Big Little Recipes

This One-Pan Salmon With Lemony Kale & Chickpeas Is Impossible to Mess Up

Also goes by: dinner tonight.

January 29, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. This week, we’re making a one-pan dinner that hinges on a barely-warm oven.

I always thought my favorite way to cook salmon was pan-seared. Hot pan, neutral oil, skin side down, bada bing, bada boom—the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes.

But, quick as it may be, pan-seared salmon does not a dinner make. So maybe I’ll cook a pot of rice or quinoa to go with it. And toss a salad or sauté some greens. And then my quick and easy weeknight dinner becomes less quick and less easy, and now I never cook salmon anymore.

This slow-roasted recipe is here to fix that.

Photo by James Ransom

It takes more time than pan-searing, but asks a lot less of you. Like the very best weeknight go-tos, it’s an all-in-one situation. Which is to say, the pan where you cook your salmon is also the pan where you cook your sides.

Oh, and by “cook your sides,” I mean: Open a can of chickpeas. Don’t get me wrong, I love dried beans; it’s fun to finesse flavors and experiment with heirloom varieties—when there’s time to spare. But a can of beans is always ready to save the day. Here, it rounds out dinner with zero extra effort.

I picked kale as the green element because it’s never not in my fridge and I love how flexible it is. Raw? Great. Sautéed for a few minutes? Great. Braised forever? Great. In this case, it’s stir-fried for a moment, to become a fluffy bed for the salmon to roast upon.

These ingredients aren’t mandatory, though—they’re conversation starters. If you want to swap in different beans or greens, then that’s exactly what you should do. Try Cannellini or Gigante! Test out Swiss chard or collards! Live in the moment!

But there's one thing you really shouldn't change: the olive oil–fried lemons. Because before you season the salmon, before you sauté the kale, before you open that can of chickpeas—you’re going to pan-fry lemon slices and these are going to make the dish. In just a few minutes, they become slightly crisp, with charred edges and juicy centers, adding the unabashed brightness that winter dinners crave.

Now, back to that salmon.

Unlike a pan-seared fillet, which requires constant tending to, this hands-off slow-roasted variety is like, “Don’t worry about me! I got this.” I first learned this technique from Sally Schneider, whose recipe was dubbed Genius in 2015.

As Genius recipe–hunter Kristen Miglore wrote: “Slow-roasting makes a beautifully tender, evenly cooked, not-one-bit-dry piece of fish.” It also makes it just about impossible to mess up. The goal is to pull the fish from the oven when its internal temperature reaches 120°F. But if you miss the mark by a few, it will still be tender and juicy.

While Schneider’s recipe calls for roasting in an oven-safe pan, we’re cheating the system by frying the lemon and roasting the kale and chickpeas beneath the salmon in said pan. This means that everyone gets along all the better when they emerge from the oven, 30ish minutes later.

Like Kristen, I love a big dollop of Greek yogurt on top. Like the lemons, this makes the recipe feel very purposeful. And like the chickpeas, it’s no more work than opening a container.

Put it all together and you get my new favorite way to cook salmon—any night I want.

What's your favorite way to cook salmon? Tell us in the comments!
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    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Eric K. January 29, 2019
I love this recipe, Emma. Frying the lemons is so smart.
Amy L. January 29, 2019
Had our usual grilled salmon last night while all those ingredients were hanging around the house feeling left out :(
Sounds totally delish and next week's salmon will be happier with this Big Little Recipe!
Emma L. January 29, 2019
Yay for happier salmon!