Food & Drink

For a silkier salmon, turn down the heat

Lime zest and fennel seed are used as a rub for salmon, which is then roasted slowly over sliced fennel and served with lime.
Lime zest and fennel seed are used as a rub for salmon, which is then roasted slowly over sliced fennel and served with lime. New York Times

Usually, I am a high-heat roaster. No matter what protein or vegetable is destined for the oven, I turn the knob upward of 400 degrees, and wing it from there. The more caramelization I’m after, the higher the heat I set it to, with the exact temperature depending on the size of the pieces and my patience for cooking them.

This gently roasted salmon is a notable exception.

Here, I’m not looking for golden edges and crisp skin. What I want is velvety soft flesh imbued with flavor. The fish should fall into silky, pink chunks when your fork breaks into a fillet, without any browning to distract from its suppleness. The final dish has all the charm of a salmon confit, except that it takes half as long to cook, and uses a lot less oil.

To add flavor to the salmon and to insulate it from any possible hot spots at the bottom of the pan, I set the fillets on a bed of thinly sliced fennel. The fennel roasts along with the fish, softening slightly. The thinner you cut it, the more tender it will become. So if you have a mandoline in one of your kitchen drawers, now would be a good time to unearth it. Or practice your knife skills with your sharpest blade; transparency is your goal.

I like to serve more slivered fennel on the side as a slawlike salad, tossed with fresh lime juice and olive oil. It’s a bright, tangy counterpart to the richness of the fish.

If you can, try to find a fennel bulb with luxuriant fronds to chop up for the salad, so it can be both vegetable and herb. But if you can find only shorn fennel bulbs, some chopped parsley or dill will work just as well, adding color and freshness.

If you have any salmon leftover, save it, covered in oil, in the refrigerator for up to five days. Then use it to top salads, or crostini, or to make into a salmon sandwich with minced scallion and lots of mayonnaise (think tuna salad, but using salmon instead).

The leftovers are so good you could even double the recipe, roasting eight fillets instead of four. Then the next time you want to eat gently roasted salmon, you won’t have to turn on the oven at all.

Roasted Salmon With Fennel and Lime

Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 45 minutes

2 limes

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a knife

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 (6- to 8-ounce) skinless salmon fillets

1 large fennel bulb with fronds

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

6 fresh marjoram or thyme sprigs

Flaky sea salt, for serving

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Finely grate the zest from 1 lime into a small bowl, and set aside the zested lime. Add fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper to the bowl and toss to combine. Sprinkle mixture all over salmon.

Meanwhile, remove the fennel fronds from the bulb and chop up enough to make 1/4 cup. Trim fennel bulb, discarding stalks, and slice bulb thinly using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Spread half the fennel slices in a baking dish in an even layer and drizzle with oil. Arrange salmon on top.

Slice the whole, unzested lime into thin rounds and lay the slices on top of the salmon. Tuck marjoram around the salmon and drizzle salmon generously with more olive oil.

Roast until salmon is just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. (Thinner fillets may take less time, so start checking for doneness at 10 minutes.)

Meanwhile, toss chopped fennel fronds and remaining fennel slices with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Juice the zested lime and add some of the juice to the fennel, to taste. Drizzle the sliced fennel with olive oil and set aside to serve with the salmon.

When the salmon is done, drizzle it with more lime juice and sprinkle with flaky salt. Serve with the fennel salad on top and the roast fennel on the side, if you like.