ATK’s Herb-crusted Salmon Fillets

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A few days ago, I watched an America’s Test Kitchen TV that had been broadcast the previous week (while I was still watching the Winter Olympics). Episode #1407 according to my TiVo, it was entited Salmon and Latkes, and the first recipe they did looked very familiar — it was the same herb-crusted salmon ($) from the May, 2013, Cook’s Illustrated as I had done for my parents last summer. It has all the hallmarks of a typical Test Kitchen recipe: brining, par-cooking some ingredients to ensure the correct finished texture, unusual pan preparation, and a temperature reading for doneness. I remembered having liked how it came out, so I decided to do it again.

This is the first significant bit of cooking I’ve done since my parents packed up and left for the west coast. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the salmon fillet I had bought was already pinboned; usually I buy wild salmon, which never is in my experience, but for this recipe a thicker fillet was called for, and that meant farm-raised Atlantic salmon. (In any event, the flavor of wild, Pacific salmon is quite delicate, and would be smothered under all the herbage in this recipe.) The salmon is portioned into four (hopefully) equal pieces and brined for 15 minutes for seasoning. The recipe calls for fresh tarragon as the principal herb flavor, but basil and dill can also be used; I chose to use dill this time around, having done tarragon back in the summer. (There is also thyme in the crust.) I made one measurement mistake, using only 1/3 cup of panko rather than the 1/2 cup the recipe calls for; I blame the poor lighting in my kitchen. Despite this, there was nearly enough of the crust material anyway. The recipe calls for pre-browning the panko in a skillet with melted butter, which ensures that the crust is brown and crisp without using the broiler, which would overcook the fish.

The main herb flavor doesn’t go into the crust itself; it is made into a mustard- and mayonnaise-based “glue” that is used to adhere the crust to the fish. The recipe takes an entire quarter cup of chopped tarragon (or dill), which is a pretty substantial amount. (I started with “oh surely that will be enough” and, after picking out the stems and chopping the fronds, found that my measure was only two-thirds full.) The thyme, which can stand up better to the heat, is mixed with the browned panko and a bit of beaten egg to form the crust. The prepared fillets are cooked on a piece of lubricated aluminum foil which is set atop a wire rack in a half-sheet pan. Here’s what it looks like before cooking:

Photo shows four salmon fillets on an oiled piece of aluminum foil, which in turn sits on a wire rack set inside a half-sheet pan.

Four herb-crusted salmon fillets on a baking tray ready to go into the oven

You can see that I didn’t do a terribly good job of evenly portioning the fillet, and there are some spots that didn’t get enough of the crust (could have used that extra eight teaspoons of panko that I accidentally left out), but each piece did get reasonably covered with “glue” and bread crumbs. The salmon is cooked in a fairly low oven — only 325°F — and it’s done when it reaches an internal temperature of 125°F — a good number to remember, since it’s not only good for salmon but beef as well. After resting for a while it looks like this:

Photo shows three cooked herb-crusted salmon fillets on a white plate with blue decoration. The salmon is light orange in color; the top is covered with green chopped herbs, which are in turn covered with browned bread crumbs. A food thermometer sits on the counter next to the plate.

Three cooked salmon fillets on a plate

Yes, there’s one piece missing — the one I ate! It was as good as I remembered it, although the dill flavor seemed a bit muted. This particular preparation cooks the salmon perfectly, and the low oven temperature allows for a fair amount of latitude; I ended up taking it to the high end of the Test Kitchen’s timing estimate before the recommended internal temperature was reached in the larger of the fillets. For sides, I had cranberry-couscous salad (from the Whole Foods prepared-foods department) and steamed asparagus. The challenge, as with all cooked fish, will be in the reheating; I’ll report back on that later. Now for the nutrition data:

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 fillet (6 oz before cooking)
Servings per container: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 463 Calories from fat 275
% Daily Value
Total Fat 31g 48%
 Saturated Fat 9g 45%
 Polyunsaturated Fat 6g
 Monounsaturated Fat 6g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 143mg 48%
Sodium1 217mg 9%
Potassium 646mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
 Dietary fiber 0g
 Sugars 0g
Proteins 36g 72%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 7%
Calcium 0%
Iron 1%

1Note well: Does not include sodium absorbed from brine, which can only be determined by laboratory analysis.

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One Response to ATK’s Herb-crusted Salmon Fillets

  1. Reheat update: I found the best bet for reheating the salmon was to put it on a dinner plate, cover with a paper towel, and then microwave for five minutes on 10% power. If it’s not hot enough, zap on high for five-second increments until ready. The crust suffers, of course.

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