Christmas Baked Salmon: Easy & Make-ahead

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Your Christmas main dish for this year has just landed!! Have you ever seen a Baked Salmon look so festive?? And it’s so EASY!

Featuring a honey butter-glazed side of salmon baked in foil, slathered with creamy dill sauce and finally topped with a Holiday “Tapenade”, this dish pays extremely high dividends for minimal effort.

Christmas Baked Salmon on a platter, ready to be served

Festive Baked Salmon!

Every year I try to come up with one great centrepiece Christmas main dish that is you can make-ahead and is super simple, but still has that extra wow factor that will make YOU the star at Christmas Dinner….

This is what I’ve come up with this year: A festive Baked Salmon!

It is:

  • Baked with a Honey Garlic Butter Glaze in foil;
  • Slathered with a Creamy Dill Sauce;
  • Topped with a Holiday “Tapenade” of dried cranberries, almonds and parsley; and
  • Finished with pomegranate for a shower of festive colour and a generous dousing of fresh lemon juice.

The flavour and textural combination is stellar! It’s mostly savoury with hints of sweet, and that creamy dill sauce is a natural pairing with salmon. Finally the Holiday Tapenade topping just sings of festivities!

Have I emphasised enough yet how easy this is to make?? Read on!

Serving Christmas Baked Salmon

Overview: How to make Christmas Baked Salmon

  1. Simmer 3-ingredient Honey Glaze for 2 minutes;
  2. Pour over salmon then bake wrapped in foil (easy clean up!);
  3. Spread cooked salmon with 4-ingredient Lemon Dill Sauce, 4-ingredient “Tapenade” (topping mix);
  4. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, drizzle with lemon juice;
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature. Now sit back and bask in praise!
Christmas Baked Salmon components

What you need for this Festive Baked Salmon

Here’s what you need for this festive Baked Salmon.

1. Side of salmon

Raw side of salmon for Christmas Baked Salmon
  • This is one side of a whole salmon. It should not be flavoured or pre-marinated in any way. If frozen, thaw thoroughly overnight in the fridge covered, and then pat dry very well (frozen fish gets watery);
  • Skin on – for easier handling. Though I have never seen a side of salmon sold without skin to be honest; and
  • Bones removed – Your fishmonger should have already done this, but just double check. Run your fingers across the surface, especially along the mid-line (where the spine was) where pin bone culprits sometimes hide. Check the belly section carefully too. If there are bones, use fish boning tweezers or just personal grooming tweezers to pull them out (pinch and yank with conviction!). Clean small pliers also work.
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2. Honey Glaze for salmon

This is used to bake the salmon so it gets infused with incredible sweet-buttery-garlicky flavour while it bakes. Here’s what you need:

Ingredients for honey glaze for Christmas Baked Salmon

To make the Honey Glaze, all you do is plonk everything in a saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken slightly and bring all the flavours together.

How to make Christmas Baked Salmon

3. Baking the salmon

The salmon is baked in foil which is handy for minimal clean up, but actually the main reason is because it holds the glaze around the salmon better while it bakes!

Here’s how the salmon is cooked:

How to make Christmas Baked Salmon
  1. Line a tray with foil. (Recommended: A double layer of foil for leakage protection.) Then baking/parchment paper. Place the salmon on top.
  2. Fold the foil sides up a bit to cup them a little so the glaze won’t spill onto the tray. Pour the glaze over (it’s fine that the glaze is still hot);
  3. Top with another sheet of paper and then foil. Seal edges to form a parcel. No need to make it tightly sealed, just mostly sealed is fine;
  4. Bake for 15 minutes covered;
  5. Uncover, then switch oven to broiler/grill. Grill for 10 minutes to get some tasty caramelisation on the edges and a bit on the surface.

It smells SO GOOD when it’s in the oven…. and here’s what the Baked Salmon looks like when it comes out!

Honey Garlic Butter Glazed baked salmon for Christmas Baked Salmon

Immediately transfer to serving platter using the paper overhang (otherwise the salmon will keep cooking on the tray), either lifting or sliding it off. And here’s how to remove the foil and paper from under the salmon – just tear and slide!

How to remove foil and paper from under the baked salmon

At this stage, the salmon needs to be left to cool for at least 10 minutes otherwise the Lemon Dill Sauce literally melts straight off. Also this salmon dish is intended to be eaten warm rather than hot, or even at room temperature. This is extra-handy because there’s no need to stress over exact cook times in order to serve it piping hot!


