Thursday, April 12, 2012

Olive Oil Poached Salmon

Google “olive oil poached salmon recipe” and you’ll find preposterous statements like “Start with a Quart of olive oil”. Or “I saved the 6 cups of olive oil I poached the fish in for another use, which makes the recipe more economical”. Really. You saved the oil you poached the fish in? Settle down there, Saver McSaverson. Food Night says, why not START the recipe with a modest amount of olive oil, saving you cash (in the form of olive oil), and saving a subsequent guest from the horrors of said recycled olive oil.

Well, here’s why not…. if you gently poach fish in the oven in a film of olive oil, you get these white coagulated protein globules on the surface of the fish. Totally edible and harmless, yet not the most appealing thing to look at. The fix? Brine. Brining the fish for 20 minutes in a 10% brine keeps the coagulated globules at bay. And that’s really where all globules belong, isn’t it? At bay.

Olive Oil “Poached” Salmon
Serves 2

For the Brine
Prepare a 10% Brine (1g of kosher salt* per 10ml of water**) by putting all but 100ml or so of the water in a sauce pan on the stove on high heat. Add the salt, stir constantly until dissolved, then pour into a bowl. Add approx 100ml or so of ice to the hot water to cool it down. The water should never come to a boil as the salt will dissolve first, and the ice should take the water back down to a cool temperature.

*Please use Kosher. But you knew that already.

**You’ll need at least 500ml water to have enough brine to submerge the salmon, depending on the bowl/container you brine in of course.

For the Salmon
  • Two 6oz pieces of Coastal Seafoods Organic Scottish Salmon.* Thicker the better. Skin and pin bones removed
  • Olive Oil**
  • Several sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Garlic clove, peeled

*The salmon really is the key to this dish (go figure, right?). As such, make sure it is QUALITY salmon that is fresh, never frozen. If you are lucky enough to live in the Twin Cities, go to Coastal Seafoods. Period. And if it happens to be Copper River Salmon season, or other Insert-River-Name-Here Salmon season, those are great options too.

** Two 6oz fillets in an 8’’ pan will require a max of 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Not (NOT!) a quart. Or 6 cups. Or any other such insane quantity.

1). Brine the fish for 20 minutes. Make sure the fish is completely submerged in the brine, weighing it down with a plate if needed.

2). While the fish is in the brine, preheat oven to 250 degrees. Film an oven going skillet with enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. The 8’’ skillet should be large enough, especially if your salmon fillets are thick, but upsize to a 10’’ or 12’’ if your fillets won’t fit in the pan without overlapping. Add the thyme and garlic, and gently begin warming the pan over med-low heat when the fish has about 5 minutes left in the brine.

3). After 20 minutes, remove fish from the brine and pat thoroughly dry. When the oil is warm, place the brined and dry fish into skillet (skin* side goes down). There should be NO sizzling sounds when the fish hits the pan. If there is, allow oil to cool a bit and try again.

*Well, where the skin used to be, before it was… skinned.

4). Place the pan in the oven. Give the fish a nudge (or gently shake the pan) to make sure it isn't sticking to the pan. Again, at no time should the fish be sizzling, the idea here is a gentle poach. Remove pan from the oven when the bottom of the fish is cooked, and the top is still raw. Approximate cooking time should be around 8ish minutes, but will of course vary with the thickness of the fish.

5). Once you remove the pan from the oven, tilt it to one side and use a spoon to baste the fish with the warm oil.

Perhaps put the thyme on top of the salmon to help the warm oil extract it’s thymey goodness. The idea is to just barely cook the top of the fish. Once the top of fish is uniformly opaque, it’s done. Serve (as pictured below) with sautéed crispy kale, or your favorite veggie accompaniment.


  1. Almost on the lookout for great Olive Oil recipes. Will definitely give this one a try!

  2. Pedantic note:

    1 g salt per 10 ml water would technically be a 9.09% solution. 1 g salt per 9 ml water would be 10%.

    There is no need to use Kosher salt if you are making a brine. Regular non-iodized salt will work just as well. But fine table salt is much less dense than kosher, so it is important to measure by weight.

    1. Correction: Kosher salt is much less dense than fine table salt.