Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Simply Salmon (Baked Salmon, Dill Yogurt Cream)

Simple, classic, foolproof. There are some combinations so basic and endemic across cuisines that writing about them seems almost like cheating. In the pursuit of fresh simplicity, however, I think an old standby is in order. Salmon and dill were made for each other. Salmon is an undeniably oily fish; it's buttery and delicate, the perfect base for dill's bright, clean herbaceous flavor to play against.

Herbaceously amazing
When I was a child and lived in Seattle, one of my family's favorite places to eat out was a restaurant named Ivar's, featuring massive totem poles and what seemed to be a salmon filet and wild rice on every plate. I, true to my youthful petulance, usually ordered a hamburger. I was missing out. Salmon has a bold, distinctive flavor as recognizable as its eponymous, brilliantly orange-pink color. This makes it a poor first overture for the fish-averse, but a great second act for those who've already begun to expand their pescetarian palates.

Dill-iver us from picky eaters
Wild Atlantic salmon are in-season from April through October, but potentially best avoided. Once so abundant they could be caught by hand throughout Europe and America, overfishing, pollution, and anthropogenic global climate change have destroyed much of the fishes' natural habitat. Farmed salmon, while economical, is a worse choice. Farmed salmon are fattier, less flavorful, and far more likely to be riddled with antibiotics and pollutants. The aquaculture farms also typically pump uneaten feed, massive amounts of excrement, antibiotics, and other pollutants straight into the ocean, making it ecologically unfriendly to purchase. Luckily, wild-caught Alaskan salmon is available year-round and so far avoids these pitfalls.

Only one is necessary, but things tend to come in threes
The downside of fish is that freshness is key and you want to serve it immediately. The upside is that it cooks extremely quickly and easily. This is a primarily set-it-and-forget-it, weeknight-ready recipe that still manages to come off as extremely elegant. The dill and salmon enhance and amp each others' flavors, while a generous helping of lemon, garlic, and shallot team up to tame any strong fishiness you might imagine. The finished dish is light, bright, and ready for summer.

Summertime, and the living's easy
Baked salmon, dill yogurt cream

2 (1- to 1 1/2-pound) salmon fillets
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1 small shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh dill, minced
1 lemon, freshly zested and juiced

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Place the salmon fillets on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil and season generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and fold the foil into sealed packets. Allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Taking off the chill
Bake the salmon for 15 to 17 minutes, until almost completely opaque in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to rest, still tightly foiled, for 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Powerful ingredients
While the salmon bakes, combine the yogurt and remaining ingredients in a small bowl, whisking well. Serve in heaping spoonfuls over the fish, garnished with a sprig of dill and wedge of lemon.

 This post is also available in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

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