Simple Salmon Dinner Recipe & The History Of Oven Cooking - The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures Simple Salmon Dinner Recipe & The History Of Oven Cooking
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RECIPE: A Simple Salmon Dinner & The History Of Oven Cooking

Salmon With Herb Butter
[1] Spoon the herb butter sauce over the fillet.

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[2] Plated with a butter lettuce salad (recipes below).

Poached Salmon
[3] With kale and baby potatoes (photos #1, #2 and #3 © Good Eggs).

  Last night we had guests over for a simple salmon dinner. It was an impromptu event: Our fishmonger had a sale on wild-caught salmon and we decided it would be a “salmon weekend.”

We adore complicated recipes in the right hands. When we dine out, it is usually to have food from gifted chefs whose technique to make it surpasses anything we could hope to achieve.

But at home, we tend to keep things simple. The best ingredients, simply prepared to show them off, create the best meals.

While many people say they can’t cook fish well, baking it is pretty fool-proof (as it is tossing a marinated fish on the grill, if you have one).

This easy recipe from Good Eggs, bakes the salmon in a slow oven (see the chart below), to “gently coax out the salmon’s delicate flavor.”

Add a simple green salad and a steamed fresh vegetable and you’ve got a delicious dinner. Everything will be ready in 35 minutes.

Where would we be without our ovens? The history of the oven is below.

The best wine pairings are chosen by preparation, not by ingredient. A classic wine pairing for salmon baked in butter sauce is Chardonnay/White Burgundy. You can also serve rosé or a sparkling wine.

We served a luscious Pinot Gris* from our favorite Alsatian producer, Zindt-Humbrecht, and a Grüner Veltliner (a superb Austrian white) from Pichler. Sauvignon Blanc is another favorite.

Red wine is typically paired with a meatier preparation, such as grilled or blackened salmon. But if you only drink red, a light Pinot Noir/Red Burgundy, Gamay/Beaujolais, or Valpolicella Classico will work.

Ingredients For 2-3 Servings

  • 1 pound fresh salmon
  • ½ cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 handful† basil leaves, roughly chopped, plus more for the salad
  • 2-3 tablespoons red onion, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
    For The Salad

  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Butter Lettuce, leaves washed and trimmed (or lettuce of choice)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Additional salad ingredients as desired

    *Pinot Gris is a white wine grape now planted around the world, but originally known by the wines from Alsace, France. Pinot Grigio is Italian for the same grape. Pinot Blanc is very similar: Both grapes (Pinot Gris/Grigio and Pinot Blanc) are mutations of Pinot Noir. Alsatian Pinot Gris tends to be a more finely crafted wine. While there are fine Pinot Grigios, much of what is sold in the U.S. is a lighter, mass-market wine.

    †A handful is one of those imprecise measures that says: Use how much you want. More or less of the ingredient is not critical to the recipe’s outcome.



    1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F. While it heats, make a simple herb butter by combining the basil leaves with the butter. If you have other herbs in the kitchen—parsley, tarragon, etc.— feel free to add them also.

    2. PLACE the salmon fillet(s) on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Season it lightly with salt and pepper, and scoop a few dollops of herb butter over it. Then bake it for about 30 minutes, until it is just barely firm to the touch. While fish bakes…

    3. MAKE the salad dressing. Place the onion in a bowl, cover it with the vinegar, and let sit for about 15 minutes. Then whisk in the olive oil with, a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. When fish is done…

    4. REMOVE the fish from the oven and let it rest for a minute as you make the salad. Toss the lettuce with the vinaigrette, sliced avocado and a few torn basil leaves; serve with a big piece of salmon and a glass of nicely chilled wine.

    When early man mastered the creation of fire, food was cooked in pits dug into the ground, over flame-heated stones, and then—with the invention of cooking vessels—suspended over fires. Cooking was at best imprecise, but so was all of life back then.

    When nomadic man settled into agricultural communities, an outdoor or indoor fireplace could be constructed; an indoor fireplace also provided heat in colder climates. All cooking was still approximate in terms of how large a fire was needed, and how long to cook the food. In those days, food was sustenance rather than cuisine. Fire was used to make tough foods more chewable.

    In earlier times before ovens had sophisticated temperature controls, it was a challenge for cooks to make temperature-sensitive recipes. Even in recipes from the early 20th century, you’ll find directions like “cook in a slow oven for 2 hours or until meat is tender.”

    Today, ovens have precise temperature controls and those general times have been converted to degrees. For example, a “moderate oven” is 350°F to 375°F.

    This history of ovens is adapted from an article in Smithsonian Magazine by Lisa Bramen.

    Before ovens, there was cooking over an outdoor fire (think campfire) or an indoor fireplace and chimney with pots suspended over a wood fire.

