I’ve written before about how hard it is for me to get creative with salmon during a weeknight. I’m tired, I’m hungry… I’m just coming back from a walk and I don’t want a lot of cleanup. I discovered the best way to cook salmon was in parchment because it ticked all those boxes: quick, less mess and juicy.
This method of cooking salmon is called “en papillote” and it’s my favorite. This dish worked particularly well because after seasoning the salmon filet with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and tarragon, you just bake it off and cook the orzo pasta. Throw in some cheese and more lemon and you’re done.
And, if you’re smart, you’ll use the same pot you cooked the rice in to keep your leftovers. Throw away the parchment with the salmon skin in a bag and voila.
You Will Need:
- Wild Caught Salmon (fresh or frozen, your favorite type – ours is Sockeye)
- Olive Oil
- Salt, Tarragon (dried)
- Lemon Juice (or squeeze from fresh lemons)
- Fresh Lemons (you’ll want just a few if you already got the concentrate)
- Orzo Pasta
- Parchment Paper
- Grated Parmesan Cheese (or your favorite kind)
- A Lemon Zester (optional)
First thing you’ll want to do is get the salmon squared away. I like to lay my filets (and in this case we were cooking all two pounds at once, having some as leftovers and freezing the rest to make weeknight meals even easier) down on parchment in a large baking dish. Try to make the parchment two-three times bigger than the salmon as you’ll be folding the paper over and around the fish to cook it.
When seasoning fish, you always want to use the liquid first so the herbs will stick to the liquid and not be poured off instead. Drizzle your olive oil, squeeze your lemon liquid and coat with tarragon.
I then used a pastry brush to combine and paint everything over the filets but it’s not necessary. Some people like to put a few lemon wedges in with the fish or discs over the fish for even more lemon flavor. Feel free to do that if you’d like – I didn’t as I knew I was adding more lemon flavor to the orzo.
Fold the parchment as best you can over and around the fish.
Preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 30 minutes.
While the oven preheats and the salmon cooks, boil water and cook your orzo pasta till it’s al dente (still has some bite). Save some of the starchy water the pasta cooked in by putting it aside in a mug or measuring cup. Drizzle some olive oil into the pot after you strain the pasta and drop it back in, mainly so the orzo doesn’t stick together but also for that silky mouth feel. Keep the pot on low; we don’t want to continue to cook the noodles, just keep them warm. Add back in the starchy water, a bit at a time. You are doing this to bring a bit of creaminess back to the noodle dish. I usually use a ladle-ladle and a half of the water in a cup and pour most of it in.
Add some tarragon, salt and taste.
Add more of either if you’d like. At this point, add some tarragon. Taste again. You can adjust accordingly.
After you have decided you have enough lemon flavor, salt and sweet tarragon, throw some grated parmesan into the pot and stir.
Keep the pot on warm with the lid mostly on.
The salmon should be done by now – take it out and you’ll see the tarragon has stayed over the fish beautifully and the parchment helped keep everything moist.
If you got fish with skin on it, cut your portion sizes and then flip them to slide the skin off (or use your preferred method). The skin can be left with the parchment, all crumbled up when done and thrown away.
I went ahead and zested a lemon because I wanted even more lemon flavor – this is purely optional.
If you’re not yet ready to eat, the salmon can be left in the oven on 160 degrees, the pot of pasta left on warm with the lid completely on.
If you are ready to eat, go ahead and plate however you wish. We used a mandolin to slice some lemons as garnish but, we would have otherwise provided portions of lemon so we could use it to drizzle more over the dish after plating. Place your orzo down first and then a filet of salmon. A little drizzle of olive oil and some slices of lemon.
I added the rest of the lemons to my flower arrangement to get even more of that sweet aroma. Just cut the lemons (or you can do this with limes) in half and skewer the bottoms, sticking the skewers in and around the flowers.
The whole dish felt very light even though it was pasta – and the noodles were used throughout the week with chicken and soups. Win-win!
The pasta bowls are from Sur La Table. The napkins are from Williams Sonoma.