4. Lemon Dill Sauce for salmon

This sour cream-based sauce provides an element of creamy richness to the baked salmon as well as acting as the “glue” for the Holiday “Tapenade” we pile over the top. Not including dill was never an option – it is, after all, best friends with salmon!

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Creamy Dill Sauce for Christmas Baked Salmon

Here’s what you need – just mix them together to make the sauce:

Ingredients for Creamy Dill Sauce for Christmas Baked Salmon

Note: we only use the zest in the sour cream sauce because we deliberately want to keep it very thick and “paste-like” so we can slather it on thickly. The rest is used to liberally douse the finished dish for some welcome tang. It’s an essential step!


4. Holiday “Tapenade

This jumble of goodies (which I call a “Holiday Tapenade”) is a terrific combination for both flavours and textures with the Honey Glazed salmon and Creamy Dill Sauce. The sweet, slightly tart cranberries and the nutty almonds contrast beautifully with the cooling Creamy Dill Sauce and the rich, Honey Glazed flesh of the salmon.

Holiday Tapenade for Christmas Baked Salmon

Here’s what you need for the Holiday Tapenade:

Ingredients for Holiday Tapenade for Christmas Baked Salmon
  • Pomegranate – This is what we use to sprinkle across the finished dish for their jewel-like festive colour, and of course for great pops of tart juiciness!
  • Dried cranberries – In the spirit of holidays and also for the tart/sweet profile rather than just plain sweetness that other dried fruits have. Alternatives (in order of suggestion): Dried sour cherries, golden raisins, normal raisins or sultanas;
  • Orange juice – This is used to soak the cranberries in order to reconstitute them and plump them up. Otherwise, they’re rather shrivelled and chewy. Because this is, after all, for a special occasion why not one more step to make the cranberries extra special! As mentioned, it’s mainly for the cranberries, but the orange juice also adds a touch of extra sweetness and citrusy flavour – very on-theme for holidays! Substitute with any fruit juice you wish. Apple would especially be great – otherwise just use water with a dollop of honey or maple syrup;
  • Slivered almonds – Purchased already cut into slivers (else sliver blanched almonds yourself), this is a lovely shape that you can use as-is. We also give them a quick toasting to boost the nuttiness and bronze them. Alternatives: Almonds (preferably blanched), pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias, walnuts;
  • Parsley for freshness and the green colour for Christmas!
  • Olive oil to add just a bit of richness and bring it all together.

Make ahead option: Make the Tapenade up to 2 days ahead but leave the almonds out until just before serving. Almonds can be toasted ahead, just store them in the pantry until required.

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5. Assembling

And here’s how the Christmas Baked Salmon is assembled:

How to make Christmas Baked Salmon
  1. Smother the salmon generously with the Creamy Dill Sauce. Generous is the operative word here! It’s the main sauce for this dish, and it’s also the “glue” for the Tapenade;
  2. Sprinkle the Tapenade across the surface. Really pile it on, use it all!;
  3. Then sprinkle over the pomegranate next, and finally the lemon juice (the Tapenade will catch it); and
  4. Voila! Presentation! Applause! Compliments! Bows!
Overhead photo of Christmas Baked Salmon

How to serve this Christmas Baked Salmon

Present the salmon whole on a platter, like pictured above, so everyone can admire how pretty it looks.

Then you can either cut it into portions – literally just use a knife to cut it – or let everyone help themselves. I find it easiest to use a cake server for actually lifting slices to serve easily, so you might like to also provide something like this if you’re allowing guests to serve themselves.

Eating Christmas Baked Salmon

I feel like this has been a really long post for something that I stated is a really easy recipe. And I still promise it is!

It’s just that a side of salmon is not cheap, and is the sort of thing we splurge on for special occasions. So I want to arm you with enough information and details to ensure you feel the confidence of knowing that you will nail this dish – even if you’re not that experienced in the kitchen.

Hand on heart, there is very little that can go wrong with this recipe. The only real pitfall will be if you overcook the salmon. However salmon is a forgiving meat because it’s an oily fish, so it’s really not the end of the world even if you do take it too far. But if you really want to be sure you’ve got it right, you can always use a meat thermometer (see recipe notes for internal temperatures).

