Salmon is one of the world’s great fish families. They are unlike most sea-going fish in that they return to the fresh water on inland rivers where they were born. Because they spend most of their lives in the open ocean, eating smaller fish, they develop rich and oily flesh. And because of that, they are great fish to learn how to cook seafood. The longer cooking times and meaty texture mean they are simple to cook and can take some abuse.
Many novice cooks are afraid of fish. They think it’s easy to ruin. And then there is the smell. But how you cook fish can make a big difference. Some people think frying is the best and the easiest. It’s also the best way to take a delicate fish and turn it into a rubbery mess.
Baking allows you to use less fat and you can still add a lot of flavor. And salmon is a very easy fish to cook. There are many ways to bake a salmon fillet. One of our favorites is to marinate the fish, then bake it in an old-fashioned “hobo packet.” This is for two 6-0unce servings. You’ll want to start this process about two hours before dinner is served.
The marinade starts with six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a medium mixing bowl. Mince two or three cloves of garlic and add to the oil. Chop up about a tablespoon worth of fresh parsley from your herb garden. Everyone should have an herb garden, even if it is just a few small pots on a window sill. But you can use dried parsley if that’s all you have. Add that to the oil along with a teaspoon each of dried basil, salt, and pepper, and a tablespoon of lemon juice. Whisk the mixture until well combined.
In a baking dish, like the one you plan to use for cooking your fish, lay out your salmon fillets. Remember to check for little pin bones. Just give the salmon meat a little message. They are most likely to be toward the thicker part. There are a couple of ways to approach this. The pliers work really well, as long as it’s not the same one you fixed that leaky pipe with last week. Professional kitchens often have a set of tools for cooking that include a surprising number of items from the hardware store.
If your fillet is a good one, the skin should still be on. Resist the urge to take it off. That skin, as long as it’s well scaled, is good flavor and is highly prized in some cuisines.
Pour the marinade over the fish, cover the dish with plastic, and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour. At least once during that hour, turn the fillets over so all of them get coated.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
When finished marinading, remove the fillets to a large piece of aluminum foil. Pour the marinade from the baking dish into a bowl. Rinse out the baking dish. Pour the marinade over the salmon and seal the foil into a pouch. This will allow the fish to steam in the oven, retaining a lot of the flavor.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the fillets. You know they are done when the flesh flakes easily with a fork.
If we were camping, we could add vegetables to our foil packet and open up a wonderfully good-smelling dinner. At home, we just saute some new potatoes and some frozen peas and carrots. It still smells wonderful.