Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
While home cooks are usually focused on building flavor in a dish, texture is an equally important component. Creating a contrast can be the thing that takes a simple weeknight meal from tasty to downright addictive, like toasted breadcrumbs atop a creamy mac and cheese or a crisp layer of lettuce on a juicy burger.
Here, crispy seared salmon meets an ultra-creamy cauliflower puree for a dish that feels decadent and sophisticated, though the ingredient list is short and simple. The fish-cooking technique featured in this recipe is by far my favorite for achieving skin that’s crisped from edge to edge and tender flesh that flakes easily but isn’t dry. It’s one you might recognize from bacon recipes too. The salmon starts in a room-temperate pan, as opposed to a preheated one. As the fillets heat up with the pan, the fat gradually renders out from each piece of skin, creating a crisp exterior without excess oil.
You’ll only need a quick mist of cooking spray to make sure there’s absolutely no stickage when it’s time to flip the fish and cut the heat. By that point, the salmon will be mostly cooked, and it will finish from the residual heat that you’ll use to make a quick pan sauce at the same time. This method also minimizes smoke, which for me means less time waving dish towels at the smoke detector.
I count the cauliflower puree as the vegetable component of my meal, despite all the butter and cream, but any oven-roasted, sturdy, green vegetable (like asparagus or string beans) will go nicely with this.
The lemon-butter pan sauce provides a punch of acid, while the wine pairing offers its own refreshing kick. If not for the “$20” part of this 8 & $20 series, I’d probably reach for a Chablis, but a straightforward Mâcon-Villages, from southern Burgundy, does the trick. The Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages 2019 brought a freshness that pleasantly broke through all the buttery elements, as well as the subtle sweetness that’s naturally present in cooked salmon and cauliflower. Notes of orchard fruit round out this Chardonnay's flavor profile. A Sauvignon Blanc could be a good match too, particularly if you're serving a green vegetable on the side; since this is a dish with minimal cleanup, you’ll have plenty of time to play around with pairings if you want to.
8 & $20: Crispy-Skin Salmon with Creamy Cauliflower Puree
Pair with a fruit-forward French Chardonnay such as Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages 2019 (87 points, $16).
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Approximate food costs: $35
- 1 head cauliflower, roughly chopped into small florets (about 6 cups)
- 4 skin-on salmon fillets, about 5 ounces each
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- Vegetable oil cooking spray
- Juice of 1 lemon, about 3 tablespoons
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
1. Add water to a large skillet to a depth of 1/4 inch and bring to a boil over high heat. Add cauliflower and a pinch of salt, cover and let steam for 6 to 7 minutes until the cauliflower is tender but not mushy. Use tongs to transfer steamed cauliflower to a bowl and let it cool while you prepare the salmon.
2. Remove salmon fillets from the fridge, season all over with salt and pepper and set aside at room temperature.
3. In a small saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter with the heavy cream over medium until combined, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. In a large food processor or blender, add steamed cauliflower and the cream mixture. Process for a few minutes until super smooth and silky—almost fluffy—pausing every minute or so to check on the puree and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Transfer to a bowl, season to taste with salt and then tent the bowl with foil to keep warm.
4. Very lightly spray a large skillet with cooking spray. (Cast-iron is great, but pretty much any skillet works.) Before you turn on the heat, place the salmon fillets in the skillet, skin side down. Turn heat to medium-high and let the fish cook, pressing into the pan every once in a while, until the skin is super crispy, about 8 minutes. Turn off the heat, flip the salmon and let it sit in the hot pan for another 2 minutes. Add lemon juice around the fillets while the salmon cooks for one more minute, then remove the salmon and set aside for serving.
5. While the pan is off the heat but still hot, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan and swirl to combine into a sauce.
6. To serve, place a scoop of cauliflower puree on each plate and top with a salmon fillet, then spoon over some sauce from the pan and garnish with parsley, if desired. Serves 4.