This pesto isn’t kidding around, it’s serious stuff – bright, zingy, spicy, and savory with body provided by deeply toasted almonds. I served it on top of a piece of slow roasted salmon (with some whole wheat cous cous and greens). The whole meal really hit the spot for me this time of year – a cold weather plate of food with enough substance to satisfy me, and enough flavor to kick me out of my mid-winter funk on the first bite.
The slow roasted salmon inspiration comes from Michael Shlow, chef at the infamous Boston restaurant Radius, who recommends cooking salmon (and other similarly rich fishes like arctic chard) slow and low. He explains the method in his book It’s About Time, and I admit the first time I read the recipe – which calls for baking at 250 degrees – I did a double take. The only time my oven runs in the 200 range is to warm plates, so it’s hard to imagine something actually cooking at that temperature. I still freak out a little when I make fish this way, and my anxiety has been known to make me do foolish things like up the oven temperature to 275 or even 300 if I’m feeling particularly impatient. But I always regret it. Schlow recommends 250 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes for medium rare, and 21 to 24 minutes for a perfect medium. I opt for the later cooking time, which yeilds perfectly cooked and meltingly tender salmon.
The pesto here is my own creation – I love playing around with different herbs and greens in pestos – there’s an infinite array of delicious possibilities. Here I grabbed a full bunch of cilantro (corriander) and paired it with some deeply toasted almonds, lots of lemon, capers, chili flakes for heat, and olive oil to tie things together. I know a lot of folks have cilantro aversions, but I really love its flavor – I think it’s an herb worth giving a second chance as it’s so essential in South American, South East Asian, and Indian cuisine. All that said, if it’s really not your thing, substitute with arugula, spinach, parsley, or watercress.
For the Salmon
- Salmon filets – about 1/4 to 1/3 lb per person
- Drizzle of olive oil
- Small pats of butter – one per filet
- Thin lemon slices – one per filet
- Salt and pepper.
For the Pesto (serves 4 to 6)
- ½ cup sliced almonds
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1 tbsp capers, drained
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp red chili flakes
- The juice of one lemon or to taste
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the almonds on a small baking tray and toast until lightly browned and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees.
Carefully remove any pin bones from the salmon using a small pair of pliers or tweezers. Place the filets skin side down on a large piece of parchment paper a drizzle each with a little olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and top with the lemon and butter. Fold the parchment paper around the filets so they are completely enclosed. Bake 21 to 24 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon. Salmon roasted at a low temperature always looks less cooked than it actually is – touch the fish to test for doneness – it should be firm, but still give slightly. Don’t overcook!
While the salmon is roasting, make the pesto. Wash and dry the cilantro and pick off the leaves. Combine the cilantro leaves, the toasted almonds, the garlic, the capers, the coriander, the chili flakes, the lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until well combined then add the olive oil and continue pulsing until you achieve a pesto-like consistency.
Remove the salmon from the oven, top with a generous spoonful of pesto, and serve immediately.