One pan, 30 minutes and a superior spring salmon
By Melissa Clark
Of all the ways to cook a sugar snap pea, roasting at high heat was never at the top of my list.
To me, the joy of a sugar snap was always in its crunch — that juicy pop when you bit one in half. And that is exactly what a stint in a hot oven would obliterate.
Besides, with their season being so frustratingly short in the Northeast, I hardly had enough time to eat my fill of them raw or quickly blanched before they disappeared. Roasting was just not a priority.
Eventually, though, I had to try it. After all, I’ve enjoyed roasting pretty much every other vegetable out there. (Even the less obviously roast-able ones, like radishes and lettuces, have their charms.) So I threw a pan of peas into the oven to see what would happen.
Visually, the result was not encouraging. The peas wilted, shriveled and dimmed, their bright green fading into a muddy khaki.
But the flavor was divine: a rich, concentrated essence of sweet peas layered with savory caramelized notes. Roasting may quiet the peas’ crunch, but it amplifies their sweetness — and they have sweetness in spades.
Paired with spiced salmon fillets and red onions, the roasted sugar snaps form the basis of a speedy one-pan meal. Peas and salmon are a classic combination, but the almost-candylike flavor of the sugar snaps coupled with the earthy spice blend on the fish make the dish taste different — deeper, more aromatic and complex.
Although you could probably use almost any spice blend here, I like those with warm, earthy notes, like baharat and garam masala. Combined with some grated garlic, I smeared the spice blend onto the salmon before briefly browning the fish, leaving fragrant, savory drippings in the pan. Those drippings then seasoned the peas and onions, infusing them as they softened.
Because salmon cooks so quickly, you’ll need to keep your eye on it. For fish that’s still rare at the center, look for a temperature of 110 to 120 degrees at the center of the fillet. Or, poke a fillet with a toothpick or paring knife; it should slide in easily, but not yet flake.
The only thing you’ll need to complete this one-pan meal is a loaf of crusty bread. Not only will it soak up all those tasty drippings at the bottom of the pan, but it can even provide the missing crunch.
And to Drink …
Salmon is assertive enough to go with red wine. Simply grilled, it’s a wonderful pairing for red Burgundy and other pinot noir wines. You could certainly open a red and enjoy it with this dish, but given the vegetables and the spice blend, I would probably opt for a white, preferably a rich white that would match the weight of the fish. A good Chablis would be an excellent choice, as would other chardonnays, provided they are not too oaky. You could also try a dry riesling from Austria or Alsace, or a dry Savennières from the Loire Valley. Sherry lovers can imagine how delicious a fino would be with this dish. Others might be pleasantly surprised. — ERIC ASIMOV
Spiced salmon with sugar snap peas and red onion
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
1 teaspoon baharat spice blend, or use another warm and earthy spice blend, such as garam masala
4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets
Kosher salt and black pepper
2 medium red onions
1 pound sugar snap peas (4 cups)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint leaves and tender stems
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon oil, garlic and baharat. Season salmon all over with salt and black pepper. Rub spice mixture all over salmon. Set salmon aside while slicing the onions and sugar snap peas.
2. Cut the onions in half root-to-stem, then peel them and slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons. Trim the peas and cut them in half crosswise.
3. In a large, preferably nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over high heat. Add fish, skin-side down if there’s skin, and cook until browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer salmon to a plate, browned-side up. (Don’t sear the other side; the salmon will finish cooking in the oven.)
4. Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the skillet. Stir in onions and cook until lightly golden, 3 minutes. Add snap peas and a pinch each of salt and pepper, stirring everything to coat with pan juices. Cook until peas have softened and browned slightly, 5 to 7 minutes. Put salmon, browned-side up, on top of peas and transfer pan to the oven. Roast until fish is just cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes longer.
5. Squeeze a little lime juice over salmon and transfer fish to serving plates. Stir herbs into peas and onions. Taste, and add more salt and lime juice, if needed. Serve with the salmon, with the lime wedges on the side.