Big Little Recipes

An Herby, Spicy Salmon Worth Repeating

July  7, 2020

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. Today, we’re making a make-ahead dinner.

While pan-seared salmon should be served as soon as it’s out of the skillet—becoming less crispy, less crackly, less good the farther it gets from the stove, not unlike a new car whose value plummets as you drive away from the dealership—a slow-roasted fillet has staying power.

But I should clarify what I mean by slow. This word, when extended to sinewy brisket or fat-rippled pork shoulder, can means hours in a low-temperature oven. Swap in a thin, buttery fish and that condenses to less than an hour, often less than a half-hour, not even enough time to watch an episode of Padma Lakshmi’s new show.

Photo by Ty Mecham. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens.

You might recognize this impossible-to-overcook method from our Genius column five years back. “Slow-roasting makes a beautifully tender, evenly cooked, not-one-bit-dry piece of fish,” wrote Kristen. Journalist and cookbook author Sally Schneider “learned about the technique for salmon close to 20 years ago.” And it’s just as useful as ever.

What’s more: Slow-roasted salmon is as delicious hot, as it is warm, as it is cold. The last might be my favorite, especially as the weather gets clammier by the day. Refrigerating fish post-roast means you can start the recipe when you have time, then put it toward dinner when you don’t.

In this Big Little Recipe, said dinner involves boiled yellow potatoes and not one, but two super-sauces. All of which can be served right away or made in advance.

First up, an herb yogurt that’s as simple as, ahem, blending herbs and yogurt. I use dill because we’re tight, but basil is just as friendly. Whichever herb you pick, swoosh and swirl the sauce all over a plate, a happy place for the salmon to kick back, like a sandy beach with a salty breeze, a piña colada in one hand and romance novel in the other, and—wait, where were we?

Right, the second sauce. It’s a smoked paprika oil that’s as simple as—you guessed it—adding smoked paprika to oil. Blooming spices is a key technique in many cuisines, especially Indian cooking, in which “the word tadka is used both to refer to the cooking method and the spiced liquid fat,” as cookbook author Nik Sharma writes on Serious Eats. Once paprika is stirred into hot olive oil, it sizzles and intensifies, turning the whole mixture a rusty hue. You can use it right away or stick it in a jar for later.

Add all this up and you have salmon that feels utterly luxe, even if the recipe was pieced together here and there, like folding a basket of laundry over a week—a few T-shirts one day, a couple pairs of jeans another, whenever it feels mind-numbing and soothing, not like a chore.

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Put down those long grocery lists. Inspired by the award-winning column, our Big Little Recipes cookbook is minimalism at its best: few ingredients, tons of flavor.

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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.


Jillco August 17, 2022
Nice recipe.

Root veggies should be put in cold water and brought to a boil. Also, the time to add salt is after the water comes to a rolling boil.
TM September 7, 2020
Made this last night and it was delicious!!! AND easy to make. I didn't have the smokey paprika so had to use regular paprika, but that worked just fine flavor-wise. I loved that could make the parts of this recipe ahead of time. I served with a side of tomato and cucumber salad simply dressed in olive oil, red wine vinegar and fresh ground pepper. I think it would have worked nicely to use fresh lemon juice in place of the vinegar.