In a food world rife with fancy technique, chef Quinn Hatfield (of Los Angeles’s revered Hatfield’s restaurant) keeps salmon simple. He bakes it low and slow, which almost mimics the effect of the even-cooking, high-tech sous-vide method.
“Because of salmon’s high fat content, slow-baking it at a low temperature can yield amazing, foolproof results,” he says. “You end up with a buttery product without the added fat of sautéing in oil.” And come summer, the dead-easy dish can even end up more impressive because wild salmon’s in season. “The wild product is amazing,” Hatfield says. “Just buy it when it’s fresh and has been well-handled by a butcher. Ask for a center cut, or just keep the pieces as even as possible.”
As always with fish, the challenge is not to overcook it, especially in an oven. “You can eat salmon pretty rare, if it’s a good quality fish,” Hatfield says. But how do you know if it’s too rare? The best tip: Stick a cake tester into the fish. “Look for the long, super skinny wire kind, and insert it into the fish against the grain,” says Hatfield. “In terms of resistance, for this dish, you should feel hardly any pressure.” He also suggests sticking a cake tester into the fish, and then placing the tester on the inside of your arm or wrist. “If it’s cold, your fish is not done yet,” he says.
Hatfield cooks and serves his perfect salmon with a fresh salsa verde (recipe below), but he’s open-minded about what sides and wines complement the dish. “Salmon’s versatile,” he says. “Since we’re in the height of summer, corn and cherry tomatoes are a phenomenal companion. In terms of drinks, he recommends trying champagne like J Lassalle “Cachet d’Or”, or a chardonnay that isn’t overly influenced by oak, like Francois Cazin 2009 Cour-Cheverny (100% romorantin).
• 4 salmon filets, 4 oz. each, skin removed
• 1/2 cup minced shallot
• 1/2 cup minced garlic
• 1 cup canola oil
• 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp paprika
• 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
• 1 tbsp finely chopped mint
• 1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
• 1 anchovy filet, finely chopped
• 1 tbsp capers, finely chopped
• 1 lemon (Meyer lemon, if available)
For the salsa verde:
Place the shallot, garlic, and ¾ cup canola oil in a small sauce pot, and sweat it over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until they have lost their sharpness and are tender (about 10-15 minutes).
Remove the saucepot from the heat and add the paprika, stirring to incorporate. Allow the paprika to bloom as the oil cools to room temperature (about 10–15 minutes).
Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the remaining canola oil and olive oil. Using a rasp, zest the Meyer lemon into the bowl and add the chopped herbs, anchovy, capers, and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix thoroughly and taste; depending on the saltiness of the anchovy and capers, more salt may be desired. Adjust to taste.
Transfer the salsa verde to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator if not using immediately. It will keep for up to a week. Allow it to come to room temperature before using.
For the Salmon:
Preheat the oven to 225 F. Check to make sure the salmon filets are free of any pin bones and season lightly with salt. Place the filets in an ovenproof baking dish large enough so that they are not touching.
Generously spoon the salsa verde over the salmon, being sure to stir up the solids that have settled to the bottom. Bake the salmon until it is just cooked through (about 10–15 minutes depending on thickness).
Place the filets on four plates. In the baking dish, mix the remaining cooking liquid and salsa verde solids and spoon over the salmon. Be careful about the amount oil you spoon on each portion; focus on getting the solids and there will be enough oil to delicately dress the fish.
Squeeze a few drops of the lemon juice on each filet, if desired, and serve immediately.
Note: The recipe for the salsa verde will yield more than the recipe requires. The rest goes great with a sliced, toasted baguette. Just be sure to allow the salsa verde to come to room temperature if it has been refrigerated.