Even after I had learned how to cook most things, I had no idea how to deal with a piece of salmon. It was embarrassing, but I was sufficiently terrified by the idea of cooking, not just salmon, but any fish, that I almost never tried. I was scared of it being raw, but I hated it overcooked. So I just skipped the whole thing, which is really a shame when you live in the Pacific Northwest.
Enter that saviour of timid chefs everywhere, Mark Bittman! All of his recipes tend to have a comforting, you-can-do-this sort of tone, with simple techniques and ingredients. I discovered a stovetop-to-oven method of cooking salmon fillets in his book The Minimalist Cooks at Home, and it worked so well I wouldn’t cook salmon any other way for years. It repeatedly produced fish that was moist, tender and cooked all the way through. It’s simple: crust the fish with herbs and spices, melt butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, add the fish seasoning-side down and cook one minute. Flip and cook one more minute. Put the pan in the oven and cook about five minutes or until done how you like. Easy.
Over time I’ve mucked around with both the cooking method and the seasoning from the original recipe. I now usually just panfry my salmon in a nonstick skillet at medium heat, and flavor it with cumin and salt. Every once in a while, though, it’s fun to revisit Bittman’s original flavorings of rosemary, orange and fennel.
Rosemary is one of the herbs I’m never likely to run out of – the bush under our deck is over three feet high and four feet wide. I always pick more than I need just to keep the shrub in check a bit. For this recipe I probably used the leaves from two six-inch twigs.
The rosemary gets chopped and mixed with the zest of one orange…
…and about a teaspoon of fennel seed, crushed in a mortar (or spice grinder if that’s easier).
Mix in some coarse salt and pepper, and spread the spices over the salmon fillets. Heat butter or oil in a skillet and carefully lay the pieces spice-side down, hopefully not spilling the topping all over the pan. You want the seasonings to form a nice crust over the fish.
Cooking just on the stovetop, I probably keep the fillets in the pan about six minutes, flipping occasionally. I like my salmon a bit rare inside – if you like yours more done I’d use the oven method, or turn down the heat so the fish doesn’t overcook on the outside.
We ate this with roasted beets and parsnips, and a salad with a strong mustard dressing. The flavors are bold and a bit sweet, and I loved how the orange in the fish went with the beets.