I hope by now I’ve convinced you to put this on your Christmas menu as the (or a) centrepiece! It looks like Christmas, it tastes like Christmas and the fact that it’s so straightforward will remain our little secret….. 😉 – Nagi x


Watch how to make it

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Christmas Baked Salmon

Christmas Baked Salmon

Servings12

Tap or hover to scale

Recipe video above. Have you ever seen a Baked Salmon that looks so festive? What’s more, it’s DEAD EASY! Featuring a honey butter-glazed side of salmon baked in foil, slathered with creamy dill sauce and finally topped with a glittering Holiday “Tapenade”, this Salmon Tarator inspired dish pays extremely high dividends for very little work.See notes for alternatives for many of the ingredients – even the salmon!

Instructions

Holiday Tapenade

  • Plump cranberries: Heat orange juice in a saucepan over high heat until hot. Turn stove off, add cranberries, cover. Stand 15 minutes, then drain in a colander (discard liquid). Cool.

  • Mix: Mix cranberries, toasted almonds (see Note 3), parsley, salt and olive oil in bowl. Use at room temp.

Cooking salmon

  • Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (all oven types).

  • Prepare salmon: Place a large sheet of foil on a tray (double layer for safety is recommended), then top with baking/parchment paper. Place salmon on paper, then fold up the foil sides a bit to cup them so glaze won’t run onto tray.

  • Glaze: Place ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once it started foaming, turn down to medium, let it foam for 2 minutes then remove and pour straight over the salmon.

  • Season: Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper, putting most of the salt on the thicker part of the salmon.

  • Wrap: Cover salmon with a smaller piece of paper, then foil. Fold and seal up sides to enclose salmon in a parcel – it doesn’t need to be 100% tightly sealed.

  • Bake 15 minutes. Remove salmon from oven, then uncover.

  • Grill/broil to brown: Switch oven to gill/boiler on high. Broil 7 to 10 minutes until you get caramelisation mostly on the edges, a bit on top. Check to ensure salmon is cooked – either pry open in middle to check or use a probe to check internal temperatures (Note 4).

  • Transfer to plate: Use foil overhang to transfer salmon onto serving platter straight away (otherwise it keeps cooking). Slide the foil then paper out from under the salmon (see video at 1 min 24s or step photos in post), allowing juices to pool on platter (it’s gold stuff!).
  • Cool: Loosely cover with foil, then leave to cool for at least 15 minutes, up to 1 hour or longer (for room temp serving – Note 6 for serving notes).

Assembly and serving

  • Dollop then thickly spread with Creamy Dill Sauce (~0.8cm / 1/3″ thick layer).

  • Pile over Holiday Tapenade, scatter generously with pomegranate seeds, and then remaining parsley. Squeeze over lemon juice.

  • Serving: Serve with extra lemon wedges so people can add more to taste. Cut into pieces – I use a cake cutter for serving. Encourage people to slop up some of the honey-butter sauce that will be mixed with semi melted Creamy Dill Sauce – it’s so good! This dish is best served slightly warm, not piping hot, also excellent at room temp.

Recipe Notes:

1. Salmon – Get a whole side of salmon in one piece. It should come with skin on (holds together better for moving once cooked) and bones removed (nobody wants pokey bones with a mouthful of Christmas Salmon!). Place salmon on diagonal of tray if it’s too large. A bit of overhang will be fine (on the thinner end). See Note 4 for fillets and trout alternatives.
2. Salt – Cooking/kosher salt is the standard for all my recipes. The grains are larger than fine table salt so it’s easier to pinch and sprinkle. So if you only have table salt, you MUST reduce the salt quantities by 25% otherwise your food may be too salty (because table salt is so fine, 1 tsp table salt =~ 3/4 tsp cooking/kosher salt).
Cooking/kosher salt is sold labelled as such at the grocery stores – here’s a photo of cooking salt and one of kosher salt (not easily found in Australia).
3. Toasting almonds – Preheat skillet over medium heat (no oil). Add nuts then stir for 2 minutes or until they smell amazing and are lightly browned. Keep them moving as they burn easily! Transfer to bowl straight away to cool.
4. Cooked salmon – you can just pry open flesh in middle to check. Otherwise, internal temperature of cooked salmon is 43°C / 10°F for rare, 49°C / 120°F for medium-rare, or 54°C/130°F for medium. Grill cooks fast so just leave in for longer if you want it cooked more, move down to lower shelf to reduce browning.
No grill/broiler? Just crank the oven up as high as it will go and put salmon in uncovered to brown and finish cooking.
5. Alternatives for ingredients (in order of recommendation where multiple given):

