The Simplest Salmon in the World – Really

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.

Ken

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

INGREDIENTS

  • 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.)

INSTRUCTIONS: 

  1. Season the salmon with smoked paprika and salt. Refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. 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.  
  3. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.  
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Serve the fish with whole-grain crackers or bread.

Jody Notes

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.

28 thoughts

  1. Thank you, this looks delicious. Could you cook the salmon this way without the miso vinaigrette (which I don’t have on hand)? Maybe just coated with olive oil and salt? thanks

    • Thanks. It really makes a lovely piece of seafood. Absolutely yes about the olive oil. We’ve been on kind of miso kick lately, but sure, evoo + S&P can work too. (The smoked paprika’s nice, if you’ve got it.)

      Ken

  2. This is exactly what I needed. Looks very delicious with all my favorite ingredients and flavors. Keep ’em coming! xox

  3. In the image of placing the fish in the oven, it looks like a pizza stone at the lowest level of the oven and no pan of boiling water. Is this another way of baking at 200 degrees? So interested to know more and to try the water version.

    • Haha! Good eye! You caught me. There is a pizza stone, and on the floor of the oven is a baking steel. We reversed the order of the oven entries: first the fish, then the skillet so that I could put a flash in the oven, trigger it remotely and take the photo of Jody. Putting a flash in a hot oven seem risky, but putting it in a heated oven with a pan of boiling water seemed a bridge too far. :) Ken

  4. Great recipe. I must try that. We have salmon most weeks and I am in need of a new approach. Our latest gig is to cook it in the steam oven siting on top of a pile of spinach. It takes seven minutes and the salmon is always perfect.

    • Steam oven??!! I hate you. In a future life I’ll own an oven with a steam option for my breadbaking. Anyway, I have a feeling the texture of our is somewhere between your steamed version and what you would get with a sous vide. I you make it, let me know. Ken

  5. Jody and Ken— I may never cook salmon any other way— thank you! Hope you are staying well. Vicki Sato

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Hi, Vicki – We feet the same way, although we’ve got another easy fish recipe coming up that is only slightly more complicated. We’re so safe we might as well be living in a bank vault. You stay safe too. Ken

  6. We have a steam oven…..and have a steam bake setting and a convection steam setting. Would either of those settings work at 200 degrees?

    • For some reason, WP keeps refusing to publish my reply to you. I’ll try again. I can’t tell you what your oven will do. I’m afraid we have a conventional oven (POTENTIAL SPONSORS! I’m a sourdough fanatic – send us a steam and convection oven!). But I will speculate. Regarding the convection setting, the primary reason to use it is to speed up cooking and surface browning, which is why so many bakers like it – you really don’t want either of those things to happen here. As for the steam function, I’d check your users manual to see if there’s a humidity setting – and how low the temperature can go while still enabling it to function. Water boils at 212 degrees, so it seems to me that if you’re injecting hot steam into the oven then you’re potentially raising the temperature (unlike the pan of boiling water in the recipe, which is no longer boiling by the time you get it in the oven; nevertheless, it will continue releasing warm water vapor, increasing the humidity without raising the temperature). If you do try it with the steam function, I be really interested in hearing how it went. Thanks. Ken

  7. Made this last night – it was AMAZING! And yes, very easy. I do tend to stress about over- or under-cooking fish (I have re-murdered more tuna steaks than I care to admit), this was just…perfect.

    • Thank you, Beth. I’m curious – did you use this for tuna? Or salmon? Our daughter tried it with tuna and thought it came out a shade dry (perhaps not enough fat?). Thanks. Ken

      • Salmon – sorry for the confusion, I was lamenting my challenges cooking fish, generally and I’ve had some particularly sad results with tuna. I’ve had better luck with salmon, but nothing that’s come out this good.

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