Honey & Dijon Salmon
With Pecans & Dill
Consider this recipe an olive branch, meant to try bridging the gap between two very different online food communities. It’s an adaptation (with a few slight modifications) of this fairly popular one found on All Recipes. It’s delicious, healthy, easy, and it looks great. And that’s precisely why I hope it can help to bring together two deeply divided food cultures.
For a basic idea of what I’m talking about, I strongly encourage you to read this great Slate article. At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, internet food culture is largely split between two different culinary camps. On one side, the complex, trendy, and highly visual world of ‘foodie’ culture. On the other side, the home cooking that is actually happening in North American kitchens. To quote the Slate article itself, it’s all about “[t]he gap between the food we cook and the food we talk about.”
As an educator, I’m deeply concerned about our highly visual but impractical food culture. We love watching TV shows about food, and we endlessly collect and curate recipes on Pinterest, and yet the gap between “that looks good” and “I’m going to make that” is, frankly, enormous. All Recipes has, for better or worse, taken an approach to food that encourages cooking rather than looking. The recipes are user-submitted, and the instructions favour simplicity and brevity. The photography is also decidedly unglamourous, which is something I’ll be coming back in the section below. As a food blogger, it’s not exactly the kind of stuff I get excited about. While there are many food bloggers who favour tried-and-true home cooking and simple recipes, there are also many who fall on the trendy, foodie side of the equation. Regardless, both sides will tell you that without good photography you’re more or less doomed. But All Recipes is doing something very important, and something that food bloggers everywhere need to remember – it’s getting people to actually cook. Sure, the food isn’t always phenomenal, and there are plenty of recipes with questionable nutritional merits, but it’s still getting people into the kitchen. And while I believe we should all challenge ourselves and explore food in a more meaningful way, I’d much rather have readers look at a recipe and think “I can do that” than “That’s so pretty/complex, I could never do that.” You might wonder then why I run this site the way I do, rather than taking a short-and-sweet, simple approach to food and food writing. The truth is that I feel that the All Recipes approach, while useful in many ways, sells home cooks short.
To be clear (and fair), I think that simple, approachable meals are an essential gateway to good home cooking and to a healthier society. Someone who’s never made a pot of rice is probably not going to jump right into making risotto, and its unrealistic to expect a cooking novice to dive into a recipe if the instructions contain words like chiffonade, sous-vide, baton, or spatchcock. But I also think that home cooks are being sold a false narrative about their skills. I have the utmost respect for professional chefs, and I don’t mean to take anything away from them, but the line between talented home cook and talented chef is not as wide as you might think. We are all capable of so much more than we realize, and there’s no reason not to aim for greatness in the kitchen. And let me be perfectly clear about this – I am a home cook. I have plenty of formal education, but none of it is in cooking. I spent 8 years in University, and closest I came to an oven in that setting was when I had to sterilize glassware in an autoclave. In fact, I didn’t really start paying much attention to cooking until I was in my early 20s. The label of ‘home cook’ should not be a limiting one. We have more information at our fingertips than ever before, and our abilities are more-or-less only limited by our drive and by the quality of the education we receive.
So what can food bloggers do? Push. Push gently, but push all the same. We can be the voices that drive culinary education forward, and encourage home cooks in new and exciting ways. I put a lot of writing into my Recipe Notes not because the food is complicated, but because I want my readers to have the best possible shot at succeeding. I want my readers to look at the food I cook and think “Hey, I can do that.” Oddly enough, this is one of the places where All Recipes and its kin fall short. Because these sites aim to make food look extremely approachable, they often forgo a lot of the explanation and tips that would actually make cooking easier. We mistakenly equate short with easy, and the chances of disappointment or failure increase when we try to minimize instructions and ingredient lists. This is part of why most of us flock to the comments section when we read a recipe; instructions are often lacking, and the keys to success are frequently provided thanks to the trial-and-error of strangers. Clear writing and good communication are key to encouraging readers, but food bloggers can do even more by remembering to communicate exactly what it is that drives them to cook and to create. Most of the people who get into food blogging do it because they possess an unbridled enthusiasm for the subject matter, but when we become preoccupied with social media, SEO, photography, statistics, and advertising, we often forget to share the excitement and joy that drove us to dive into this in the first place. The world doesn’t need our recipes nearly as much as it needs our passion.
And what about everyone else? What about the readers, home cooks, foodies, and culinary experimenters? First and foremost – never stop cooking. If we’re not actually cooking then this is all just window-dressing. Second, never stop trying to improve. You are only limited by your culinary imagination, and with genuine desire and effort every meal (even the failures) can be a step towards greatness. Third, understand that the work of others should be a point of inspiration and not intimidation. Every one of the world’s greatest cooks had to boil a pot of water for the first time at some point. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Lastly, remember that this strange world of food is (or should be) a collaboration between reader and writer. A food blog can say “Look what I can do” or it can say “Look what we can do.” The more we encourage the latter, the better off we’re all going to be.
