This is the simplest salmon recipe you will ever read. Your dog could make this recipe. You put a skillet of boiling water on the lowest rack of a preheated oven. A baking dish with oiled and seasoned salmon goes on the rack above it. Everything remains in place for 45 minutes. The most succulent salmon you will taste in your life emerges. Bonus: no smell, no mess, practically zero cleanup. Perfect quarantine recipe. Water bath baking has become my new favorite way of cooking salmon.
And the freaky part is the fish cooks at only 200 degrees.
Jody will fill you in on how we came by this technique in her notes below.
Like all relationships bred in the kitchen Jody and I encounter our bumps in the culinary road from time to time, and I concede that I am usually wrong. Despite my love for sushi and barbecue, to cite one example, certain barely cooked slash raw food – or food cooked at low temperature – has always set my gastro-antennae aquiver, putting me in mind of that scene in Anne Tyler’s novel DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT in which family members gather around the Thanksgiving table, terrified that their sister’s turkey, which has been cooking for three days at 200 degrees, is a salmonella bomb.
Our most recent contretemps, more a temporary seizure of skepticism than anything else, was occasioned by this week’s recipe. Would the salmon cook enough, I wondered aloud on reading the recipe, it’s only in the oven for 45 minutes, at 200 degrees?
“You don’t have to eat it,” Jody said, with that funny-not-funny quality of humor honed in quarantine.
I did eat it, without prompting – and it was a revelation. Jody was correct, it was delicious. This is not a baked equivalent of seafood that’s seared on the outside and very rare in the center – the texture is dramatically different – cooked, uniformly delicate top to bottom (no crusty outside vs. raw center contrast), and juicy. OMG juicy. In short, succulent. I’m looking forward to trying the same technique with tuna and snapper.
A last word of advice: should a panini of thinly-sliced potato, pancetta and Cantal pass your way don’t think, just jump on it. Enjoy.
Note: Jody and her partners have converted one of their restaurants, Porto, into a soup kitchen to provide employment and meals to displaced restaurant workers and their families, and to help feed frontline medical workers. To read about it (and make a donation, if you can) go to TRADE PORTO SALONIKI GIVES. The fund has raised over $71,000 to their goal of $125,000.
Super Slow Salmon with Tomato-Cucumber Salad and Miso Vinaigrette
- 1½ pounds thick center cut salmon fillets, preferably wild
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
- 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons white miso
- 4-5 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon reserved
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 3-4 radishes, sliced paper thin
- ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (I used mint, parsley and cilantro.)
- Season the salmon with smoked paprika and salt. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
- While the salmon is marinating, make the vinaigrette. Put the shallots, garlic, miso, rice vinegar and the olive oil (except the reserved tablespoon) in a blender and buzz to a puree. Taste and season with salt and pepper. It may not emulsify completely. It’s ok.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
- Fill a large skillet with deep sides half way with water. Bring to a boil. When the oven reaches 200 degrees carefully transfer the skillet with the water to the lowest oven shelf.
- Brush a small baking pan, or shallow casserole, with a tablespoon of the olive oil. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and set in the oiled baking pan, skin side down. Brush with a tablespoon or so of the miso mixture and put on the upper oven shelf. Cook 45 minutes. Note that the color of the salmon will not turn dull and the texture will be very juicy. You will know if it is done if the fish is firm to the touch. The internal temperature should be 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To make the salad, put the tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, scallions and herbs into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss well. Add the miso vinaigrette and toss again.
- Transfer the fish to a platter, spoon the salad around the fish. Drizzle with more vinaigrette and garnish with herb sprigs if you have them.
- Serve the fish with whole-grain crackers or bread.
Many people are reluctant to cook fish at home. The two reasons I hear most are that they aren’t confidant about their fish cooking skills and they worry they’ re going to screw it up; or they can’t the smell that lingers after searing or frying fish.
This recipe solves both those problems. It’s fool proof, and the fish isn’t seared or fried so there’s almost no smell at all.
Our friend Nadia, an amazingly talented chef who stayed with us for a time this winter, made us a fish dish one night cooked in a low oven. She called it a fish confit and that was the germ of this recipe.
Later, in a 1986 New York Times article about Paula Wolfert, I came across a a technique she learned from the French Chef Michel Bras, roasting at a low temperature with a pan of hot water in the oven. Bingo! Now I knew what I was going to do with the salmon.
It’s funny how things come around. In 1986 I was a sous chef at Hamersley’s Bistro, just starting to consider myself a cooking professional. Reading this article today took me right back to that simpler time, before social media, when chefs were cooks and not internet celebrities, when someone’s reputation came out of diners’ experience at their restaurants. Now here I am, using a technique from that era. And yet, strangely, it is perfectly suited to the moment when we’re trapped in our homes, unable to eat in restaurants. Nothing may be new under the sun, we’re just reinventing and paying the techniques and flavors forward.