One of the treasures I brought back from my trip to B.C. was a cooler full of freshly caught sockeye and chinook salmon. My mom and I cleaned them and froze them right away, and now we get to enjoy them whenever a seafood urge hits. We are so lucky to have access to the plentiful bounty provided by nature here in the north. (I picked a whole bag of juniper berries, too, and will share recipes for those later.)
I’ve already prepared two of the tasty sockeyes by steam-baking them with herbs, and they were devoured as if by a pack of rabid wolves. The 15-year-old wolf in this household moaned ecstatically with his mouth full, Mom, this is the best salmon ever. You gotta make it like this all the time. Mind you, he is one easy-to-please eater (we won’t mention the word garbage-guts, since this is a classy blog – ahem.)
If you have a whole salmon to prepare, this is an easy and flavourful way to do it. The fish gently steams in the moisture of the herbs and lime, producing meltingly tender meat subtly enhanced with the aromatic lovage or other herbs. The zing from the tangy yogurt sauce laced with the same herbs is the perfect foil for the rich meat.
The beauty of cooking a salmon this way is that it all takes about two minutes to put together – whip up the sauce and then you can go and put your feet up while the salmon does its thing in the oven. Open up that foil packet at the table and the steam that whooshes out will be better than any dinner gong to bring the gang running to the table.
Kitchen Garden Notes: If you don’t have a lovage plant in your garden, what are you waiting for? This is one of the easiest herbs to grow – it easily becomes a monster if you let it – and it comes back year after year, even in our cold northern climate. If you plant one of those tiny little sprouts which you can buy at the greenhouse in the spring, you will be rewarded in one season with a mighty lovage plant that will supply your family, your neighbour’s families, and all your offspring into perpetuity. But you won’t be sorry, because this herb is a wonderful addition to many dishes. It has a strong celery flavour, so a little goes a long way in soups, stews and salads. Its tender branches are a wonderful rack for roasts of beef, lamb or chicken, and as you’ll see below – fish.
Kitchen Frau Notes: I learned this way of doing fish from my mom. She loves to use twigs of herbs to lay under roasts – the branches have a dual purpose as natural drainage and aromatic flavourers. If you don’t have a mighty lovage plant, use stems (and leaves) of parsley or dill or any other herb you might still have growing in abundance in your garden or in the grocery store aisles. If you don’t have lime, lemon will do very nicely.
A 3 pound salmon takes about 40 minutes to bake – if you have a larger salmon you will have to lengthen the baking time and check it occasionally to catch it when it is just done. You definitely don’t want to overdo it. Salmon is at its luscious best when it is cooked to the point where it just turns opaque, not overcooked to straw-like dryness. To peek, unroll the foil and flake apart the meat at its thickest with the tip of a paring knife. It should be just turning pink and still juicy. If it needs more time, reroll the foil and put it in the oven for a few more minutes.
If you don’t have a whole salmon, a salmon fillet will work very nicely, too. It will just need much less time – start checking at 20 minutes.
*Make the sauce ahead of time if you can. If it has at least 30 to 60 minutes to sit, the flavours will mellow nicely, but if even if you make it while the salmon is baking, it is fine too. (The sauce is great the next day with cold left-over salmon.)
I’ll also let you in on a little secret – shhh, don’t tell, but if you’re feeling really lazy and want to put your feet up after a hard day’s work while the salmon bakes – you can cheat by skipping the sauce preparation and serving the salmon with a little bottled ranch dressing with a few drops of hot sauce stirred into it – but you never heard it from me. (‘Cause I love this herby tartar sauce.)
Steam-Baked Salmon with Lovage and Lime and Herb Tartar Sauce
- 1 whole salmon, 3 pounds (1.4kg) or more
- 7 to 8 sprays of lovage (each about as long as the body of your fish)
- salt and pepper
- 1 large or 2 small limes
- heavy duty foil
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Cut the head and tail from the salmon and rinse and pat it dry with a paper towel.
Pull 2 large pieces of heavy duty foil from the roll. They should each be about 8 inches (20cm) longer than your trimmed salmon. Lay them, one on top of the other, onto a cookie sheet. Lay 3 sprays of lovage lengthwise in the center of the foil pieces.
Stuff 1 or 2 sprays of lovage into the cavity on top of the lime slices. Lay a row of lime slices on top of the salmon and cover the fish with 2 or 3 more sprays of lovage, so that you have the herbs underneath, inside, and on top of the fish.
Bring both long sides of the foil together over the salmon and herbs, and roll them down together in ½ inch (1cm) folds until they get close to the fish. Roll in both ends of the foil to make a tidy package tightly enclosing the whole salmon.
Place it into the oven on its cookie sheet, and bake for about 40 minutes, checking near the end to see if it’s done. A smaller fish will take less time, a larger one – more (and maybe your oven runs hotter or cooler than mine, so the time is variable.)
Serve with Herb Tartar Sauce to slather over the fish.
(To serve the salmon, remove the meat from the top side, starting at the tail, and sliding a spatula under the meat above the backbones. Once you’ve removed the meat off the top side, pull up the backbone, starting at the tail, then you can serve the meat from the bottom half of the salmon.)
Herb Tartar Sauce
- 1 cup (240ml) Greek yogurt (I like 0% fat)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) cream or milk
- zest of 1 lime
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) chopped parsley
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) finely chopped lovage (or 1 tablespoon of whatever other herb you are using instead of lovage – lovage has a very strong flavour so you need less)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) chopped capers (or pickles)
- 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) sugar
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) salt
- ½ teaspoon (2.5ml) pepper
Stir all the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl.