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Dinner Tonight! | Cooking Class

Roasted Salmon Is Fool-Proof

April 03, 2002|FAYE LEVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Roasting is one of the easiest ways to cook whole fish, filets and steaks. Baked at high heat without liquid, the fish cooks rapidly and doesn't dry out. Unlike grilling, it poses no risk that bits of fish might fall between grill bars. Because you don't have to contend with the barbecue's searing heat, there's less risk of overcooking or scorching the fish.

To keep the fish moist during roasting, drizzle it with oil or melted butter with minced garlic, lemon juice and herbs such as thyme, oregano, dill or rosemary. For extra zip, spice it with coriander, cumin, curry powder or cayenne pepper. Up to three of these flavorings, along with salt and pepper, are enough to gently accent the fish's taste. In the oven the fish acquires a light golden hue, but you might like to sprinkle a pale fish with paprika before cooking.

Here I use pistou, a popular accompaniment for fish in Provence. It's a simple pesto of basil, garlic and olive oil, often--unlike its Italian cousin--without cheese, which might compete with the flavor of the sea. It also contains no ground nuts. Pistou's color is brightest if you use it right away, but you can keep it for a day in the refrigerator.

Before roasting fish, measure its thickness to estimate cooking time. Most fish require 10 minutes an inch at a temperature of 425 to 450 degrees. Check the fish after seven or eight minutes, which may be long enough for some fish, such as salmon, if you like it medium (slightly pink in the center). When you're buying fish, freshness is vital. Choose fish of good color that does not appear dry and does not smell fishy. Ask to have any scales removed. If the market sells only wrapped fish, check the "sell-by" date. Refrigerate the fish promptly and cook it by the next day.

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Faye Levy is the author of "1,000 Jewish Recipes" (Hungry Minds, 2000).

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Roasted Salmon With Pistou

Active Work Time: 15 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 25 minutes

You can substitute halibut or snapper but you may want to sprinkle it with a little extra oil before baking. Served with asparagus and new potatoes, this roasted fish is a festive welcome to spring.

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds salmon steaks or 1 1/4 pounds filet, about 1 inch thick, cut in 4 pieces

3 large cloves garlic, divided

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

Cayenne pepper

5 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 cups fresh basil leaves, about 2 (1-ounce) bunches, plus a few sprigs for garnish

4 cups baby lettuce

20 cherry tomatoes, optional

Lemon wedges, for garnish

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. If the fish steaks have any scales, scrape them off with a serrated knife, then rinse the steaks and pat them dry. Line a heavy roasting pan with foil to make sure they won't stick and for easy cleanup; lightly oil the foil or the pan. Set the fish steaks side by side in the pan.

Mince 1 garlic clove and put it in a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, thyme, cayenne to taste and 1 tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle the mixture on both sides of the fish steaks and rub it in. Sprinkle the fish evenly with salt and pepper to taste, then let marinate briefly while you prepare the pistou.

Coarsely chop the remaining garlic and put it in a food processor. Add the basil leaves and blend to chop the mixture finely. With the motor running, gradually add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Scrape down the sides and process again so the mixture is well blended. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you like, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and process briefly to blend. Reserve the pistou at room temperature.

Roast the fish in the oven for 5 minutes. If using fish steaks, turn them over. Bake the fish for 3 more minutes. Pierce its thickest part with the point of a thin knife and check its color inside. It should be opaque and paler pink than when raw; if you like salmon medium, its center should still be slightly deeper pink than its sides. When you check with a fork, the fish should just begin to flake but should not flake easily because it continues to cook when removed from the oven.

Serve the fish on a bed of lettuce. Surround it with cherry tomatoes and lemon wedges and garnish with basil sprigs. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of pistou on each fish steak or serve the pistou separately.

4 servings. Each serving: 517 calories; 182 mg sodium; 107 mg cholesterol; 38 grams fat; 7 grams saturated fat; 3 grams carbohydrates; 39 grams protein; 1.52 grams fiber.

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