Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Dinner in under 30 minutes…Pan-Seared Salmon with Creamed Spinach & Roasted Potatoes

Occasionally I teach classes that include the word “quick” in the title…as in, “Quick Weeknight Meals for ….”  I always make a point of telling people that to me “quick” means it will take about an hour to get dinner on the table.  It might take less, but in general, when you are using real, whole ingredients, “30 minute meals” (or less) is pretty unusual.  Meals that can be prepared that quickly usually make use of prepared products (from your own homemade pantry or the store)…or have a 2 or 3 item ingredient lists (a couple of my favorite pastas come to mind…).  Recently though, I walked into the kitchen one evening without much of a plan and ended up with a surprisingly elegant and delicious meal on the table in under 30 minutes. 

I had originally thought I was going to have some time to devote to making dinner on that particular evening.  When I had been standing in front of the meat and fish counter waiting for my special order for a client, my eyes fell on some beautiful Norwegian salmon.  It looked so good…and I hadn’t had fish in a while…that I purchased it thinking I would have time to do something special with it as a treat to myself in the midst of what had been a string of hurried, tried and true meals. But as is often the case, the day got away from me.

When I finally got around to it, I was more motivated than usual to go to the effort to prepare a nice meal:  the fish was a sunk cost.  So I turned the oven on in case I decided to use it and began to look through the pantry and fridge.  I had some beautiful local spinach that would be easy to prepare quickly.  I thought about a grain pilaf of some kind…but I eat those a lot.  I thought about just wilting the spinach and serving the salmon and spinach with a rice or farro pilaf.  I thought about pasta (of course).  But I had some lovely medium sized gold potatoes from the farmer’s market that I really wanted to use.  They were too large to cook quickly in their whole state…and kinda small to go to the effort of peeling and making mashed potatoes.  They were actually perfect for chunking up and roasting…but I didn’t want to wait that long to eat. 

I decided rice would be the way to go and had my hand raised to switch off the oven when it occurred to me that the solution was in the cut of the potatoes.  If sliced thin (1/3-inch or so), roasting in a hot oven would only take about 20 to 25 minutes.  And the flat potatoes would make a perfect bed for the salmon and spinach.  So instead of shutting the oven off, I cranked the temperature up to 450° and began to clean the spinach.

I decided to make a quick creamed spinach instead of just wilting the spinach (in butter with garlic).  The latter would have been delicious…but the former would make a little sauce for the potatoes and fish.  

Creamed spinach can be a complicated affair that involves béchamel and oven time.  Or, it can be as basic as simply reducing some cream around the wilted spinach…which is what I did.  And since cream sauces are enhanced by shallot, I softened a few slices of shallot in some butter before I added the spinach.  

I started heating the pan to cook the salmon when the potatoes had been in the oven for about 15 minutes.  About ten minutes after that I was plating my dinner.  I admit that if you were cooking for more than one (or two) that this dinner might take a bit longer than the time it took me (the spinach would take longer to clean…the cream would take longer to reduce…).  But it would still be a pretty fast meal.  And the results are nothing like you might expect from the effort involved. 

Pan-Seared Salmon with Creamed Spinach & Roasted Potatoes

For 1 person (see notes):
1/3 lb. medium-sized Yukon Gold (or similar) potatoes
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 1/2 to 2 t. butter
1 small or half a medium shallot (about 3/4 oz.), trimmed and peeled
3 oz. (weighed after tough stems have been removed) young spinach
1 filet (4 to 6 oz.) salmon, skinned or not (as you prefer)
1/4 c. heavy cream
Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425° to 450°.  Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Slice 1/3-inch thick and toss with enough olive oil to coat (about a tablespoon).  Season with salt and pepper and spread in a single layer on a small baking sheet or in a small baking dish.  

When the oven is hot, put the potatoes in the oven.  Roast until golden and tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over moderate heat.  While the butter melts, slice the shallot thinly.  When the butter has melted, add the shallot to the pan along with a pinch of salt.  

Cook the shallot at a gentle sizzle until it is tender and beginning to caramelize a little at the edges.  While the shallot is cooking, cut the spinach into rough 1/2-inch ribbons.  

When the shallots are tender, add the spinach to the pan a handful at a time, turning each handful to coat with the butter and shallots and adding the next handful as the previous begins to collapse. When all the spinach has collapsed, season with salt and continue to cook until tender and any excess water has evaporated.  Set aside and keep warm. 

When the potatoes have about 10 minutes left to roast, heat a small cast iron, French steel or other non-stick sauté pan that is just large enough to accommodate the fish over medium-high heat.  While the pan is heating, season the fish on both sides with salt & pepper.  Film the pan with oil.  When the oil is very hot, add the fish to the pan, service side (see notes) down.  Cook until golden brown and crisp—2 or 3 minutes.  Carefully flip the fish over and continue to cook until the fish is barely opaque in the center—another 3 to 5 minutes or so (you will need to reduce the heat—or, simply transfer the pan to the oven).

While the fish finishes cooking, return the spinach to the heat and add the cream. 

Bring to a simmer and cook until the cream is bubbling throughout and has thickened very slightly.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Remove the potatoes and fish from the oven.  Arrange the potatoes on a plate. Spoon the spinach onto the plate in the center of the potatoes.  

Top with the salmon.  Give the fish a squeeze of lemon (about a half teaspoon).  Serve right away.
  • This dish can obviously be multiplied to feed as many as you like. Simply increase the pan sizes accordingly. Also, when you cook large quantities of spinach it takes longer to cook off the liquid. If the liquid persists, you may simply pour it off before adding the cream. A larger quantity of cream will also take a bit longer to reduce.
  • The “service side” of a piece of fish is the side that will be facing you when you put it on the plate. If the filet is skinless it will be the side that was on the interior of the fish (or the side that never had any skin). If you left the skin on your filet, this will be the side with the skin. The side that is sautéed first will look the nicest and is thus the “service side.”
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Anonymous said...

I made this for dinner for two tonight. It came out very nicely (tho I should have given the potatoes two or three more minutes in the oven). The pan seared salmon looked and tasted great. A keeper recipe. Thank you!

Paige said...

I'm so happy to hear this! Thank you for taking the time to let me know!

Rev Jackie said...

Dear Paige -
I had everything needed for this recipe tonight. For two persons it took 35 min and I'm slow in the kitchen due to my clean-as-you-go gene!
It was delicious and a definite keeper. The spinach was awesome. Thank you again for your blog - and for the past cooking classes as well.

Paige said...

It made me so happy to read this this evening! Thank you for taking the time to let me know you enjoyed it. I truly appreciate hearing back when someone has tried and liked a recipe.