On Food Photography
I mentioned inspiration vs. intimidation earlier, and nowhere is that a bigger issue than food photography. I really enjoy presenting my food and making my photos appealing, and the visual impact food can have is undeniable. As the old adage goes, “first you eat with your eyes.” But when I think that readers might look at my food and think “Wow, that’s too fancy for me” I want to jump through the screen and shake them. Food photography is meant to draw you in and get you interested in the dish, but it’s not meant to leave you thinking that your food should look like the food on the screen. Let’s really look at what’s going on in this recipe for example. All I did here was carefully arrange some green beans, choose the nicest looking piece of salmon, and paint sauce on a plate with a basting brush. The end. Sure it looks fancy, but it would taste exactly the same if you put the salmon on the plate beside a messy pile of beans. The photography is meant to entice, but it’s not meant to distract you from the fact that this is, at its core, an easy and weeknight-friendly meal. The techniques are all wildly simple and the most complicated piece of equipment is a food processor, and even that you can work around (see the Recipe Notes for more on that). Sure, this dish is beautiful, but that has little (if anything) to do with how good it is.
Regular readers may have noted that I’m not normally so self-congratulatory about the appearance of a dish. It’s time to drop a bomb on you lovely folks (BRACE YOURSELVES): I didn’t even make this. My brother Jeff cooked this while he was here for a visit. The dill is his idea, as are the coarse bread crumbs and the more ‘rustic’ looking crust/topping (both of which are improvements on the original, in my opinion). Basically, he found this recipe, experimented with it, and made it his own. All I did was put the plate together and disappear to my garage to take photos. If you’ll forgive an artsy platitude, I didn’t make this dish great – I just found the best way to show of it’s greatness. But let’s not forget the important thing here – this honey and Dijon salmon is delicious, uncomplicated, and fast. My brother is a good cook, but even a relative novice in the kitchen could put this together quickly on a weeknight. So if you’re thinking ‘mine won’t look as good as that’ then you need to abandon that idea altogether, because it’s that kind of idea that keeps all of us from learning and growing as cooks. As for plates, backgrounds, cutlery, angles, and lighting? That’s all photography stuff, and it has nothing to do with how good the food actually tastes. And at the end of the day I can’t imagine there’s anyone who’d rather choose pretty food over tasty food.
Alright folks, I’ve spent a whole bunch of time talking about food blogging, food culture, and culinary education. If I haven’t already convinced you that this recipe is easy, allow me to do so now. In order to make this meal, you need to have mastered the following kitchen skills:
- Melting butter.
- Stopping before things get burnt.
That’s it. Sure I’ve got some tips and tricks designed to help you get the most out of your meal, but this is as easy as can be.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s hard to cook a great meal with mediocre ingredients. Salmon is the star here, and good salmon should get the chance to show off. If you’re on the West Coast (or close enough), coho and sockeye salmon are ideal choices for this. Other salmon species are fine too (especially if you know you enjoy them), but don’t settle. If you can’t get good salmon but you can get trout or Arctic char, use those.
When it comes to cooking the salmon, keep a close eye on it and don’t feel the need to cook it to light-pink perdition. Most salmon recipes instruct you to cook until the salmon is ‘flaky,’ and while that is somewhat true, salmon that easily flakes all the way through is actually overcooked and likely to be dry. You’re aiming for flaky on the outside but moist and medium-pink on the inside. Remember that salmon will continue to cook after you remove it from the oven, so don’t be afraid to err of the side of caution, and always check the thickest part of the fillet. You can always cook it a little longer, but you can’t uncook it.
Bread Crumb Crust
The original version of this recipe (via All Recipes) uses only parsley, rather than dill and parsley together. I am admittedly not the world’s biggest dill fan, but I think it works absolutely beautifully here and adds much needed character to the dish. Regardless of whether or not you choose to go with the dill, make sure you use a good, flavourful flat-leaf parsley. Parsley is so often left on the plate as an afterthought that we forget it’s supposed to taste like something.
The original recipe also simply calls for bread crumbs, and it’s one of those ingredients that’s worth considering carefully. Fine, store-bought bread crumbs are often quite stale and flavourless. If you’ve got the time to make your own, go for it. If not, get large/coarse bread crumbs (almost like croutons) and pulverize them all of the other ingredients in a food processor for better flavour and a nice crunchy texture.
If you’re pulverizing the mixture yourself, you can use pecan halves or pecan pieces. If you do buy pieces, make sure they’re fresh, as they tend to go stale or rancid faster than pecan halves.
First things first, use good, tasty honey, and a nice Dijon mustard. Don’t substitute for a different mustard variety. And don’t use honey mustard.
Once you’ve mixed the ingredients, I recommend setting aside a portion (about 1/4 or so) before spreading it on the salmon. You can use this excess for fancy plating (as I’ve done) or just to drizzle over the finished salmon for a little extra flavour. Either way, it’s a nice way to finish the dish.
The green beans here are totally optional, but highly recommended. They are in essence, an entirely separate recipe from the salmon, but they cook quickly and easily while the salmon bakes, and they turn this into a complete meal. The key to good flavour is letting the melted butter brown slightly in the hot skillet before adding the beans. This creates a nice nutty flavour that works wonderfully with the salmon. You could also serve this with asparagus or even a good green salad.
Note: The nutritional information includes both the salmon and the green beans.
No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe. Like to see one? Let me know in the comments below or by email.
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