  • Salmon – Trout (though typically smaller, so scale recipe down or use multiple). For salmon fillets rather than whole side, bake in foil 10 minutes, then grill/broil 10 minutes). Would also be VERY pretty in individual portions so it looks like this.
  • Butter – Best is ghee or clarified butter (store bought or homemade) for dairy free alternatives, followed by margarine.
  • Honey – Maple syrup, but simmer for an extra 1 minute to reduce a bit further
  • Sour Cream – The only suitable sub is spreadable (tub) cream cheese but that’s a bit thick so would need to be thinned with a touch of olive oil to make it in a soft spreadable paste as pictured in the video. If you use block cream cheese, you’d need even more oil for thinning. Yogurt is too watery.
  • Dill – Classic herb for salmon, but can sub with chives or finely chopped green onions.
  • Almonds (all should be roasted, unsalted) – Whole (preferably blanched) almonds roughly chopped yourself, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias.
  • Nut allergy subs – Pepitas or sunflower seeds
  • Dried cranberries – Craisins, dried sour cherries (roughly chopped), golden raisins*, normal raisins* or sultanas*, any other dried fruit like apricots* chopped (items marked with * add 2 tbsp lemon juice into hot water for plumping, will add touch of tartness like cranberries have)
  • Orange juice – Apple juice, any other non-thick fruit juice, water + 2 tbsp honey
  • Parsley – Chives or green onions
  • Pomegranate – These add colour and juicy little pops to the dish. No fruit provides anything quite similar in terms of colour but for flavour, best is to use red (seedless) grapes. Cut into 1/6 or 1/8, about 3/4 cup. Cherries also work!

6. Serving – Dish is best served warm or at room temp, not piping hot. If at room temp, make sure it is still warm enough so honey-butter-salmon juices are liquid not firmed up (if solidified, melt 10 sec in microwave or 2 min in very low 50°C/120°F oven is enough, can do this on serving platter).
Do not spread piping hot salmon with sour cream, it melts and slides off.
Skin is needed for easy handling of salmon while cooking but it’s not pleasant to eat because it’s not crisp in this recipe. People can either just avoid eating, or you can portion it without skin (it’s easy to slide cake serve between flesh and skin)
Be sure to serve with extra lemon wedges, this is a dish that loves fresh lemon!
7. Make ahead – Excellent for preparing most ahead with simple assembly on day.

  • Tapenade – 24 hrs in advance (fridge) but keep toasted almonds in pantry and stir in before serving (few hours ahead is fine), ensure it is at room temp when using.
  • Creamy Dill Sauce and Honey Glaze – 24 hours ahead, fridge (glaze will need to be reheated to make pourable).
  • Pomegranates – bash out the seeds the day before! See in post for how;
  • Salmon – better baked fresh on the day but it is still stellar cooked the day before (based on all leftovers I have been inhaling!). But honestly, reheating cooked salmon is just as much effort as baking fresh, in my opinion!

8. Storage – Leftovers will keep for 3 – 4 days in the fridge. Allow to come naturally to room temperature. Do not microwave or oven reheat, the sour cream will melt.
9. Nutrition per serving, assuming 12 servings 1.5kg/3lb salmon. With all the toppings, this is almost a main course size serving. So if it’s part of a banquet with other mains, this will easily stretch to 16 – 20 people.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 492cal (25%)Carbohydrates: 30g (10%)Protein: 28g (56%)Fat: 30g (46%)Saturated Fat: 12g (75%)Cholesterol: 111mg (37%)Sodium: 899mg (39%)Potassium: 865mg (25%)Fiber: 3g (13%)Sugar: 24g (27%)Vitamin A: 980IU (20%)Vitamin C: 21mg (25%)Calcium: 90mg (9%)Iron: 2mg (11%)

Life of Dozer

He can tell just by looking at it that the Christmas Baked Salmon is super duper delish!!! (Funnily enough, he seems to determined that about everything he looks at…🤔🤔🤔)

Dozer Christmas Baked Salmon



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