I am little embarrassed to admit that I hated salmon for a very long time. Or I should say, until 3 years ago when I tasted my first smoked salmon at a holiday party. It was one of those potluck parties that you can find all kinds of food. But it seemed like the most popular dish was a large smoked salmon that was brought by a gentleman who likes to fish. He had caught and smoked the salmon himself a day prior.
This Slow-Baked Salmon with Butter Beans is served with creamy butter beans that are flavored with leeks and dill. With a little bit advance preparation, this recipe could be one that you can make under 45 minutes for a weeknight dinner.
Everyone was raving about how good it tasted. I thought to myself, it was now or never. I put a piece on a cracker and right into my mouth. And just like that, after the first bite my life has changed forever. His smoked salmon was nothing like I thought what salmon would taste like. It was so soft and creamy that if you wanted you could spread it on a piece of toast. To this day, that smoked salmon is probably one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.
After that day, I decided to give salmon another chance and learn to cook it. It wasn’t long after I remembered why I didn’t like it in the first place. Because the thing is, it is so easy to overcook salmon and if you do you end up with a tasteless and dry piece of fish that no one likes to eat. Now that I look back and think, I must have been served one of those overcooked salmons.
You may ask, so what one needs to do to not overcook it? Well, it seems like there are a couple different approaches to cooking salmon. Some people say they would treat it like a piece of steak and bake it in a high temperature oven for a very short amount of time. Some others prefer searing it in a non-stick skillet with a little olive oil first and then bake it in a low temperature oven for around 10 minutes to cook the inside of the fish. I, on the other hand, found that the best way to cook it is to bake it in a low temperature oven (300 degrees, to be exact) for 18-20 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish registers 125 F degrees when inserted with an instant thermometer. This ensures a medium-rare salmon that is still moist and soft. To me, this is not only foolproof, but also one that requires the least amount of work.
Still, in order for this method to work there are 3 other things you need to pay attention to. First one is pretty obvious, but goes without saying: Get the freshest fish you can get your hands on. Second, it is best if you can get a center-cut fillet and cut it into 4 equal pieces yourself. Because equal pieces in size and thickness will ensure even baking. Last but not least, make sure that each fillet is pat-dried with a sheet of paper towel, lightly brushed with a little bit of olive oil and seasoned well with salt and pepper. I found that 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper are enough for 4 pieces of salmon.
About the Recipe:
For this recipe, I used leeks and butter beans to serve with the salmon. I love leeks because of their milder-than-onion flavor. Also, I think they pair very well with butter beans. If you can’t find butter beans, you can use regular white beans as well. If you have time, I highly recommend cooking your own beans, as this is one of those dishes that beans shine. And as we all know, home cooked beans taste much better than canned beans. You will see in the recipe below that it asks you to add a ¼ cup of water to keep the beans and leeks moist as they cook. However, if you cook your own beans you can swap water with the its cooking liquid.
If you cover the leftovers tightly with stretch film and keep it in the fridge, it will still be pretty tasty and fresh when served the next day. You can lightly warm it up in the microwave (no more than 30 seconds) or eat it cold, like we did.
Finally, I topped each salmon off with a dollop of my green cashew sauce flavored with dill, but you can use crème fraiche as well.
On Styling and Photography for this post:
Props and styling: This was the first time I photographed salmon and I found it to be a little bit more challenging than I thought. Because (1) you have a very short amount of time to get a good shot of the salmon as you do not want raw fish to dry and (2) unless you put some sort of a garnish on top it looks pretty bland after it comes out of the oven. Therefore, I used a dollop of green cashew sauce (for a contrast in color) and a frond of dill on each salmon. As I photographed, I made sure that the butter beans and leeks are visible as they are an important part of the dish.
The large plate is a gift from Crate and Barrel. The cutting board is from Foodiebords. The sheet pan is an old pan that I have been using for years.
Photography: I took all these photos with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III using either my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 , or Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens . I didn’t use any filters as I wanted to make sure that I showcase the true colors of the fish as much as possible. In terms of editing, I decreased the highlights, shadows, and blacks and increased the whites, vibrance, and clarity in Lightroom. If you want to see the exposure values for each photo and more photos from this shoot, check out my Flickr account.
Do you want to buy these photos? Thank you! You can purchase these photos and all my other photos in my Picture Pantry Library.
Slow-Baked Salmon with Butter Beans
For the Salmon:
- 4 center-cut and skin on salmon fillets 6-8 ounces each
- ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lemon sliced thinly + plus more to serve with the fish
For the Butter Beans:
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 3 leeks washed thoroughly and chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic peeled and minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes optional
- ¼ cup water
- 2 cups of cooked butter beans or One 15-ounce of canned butter beans drained and rinsed
- 1/3 cup fresh dill chopped + more as garnish
- 4 tablespoons of Green cashew sauce or crème fraiche
- Pre-heat the oven to 300 F degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- Using a sheet of paper towel, pat-dry the salmon fillets. Brush them lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on each side.
- Place fillets onto the baking sheet skin side down. Arrange two slices of lemon underneath each salmon fillet (as shown in the photos.)
- Bake for 18-20 minutes in the oven or until it registers 125 degrees when the thickest part of the fish is inserted with an instant thermometer.
- Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or any other large bottom skillet) over medium heat. Add in the chopped leaks and cook, stirring regularly, for 7-8 minutes until they are soft but still green. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Season it with salt and pepper. Stir in the red pepper flakes, if using.
- Add in the water (or cooking liquid from beans) and butter beans to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes.
- Right before you are ready to serve, stir in the dill. Give it a taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
- Plate the beans and place a piece of the slow-baked salmon on top. Spoon a dollop of green cashew sauce or crème fraiche on top of the salmon. Garnish with some dill. Serve.
This recipe is adapted (with changes) from Tara O’Brady’s cookbook Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day.