The key to this recipe (which is easy to make gluten free) is that it produces TWO brilliant meals, since it’s amazing hot, but differently amazing cold the next day as the flavors have a chance to mix and mature. The flavor match is usually better with sweeter, paler salmon such as coho than with the very deep red sockeye-type salmon which have a stronger savory flavor. It can be made with salmon filets, steaks, or (notes at the bottom) for roasting salmon whole. This recipe focuses on cultivating and increasing the moisture of the salmon, the opposite of searing or the rich fatty crusting you can get from a hot roast. The actual kitchen steps are quick and easy, but you need about 20 minutes at the start for rice to cook and then 45 minutes to 1:15 for the salmon to cook, so you need to start well in advance. A quick variant that takes only 30 minutes total is described at the bottom of the recipe.
- 2-3 pounds of large salmon fillets, ideally thicker (avoid very thin fillets). Seaks or whole salmon work too (notes below).
- 2.5-3 cups of rice (your favorite variety)
- 1/4 cup raisins, ideally golden raisins or a mix of golden and dark
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (or more!)
- 1-2 fresh lemons (depending on size; you want 3 lemons if you’re cooking steaks)
- 1 large white or yellow onion
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil for fillets (2 more if you are cooking steaks or a whole salmon, see below)
- 1 cup light broth (vegetable, mushroom, or chicken)
- 1/2 cup apple or pear cider or juice
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional: a pinch of nutmeg or allspice)
- Gentle Mediterranean herbs: you can use an Herbes de Provence mix, or combine some (or all) of the following: thyme, marjoram, savory, rosemary (powdered or fresh), fresh oregano (dried can turn too bitter), powdered bay leaf.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Optional: fresh basil (avoid dried – it turns bitter in the baking process).
You need a large baking dish with a lid. A large rectangular flat casserole dish works well, or if you’re doubling the recipe or using a whole salmon you can bake the whole thing in a covered turkey pan.
Cook the rice first, using your usual method. Any variety of rice works, but it can be most delicious if, among the standard white or brown rice grains, you mix in something to give it a little texture variation, such as 1/2 cup of wild rice or arborio rice.
As the rice finishes up, take a large frying pan, dice the onion, and saute it in the olive oil with a little salt. When the onion turns clear and has carmelized a bit, add the raisins, the apple or pear cider/juice, and the broth. Simmer until the raisins swell up and become plump, adding the cinnamon, and optionally a pinch of nutmeg and/or allspice.
You want to preheat your oven to 375, but this recipe is actually quite flexible and works at any temperature from 325 up to 425 so you can easily combine it with baking a second dish if you have a favorite recipe that needs a different temperature. Depending on your oven’s speed, it is usually best to turn the oven on while the onion is simmering.
When the raisins are plump and the onion tender, add the rice to the liquid in the frying pan and mix until the liquid is all absorbed and the raisins and onion bits are evenly distributed throughout the rice mixture. If your frying pan is not large enough, this step can be done in a mixing bowl instead.
Take your large lidded baking dish and spread the rice mixture evenly over the bottom, leaving enough room at the top for the salmon to fit under the lid (notes for whole salmon below). Sprinkle the lemon juice over the rice, so it mixes in but is mostly toward the top of the rice layer (it will trickle down as it bakes). Slice the lemon into slices a little thinner than 1 cm. Lay the lemon slices evenly over the surface of the rice to make a lemon layer covering the rice.
Lay your salmon fillets out on a work surface flesh side up (skin down). Sprinkle your herbs (Herbes de Provence mix, thyme, marjoram, savory, rosemary, fresh oregano, powdered bay leaf, etc.) over the salmon. (Do not add fresh basil at this time if you’re using it). Also sprinkle salt & pepper to taste. If you’re a garlic lover you can add a little bit of minced, crushed, or powdered garlic but be careful since it easily overwhelms the other flavors of the dish. (I say this as someone who regularly uses two-to-three heads of garlic in a single dish–garlic is great in many dishes but not this one). Now, take your herb-crusted salmon fillets and lay them flesh-side-down (skin side up) on top of the lemon layer above the rice. Put the lid on and bake. Cooking time will vary with the thickness of the fish, but 45 minutes is usually right for fillets. Because the container is sealed and the fish gets moisture from the lemon layer,
The Today part: The salmon will be soft enough to come apart, so a large spoon will suffice to serve up delicious bowls of hot rice with salmon chunks, a splendid meal. If you have fresh basil you can shred it and sprinkle it on here at the end.
But that’s just the beginning. Take whatever you don’t have the first day and put it into a large container, jumbling the fish and rice together and (most important) keeping the baked lemon slices with it and stirring to let them mix throughout. You can optionally sprinkle a little extra lemon juice over the top before you seal the container and put it in the refrigerator overnight.
The Tomorrow part: Once the salmon has chilled overnight and the lemon has had a chance to fully saturate, you can enjoy a second meal of cold salmon rice. Scoop up your desired amount, tossing out the lemon slices and eating the rest of the mixture together. Makes a great take-to-work lunch or summer meal. Some may find that a little extra salt and pepper or a little extra lemon juice or olive oil may enhance this second meal (olive oil only if your salmon was uncommonly lean).
If cooking salmon steaks: since the top side of the fish is exposed, it is at risk of becoming dry. Sprinkle extra olive oil and herbs over the top of the steaks, then use your extra lemon to put a second layer of lemon slices on top. The flavor will leak down and the moisture will keep the top sides of the steaks moist and delicious. Steaks may take slightly longer than fillets to bake depending on thickness.
If cooking a whole salmon: you want to use the rice mixture as a stuffing. Clean and prepare the whole fish. Inside the open cavity, splash liberal amounts of olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper, and more modest amount of your herb mixture. Then stuff the cavity with the rice. Extra rice can be put in the baking dish around the salmon, so it lies snuggled in a bed of rice. Be certain to salt and pepper the skin of the whole salmon to make the skin itself delicious. A whole salmon prepared this way may take up to 1:30 minutes to bake, depending on size.
If you’re in a hurry: you can bake salmon fillets by themselves while the rice is cooking. This doesn’t require the fresh lemons. It isn’t quite as delicious at the hot meal as if you baked the rice under the salmon (with the juices dripping down) but it greatly reduces the cooking time. After you put the rice on, preheat the oven. Take your lidded baking dish and pour the lemon juice & a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom, mixing in the herbs, so your baking dish has a bath of herbs and juice at the bottom at least 2 cm deep. Put your salmon fillets in the dish flesh down (skin up). Ideally they should be tightly packed so the lemon-herb bath wells up around the sides of the filets enough to nearly cover them. Fresh lemon slices can be set on top of the fillets. Bake covered for 25-30 minutes. While the salmon is baking, prepare the rice as above, making sure you combine the rice with the onion/raisin/broth/cider mixture in a pan where you can keep it hot. You can then serve the hot meal in bowls with rice on the bottom and the salmon on top, pouring some of the extra liquid from the salmon baking dish over the rice. For the tomorrow part, mix the rice and salmon together before refrigerating, and sprinkle extra lemon juice over to substitute for the absence of the baked lemon slices.