This dish may not be a looker, but boy is she a … taster? Yeah, that went off the rails quickly, didn’t it? Let me rephrase: some food doesn’t do itself any justice in the looks department, which makes for a pleasant surprise when you put the first flaky, moist, crispy-on-the-outside piece in your mouth. Exhibit A: this breakfast (not the crispy flaky part). Exhibit B: salmon fillets.
I definitely used to be one of those people who ordered salmon at every restaurant that offered it on the menu. I never used to like eating much meat or fish, but salmon, with its satisfyingly crispy crust and succulent interior, always tasted like a completely different category of food than dry chicken or worse, any kind of beef (I know. Sorry.).
After a lot of trial and error, I discovered (as, admittedly, probably every trained chef will tell you with a furrowed brow that says “duh, minion. why don’t you leave the cooking to the pros?”) that the secret, besides a good pan and a decent amount of cooking fat, is: nothing. That’s right. You do nothing. Don’t move it, don’t touch it, don’t check it, don’t wiggle the pan, don’t stand over the fillet poking it, don’t you dare gently pry the center open to check its doneness. Just. Don’t. Move.
So, to recap:
- Don’t waste money on restaurant-markup salmon.
- Make it at home.
- Just buy good quality salmon.
- Put it in a pan.
- And let it cook.
That’s really all there is to it. I promised you an easy weeknight meal – and I meant it!
- 2 salmon fillets .45-.5 lb each before cooking
- Salt and pepper
- 2-3 Tablespoons olive or other good quality oil
- Fresh herbs optional, for serving
Pat the salmon fillets dry and sprinkle both sides with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat a heavy pan, such as cast iron, over high heat. You will know it's ready when a few drops of water quickly start to bubble rapidly, as if they are boiling on the surface of the pan.
Wait until any water has disappeared, then add the oil to the pan. Use enough to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of oil.
When the oil has heated up (it should be shimmering slightly), place the salmon fillets in the pan with at least an inch of space surrounding each.
Cook until you can see a crust forming on the bottom. Don't pick them up. You should be able to see it by looking at the side of the fillet in the pan. By the way, don't stick your face in the pan to try to view the crust - the oil might spatter and burn you. If you can't see the crust yet, it's not full formed. Mine took 3.5 minutes, but yours could take anywhere from 2-5 minutes, depending on the flame, your pan and the size and shape of your fillets.
Once the crust has formed, cover the pan with a top or piece of foil, leaving it cocked so that there is a sliver of room for steam to escape. Cook for 2-4 more minutes until the tops of the fillets look almost opaque, but the center area is still pink.
Serve immediately if you like a medium filled, but let the fillets sit for a couple of minutes in the pan with the flame off, or on a plate (the residual heat will continue to cook them), if you like your salmon closer to well done.
Garnish with fresh herbs before serving.
Yield: 2 servings