Easy: Lemon-Dill Roasted Salmon

Easy: Lemon-Dill Roasted Salmon

Here is the main course I prepared for family this Christmas. Salmon, at least smoked salmon, is a traditional Christmas dish in the British Isles, Scandinavia and north-central Europe. Roasted salmon also appears, especially in Scandinavia as part of the main course at Christmas dinner. I fix salmon because I like it and, more important, because my family likes it.

A double recipe, served for our family Christmas, 2018
I learned this way of roasting salmon from a Greek Cypriot friend whose mother prepared her fish (though not salmon in those days) this way. Pani, as he was called, was one of the founders of Decatur’s CafĂ© Istanbul, along with another friend of mine, a Turkish guy named Kazim. They were at the time both married to women I worked with. The idea of a Greek and a Turk starting a joint venture seemed, well, unlikely. They did part company after a while, but it was over very different views on how to run a restaurant rather than politics or religion. But the establishment they founded has gone on to considerable popularity, though under subsequent – and primarily Turkish – ownership.  

Salmon is not traditional in the Mediterranean, but has become popular now even there as local fish has become more expensive and difficult to find. Lemon and dill are both used extensively in the Eastern Mediterranean, including with fish as a natural partner. But lemon and dill are also used with fish in Scandinavia, where salmon is common.

A crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a not-too-heavy Chardonnay go well with this. Viognier is a wine grape I’m more recently familiar with and love with salmon as well as roasted turkey or pork. Oh yes, and a lemon rice pilaf will be in the spirit of the eastern Mediterranean. (See my pilaf recipe in the 8/24/2019 blog posting, and eliminate the peppers, onions, and fruits, and simply add to the rice-cooking water 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, and a bay leaf, broken in half.) 

The salmon recipe serves six generously.

2 pounds salmon filet in one piece, as fresh as possible, and preferably without skin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper,
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill (a weak substitute is 1-1/2 tablespoons dry dill weed)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 lemons
Extra lemon and sprigs of dill for garnish

Preheat oven to 500 degrees (very hot), and temporarily turn off the smoke alarm! 

Rinse the salmon and dry it with a paper towel. Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides and dust both sides with dill. Cut the lemons in half crosswise. Slice a very thin slice off each of the halves and reserve them.

On a large shallow-edged glass or metal pan, such as a cookie sheet with sides, spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over an area of the size of the fish, then squeeze two of the lemon halves over this area. Place the seasoned fish on the prepared pan. Drench the surface of the fish with the juice squeezed from the remaining lemon halves. Lay the slices of lemon up the middle of the fish, placed so that when the fish is cut into six pieces, each will have a lemon slice. Drizzle the whole surface with the remaining olive oil and lightly dust a few bits of dill on top of the lemon slices. Let the fish season for 10 to 20 minutes.

When oven is very hot, place the pan on the shelf highest in the oven. Roast the salmon for 11-12 minutes or just until the surface and edges of the fish are beginning to turn crispy and when a knife inserted into the thickest part of the fish and twisted slightly shows a pale opaque pink color. Do not overcook.

Serve hot, accompanied by lemon wedges and sprigs of dill. Alternately, this dish can be cooked ahead and served cold as a buffet dish.

The fish can be cut into six serving-sized pieces before seasoning and roasting rather than treated as an entire piece.

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