Oven-Poached Salmon with Lemon and Capers and "Ancient Lentils"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is a very flavorful and healthy quick weeknight meal that's easy to prepare and just packed with flavor and good-for-you stuff. Salmon is drizzled with olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, then topped with slices of fresh lemon and briny capers and baked in an aluminum foil bag. The steam in the bag gently cooks the salmon, creating a very moist piece of fish and all the juices are concentrated in the bag, creating an instant sauce. Fresh thyme rounds out the flavor profile. It's bright, it's healthy, it's light and delicious and can be paired with any side dish.

This time however I was really feeling lentils. Salmon and lentils are a classic pairing -- usually lentils are cooked with carrots, celery, and onion in the classical French way and salmon is quickly pan-seared for a crispy texture. I love it and make that dish as well, but this time I needed something a little lower maintenance. So I used a old recipe for lentils from Ancient Rome -- lentils simply braised with onion and garlic, salt (they would have used this anchovy paste for salt but we'll just use kosher here!), pepper, and a bay leaf. It's quite simple and simply delicious.

Oven-Poached Salmon with Lemon and Capers
4 fillets salmon, skin on or off (up to you), washed and patted dry on all sides
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, sliced thinly
4-6 fresh sprigs of thyme (or about 1/2 tsp dried)
1 Tbsp capers, drained from juice

special equipment:  aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Take out 4 sheets of aluminum foil, about 16" long or so. You want them long enough to enclose the salmon easily and still leave a little bit of room for air to steam inside. In the center of one sheet, place a piece of salmon. Drizzle the salmon generously with the olive oil -- about 1-2 Tbsp's worth depending on the size of your fish -- and season with salt and pepper. Add a couple of lemon slices right on top, a sprig or two of thyme (you can leave the thyme whole or pick the leaves off as I did in the picture), and the capers. Make a "bag" by taking the two long pieces of foil and meeting them above the salmon -- roll them together until fused. Take one end of the foil bag and press the foil together to seal one side, and repeat on the other. You want a perfectly enclosed "bag" at the end with a little room at the top for steam. It's vital you seal the seams on the sides and top very well so the steam doesn't escape; otherwise you'll overcook the fish and the liquid can seep out the sides.

Place the bag o'salmon on a baking sheet, and repeat with remaining ingredients until you have 4 prepared bags (or however many you're doing). Place in oven and bake 15-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish and doneness you desire. For example, a typical store-bought fillet is around 3/4" thick -- for restaurant doneness cook for 15 minutes; for a firmer, more well-done fish cook 20 minutes. If the fillet is thicker than 3/4" inch, add a couple of minutes to your liking; if thinner then cook around 10 minutes...etc.

Remove and carefully make a slit in the top of the bag to let the steam out. Then open the bag and serve either as is, right on the plate in the bag, or remove the fish with a spatula onto a plate and then pour the sauce from the bag on top of the fish.

Ancient Lentils
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped small
3 large garlic cloves, roughly minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup brown lentils
1 turkish bay leaf
2 cups water or broth (chicken, vegetable, beef)

Heat olive oil in a pot. Add the onions and cook on medium-low heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add salt and pepper to taste, then the lentils and cook another 2 minutes to "toast" them. Add the bay leaf and water or broth and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat back down to medium, and stirring occasionally, let lentils cook about 15-20 minutes until plump and tender, uncovered. Ideally you'd like the liquid to be absorbed. If you find the liquid has been absorbed too quickly and the lentils are still tough, add more liquid until the lentils get done.

Cook lentils to desired doneness. Ancient Romans would cook them to the point where they were easily mushed, then would take a spoon and beat them by hand until some of them got pureed a little. Or, keep them more al dente (modern preference). Drizzle a little more olive oil before serving, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve hot or warm.

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