  • Ancient Ovens: Ancient Egyptians, Romans, Jews and other peoples baked their bread in a wood-fired stone or brick oven—the same general format used for today’s wood-fired pizza ovens.
  • Cast Iron Stoves With Ovens: Over the centuries, brick ovens were refined to contain a door—the only way to regulate heat. Wood-fired cast iron stoves appeared in the mid-1700s, but still, there were no gauges. To bake a cake or other heat-sensitive recipe, ovens were “regulated” by burning the right amount of wood to ash. Bakers stuck their hands inside the oven to feel the temperature, adding more wood for heat or opening the door to let the oven cool to what seemed like the right temperature.
  • Gas Ovens: The first recorded use of gas for cooking was by a Moravian named Zacchaeus Andreas Winzler, a German-born inventor living in Moravia (now the Czech Republic) in 1802. It took another three decades for the first commercially produced gas stove, designed by Englishman James Sharp nine 1834. The stoves became popular by the end of the 19th century. They were easier to regulate and required less upkeep than wood or coal stoves, the ashes of which had to be swept out often—a dirty job.
  • The Thermostat: From the prehistoric dawn of the oven to the latter half of the 19th century, there were no thermostats to regulate the temperature of the oven, which was fueled by a wood or charcoal fire. Delicate cooking like cake baking required great techniques to produce good results. In 1851, the Bower’s Registered Gas Stove debuted at the Great Exhibition in London, featuring a revolution: a thermostat. It became the basis for the modern gas oven.

    Oven Temperature Chart
    [4] Slow oven? Fast oven? Here’s what it means (chart courtesy Wikipedia).

    Pot Over Campfire
    [5] After fire was invented, man could have a campfire with a simple spit to hold the food, until flameproof cooking vessels (clay pots) were invented. The oldest pot found is from China and dates to 20,000 B.C.E., at the height of the Ice Age, long before the beginnings of agriculture (photo with a contemporary pot ©

    Ancient Pompei Oven
    [6] An oven in Pompei (photo ©

    Iron Stove
    [7] A Victorian cast-iron oven: still wood-fueled, no temperature dials (photo ©

  • Electric Stoves/Ovens: Home electricity came into use at the end of the 19th century. In 1892, an early electric stove and oven were manufactured by Thomas Ahearn, a Canadian electric company owner.
  • Toaster Ovens: The pop-up toaster was invented in 1919, and the next improvement, the toaster oven, began to appear in consumer kitchens in the 1960s. They are countertop, rectangular electric ovens with a front door, wire rack, and removable baking pan. They were first used for toast, with the benefit that they could accommodate thick bagels and muffins, which would burn in the narrow slots of conventional pop-ups. But because they can perform most of the functions of electric ovens, they were also used to reheat and even cook some foods. Larger models emerged to accommodate small pizzas, frozen foods and other cooking. The benefit is that the small toaster oven heats up much more quickly than a conventional oven.
  • Rotary Ovens: A rotary oven is a countertop oven used to roast meat and poultry, in the manner of a horizontal rotisserie. It has a smaller footprint and thus a smaller area for cleanup.
  • Convection Ovens: A convection oven allows for a reduction in cooking temperature and cook time, compared to a conventional gas or electric oven. This happens because circulating air transfers heat more quickly than still air of the same temperature. In order to transfer the same amount of heat in the same time, the convection oven temperature must be lowered (typically by 25° to 30°F) to compensate for the rate of heat transfer. The first oven to use a fan to circulate air was invented in 1914, but never launched commercially. The first convection oven in wide use was the Maxson Whirlwind Oven, invented in 1945. In the 1990s, major
  • The Microwave: In 1946, Percy LeBaron Spencer, an engineer for the Raytheon Corporation, was doing research on microwave-producing magnetrons when he discovered that the chocolate bar in his shirt pocket had melted. He experimented further and found that microwave radiation could cook food more quickly than gas and electricity. Raytheon’s Amana division released the first consumer microwave oven in 1967. The high price and [unfounded] fears about radiation took another decade for adventuresome consumers to adopt.
  • Convection Microwave Ovens: Newer technology has enabled microwave capability inside convenction ovens. Metal cannot be used in standard microwaves, whereas in convection microwaves it is possible.
  • Air Fryer Oven: A substitute for traditional deep frying, air frying is a method of cooking that circulates hot air at a high speed inside an oven (countertop for home use), through the use of a convection fan. This technique cooks food faster while creating a crispy fried layer. It provides even browning on all sides using little to no oil. It was commercially introduced in 2010.
  • Combi Steamer Ovens: Also called combi-steamers and hot-air steamers, this combination steam, and convection oven was developed in the 1960s for commercial use, although some cooks use them to cook for larger groups at home. The steaming function works very well for foods like vegetables, potatoes, and fish, while convection works well for roasting, braising, and baking. The steam offsets the drying potential of convection heat.


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