounds of screaming, crying, whining, and an endless stream of questions like “what is that? Can we have pizza?  Why are you doing that?  Can I have this sharp knife?  Can I have candy?  What about this knife?”).  These are recipes that I actually use on a regular basis…

PASTA DISHES: Many types of fish, and pretty much all types of shellfish go great with pasta.  For example…

File:NCI steamed shrimp.jpg

  • Add a can of salmon, a can of clams, shrimp, or crab meat to any type of pasta sauce, red or white (it’s OK to use a jar of sauce, we don’t always have time to make our own!)
  • Make a simple sauce with olive oil, garlic, white wine, diced tomatoes (canned is fine) and parsley.   Throw in some shrimp or a can of clams, pour it over spaghetti or linguine and you’re good to go.
  • Add a can of salmon or tuna to macaroni and cheese.  My kids love this, so I add frozen peas to make it healthier.

BAKED or BBQ-ED: If you have any whole fish or a fillet of fish, there are endless ways to bake or BBQ it, just as long as you don’t overcook it.

  • If you are concerned about your fish drying out, make a foil envelope to enclose the fish in.
  • Put it on the BBQ on a piece of foil, or directly on the grate (skin side down), or in a pan in the oven (375° – 450° F).  Top it with any combination of herbs, onions, garlic and citrus
  • A classic combo is onions, lemon and dill (especially good on salmon).
  • Go Mexican with garlic, cayenne pepper, cilantro and lime.
  • Try Italian, with onions, garlic, sliced tomatoes, and parsley or oregano (feta cheese is greek, but it would go great with these flavors)
  • Spread a layer of pesto on your fillet, pop it in the oven, and when the fish is almost done, sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on then finish cooking it to melt the cheese.
  • Most fish can benefit from a little olive oil or butter and a generous sprinkling of salt.
  • Check your fish regularly as it cooks and try to pry apart the layers with a fork.  If the layers flake apart easily and the meat looks more opaque than translucent, it’s done!

FISH TACOS: This is one of my favorite ways to eat mild white fish.  Just cut the fish up into chunks, salt it, and fry it in some olive oil (garlic is good too).  Put it in a warm corn tortilla with shredded cabbage or lettuce, chopped onions, cilantro and squeeze on some lime juice.  Deliciously simple!

BIVALVES: I LOVE clams and mussels!  I am also lucky that I live close to a shellfish farm that sells them at a really reasonable price, but I understand that not everyone has access to fresh, live bivalves.  But if you are so lucky, this is my favorite way to prepare them…

  • Heat a couple tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup – 1/2 cup white wine in a large frying pan or wide saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add as much chopped garlic as you want, more is better and you can’t really have too much.
  • Add a finely chopped tomato or a can of diced tomatoes.
  • Toss in a hand full of chopped parsley
  • Throw in a pound or two of live clams, put a lid on the pot and cook until all the clams open.  If one doesn’t ever open, throw it out, it was already dead.
  • Serve the clams and juice with a loaf of fresh bread.
File:Steamedclams.jpg

Steamer clams, photo taken by Paul Keleher

Salmon Burgers: You can use cooked salmon if you have it, but I always use canned salmon, because it’s cheap and easy and I always have some in my pantry.

  • Mix one 7.5 oz can of salmon with,
  • One egg,
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs,
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion,
  • Juice and zest from 1/2 lemon,
  • A tablespoon or so of chopped parsley or dill
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Form into 2 patties and fry over medium heat in a little olive oil for about 5 min on each side or until browned.

FIND MORE SEAFOOD RECIPES!: I have these sites bookmarked on my computer, so I can reference them when I’m planning meals.  (in my sidebar I have more links to sites I use for recipes)

So that’s pretty much it… cooking seafood can be a pretty simple affair.  Simple enough to become part of your regular meal plan, with enough cheap options to find a spot on your grocery list, and with enough sustainable choices that you can feel good about supporting. Seafood is so important for your overall health, there really aren’t any good reasons not to eat more of it.

I would love to try and answer any questions you might still have about cooking seafood.  I’m not an expert by any means, but I love cooking, and I love talking about cooking, so shoot me a question.  If I don’t know the answer, there’s a good chance I know a fisherman who does.

Tis the season for soups

It is definitely winter now.  Here in Bellingham it is above freezing most days, but the constant rain makes it feel colder.  And it makes me want soup!  The nice thing about soup is that it is very forgiving.  You don’t need to get the measurements just right, you can leave out anything you don’t like, and add anything you can’t live without.

Here is another easy recipe from www.purealaskasalmon.com using canned salmon.  I like to add frozen corn or peas at the end because my kids like it, but feel free to personalize it however you like…

I just keep telling myself, in another week the days will start getting longer, so hang in there!

Easy Salmon Chowder

Switching to winter fare, this is a wonderful and easy chowder.  You can make extra soup base (not including the milk or seafood) and freeze it for an extra easy meal later on.  Incidentally, buying clam juice in 48 oz institutional sizes is a bargain.

Saute in a large soup pot until onions are soft.

1 TBSP butter

1 medium onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

When onions are soft, add roux (1 TBSP flour mixed with 1 TBSP melted butter)

Add the following and cook until potatoes are tender, keep pot at a steady simmer, but not boiling;

4 cups of clam juice

2 cups of water

3 or 4 cups of potatoes, scrubbed and cubed, with skin on

2 medium carrots, diced

1/3 cup dried potato flakes

2 TBSP finely chopped parsley

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried tarragon

Salt &pepper to taste

Add and warm to serving temperature, but do not heat to boiling!

1 pint of half & half or 1 can of evaporated milk (We use evaporated milk on the boat.)

2 -7.5 oz cans of  Redhead and/or Thinkpink, undrained, as is, in chunks

Serve with crackers and bread and a tossed salad. Yumm.