My weeknight dinner dance card
At a wedding the DJ (or band if you’re classy like that) typically plays a mix of songs. Mostly fast-paced jams to keep the party going but peppered with a few slow tunes to stoke the romantic vibe. So how is my weeknight dinner routine similar to a wedding? Well there definitely aren’t any canapés, and we don’t cut into a fancy cake, but I do like to balance out slower cooking dishes with quick condiments and sides. Basically what I’m saying is that my dinner DJ skills are strong.
Quick, Quick, SLOOOOOOOOOW
Then what’s a practical application of this concept look like? For me it’s usually a longer cooking (hands off style) protein paired with a quick veggie side, and some sort of condiment or sauce (think roasted chicken with a side of broccoli and a zippy salsa verde). That way I can get the protein into the oven and then turn my attention to any sides that need fixing.
My rule of thumb is that unless it’s almost entirely hands off (ie: stick it in the oven and forget about it until the timer goes ding) then it must take at max 20 minutes from start to finish. This includes any time to chop, prep, or mix.
So with that in mind, today I have two recipes for you that will get dinner on the table using my quick, quick, slow method perfect for those days when your brain is broken from long conference calls, loads of laundry, and generally dumb life stuff. First up – the sloooooooow.
Slow Roasted Salmon
It sounds pretty fancy, I know. But it’s really just a bougie way of saying “I put this salmon in a low oven with some salt, pepper, and olive oil and left it alone for about 20 minutes”. So we already get that this is easy, but let’s dive a little bit deeper into the pool of anxiety around cooking fish that I know at least one of you has waded into at some point in life.
Is it undercooked? Is it overcooked? How do I get the skin off? Why does the smell hang around for AN ETERNITY? All fair questions/worries when getting ready to make a piece of fish. So let’s tackle them shall we?
- Slow roasting is a super forgiving method because unlike searing something hot and fast in a pan, you’re like, relaxed man. Instead of it being a matter of one or two minutes between having a perfectly moist fish fillet and dry, sandy, flake fest, it’s really more like five or even ten. And when life gets distracting, having a bit of a buffer is key.
- Skin, no skin? No problem. When you slow roast a piece of fish, the skin and the flesh will easily separate from one another when lightly prodded with a thin spatula – no harm no foul.
- The smell: I love me some pan-fried fish. What I don’t care for is the rank smell that’s left behind after the meal has been eaten, the dishes have been done, and the sun and set and risen again in the morning. Seriously – it’s what keeps me from making fish more often (that and Eddie is not a fan of delights from the sea). But when you slow roast it, not only is the smell contained within the oven, but the gentle cooking method doesn’t really stoke those aromas in quite the same way.
And now that you have your salmon hanging out in that low oven, just coasting to a perfect medium, without making your house smell like a cannery, we move on to the quick!
Quick Pistachio Pesto
Because this is 2019 and you can buy pre-shelled roasted and lightly salted pistachios, this is about as easy as chucking stuff into a blender and hitting ‘go’. Actually it IS that easy. And if you don’t have a blender or a food processor or a magic bullety type thing…you can still just put the nuts in a zip top bag and bash the hell out of them with a rolling pin (or heavy skillet) until they’re pretty crushed up, chop the rest of the stuff real fine, and stir everything together. It won’t be quite as cohesive a sauce, but who really cares if it tastes good – which it will.
How do we feel about substitutions? Well, unlike your hipster coffee shop by day farm to table small plates meant for sharing* by night joint down the street, I LOVE em. The key points here are just that you get a green thing for freshness (parsley), something with a little bite to keep things interesting (scallions), acid to brighten all the flavors (rice wine vinegar), some fat for body and because duh (extra virgin olive oil), and something nutty to add texture, some more body, and of course flavor. In this case the nuts are pistachios, but this recipe is endlessly riffable. You could swap out one or two ingredients, or change up the whole thing.
For instance doesn’t an arugula pesto with garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar, and toasted walnuts sound pretty rad? I’d eat that on roasted chicken all damn day. Of course when you change out ingredients it’s always important to taste and adjust seasoning where it might be necessary. But this type of cooking I’ve always found to be more intuitive than anything else. So just trust yourself and keep tasting and you’ll be golden. And if not, some flaky sea salt and a squeeze of lemon is always a great plan B.
So what’s the second ‘quick’?
Well that’s entirely up to you. I usually go for a green vegetable because that seems like the right thing to do now that my metabolism has opted less for running and more for lounging quietly in front of the latest cop drama marathon. My only tip is that simple is best. You’ve got a lot of flavor going on with the salmon and the pesto. So some blanched green beans dressed in a little olive oil and salt, or steamed broccoli with a squeeze of lemon, or even just a big old salad are all stellar options in my opinion.
Whatever you pick though, the quick, quick, slow method is there for you. Thank you for reading this kind of epic post about something that really isn’t so complicated at all (I’m longwinded and I know it), and let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more of these types of recipes. I’d be happy to queue em up for you.
Slow Roasted Salmon with Quick Pistachio Pesto
Slow roasting is a very forgiving method that takes a little time, but results in beautifully moist, incredibly flavorful salmon. Add a quick pistachio pesto and dinner is served!
- Prep Time: 10 Minutes
- Cook Time: 25 Minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 4 Servings 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Roasting
- Cuisine: American
For the salmon:
4 6 ounce salmon fillets
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
For the pistachio pesto:
1/3 C pistachios, roasted and shelled
2 C parsley
4 scallions, trimmed and chopped into 2 inch pieces
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C water
Preheat your oven to 275°F.
Place salmon fillets on a rimmed baking sheet (you can line it with foil or parchment for easy cleanup, but it’s totally optional) and drizzle with one tablespoon olive oil. Use your hands to coat each fillet with the oil, on all sides. Then season with kosher salt and black pepper.
Bake the salmon for 20-25 minutes or until a fork inserted into the thickest part of the fillet meets no resistance and the meat just begins to flake*. The fillets may look a little underdone on the very top – that’s OK. If your salmon still has its skin, it should separate easily when cooked. Discard the skin before serving.
While the fish cooks, make the pesto by pulsing the pistachios, parsley, scallions, rice wine vinegar, salt, and pepper in a food processor or blender or until everything is chopped very fine (you might need to scrape down the sides once during the process). Then with the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil, and then the water until you have a saucy consistency and everything is well blended. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve fish with a large dollop of pesto.
*If you’re using a meat thermometer (which I totally recommend) you’re looking for an internal temperature of 120-125°F in the thickest part of the fish
Keywords: slow roasted fish, foolproof fish, easy weeknight dinner, non-dairy pesto