When you work at a food website long enough, you learn a few basic facts: stories about chicken and beef and pretty much anything cheesy or fried will do very, very well; stories about fish? Not so much. In fact, a lot of them straight-up flop. What gives?
First off, many kinds of fish don't come cheap. Second, fish is less widely available and, for certain environmentally conscientious eaters, ethically fraught. Third, cooking with fish can be really intimidating: getting the texture and flavor just right is one half of the battle; dealing with common aversions to "fishiness" and figuring out what on earth to serve it with is the other.
That's why salmon is hands-down my favorite fish to cook. It's fatty, so it's nice and forgiving if you overcook it by a minute or two, no papery, gritty-dry flakes of fish in sight. Then again, it's firm and hearty—those who enjoy sushi will love a seared sashimi-grade salmon that's still virtually raw and translucent in the center. Salmon is also well-suited to myriad cooking methods, from grilling to curing to poaching, broiling, pan-roasting, and even burger-fying. It likes rubs and marinades, but it also has a sweet, rich flavor that stands well on its own. Best of all, it's predictable, not just to cook with, but to serve—since salmon isn't a particularly fishy fish, it's rare to find someone who really dislikes it.
In other words, this fish? It's a real people-pleaser. Oh, and Seafood Watch recommends wild salmon as a "Best Choice" or "Good Alternative" (farmed salmon is a little more complicated; they suggest doing some research into where it comes from). But once you have your salmon preparation of choice (and we have a lot of them)...what should you serve it with? Honestly, I'm hard-pressed to think of foods that decidedly don't go well with this particular fish—pretty much all vegetables are a solid bet, and pilafs, couscous, or pasta all make easy carb-centric alternatives. But because salmon is on the sweet 'n' fatty side, I like to pair it with more tart or acidic dishes: anything dressed in vinegar or citrus is a good bet, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here are few of my favorites.
When it comes to salmon and salads, there's really no wrong answer: you can stay super-simple and just serve it on a bed of arugula and avocado. But if you want something a little more surprising, toss out that adage about avoiding fish and cheese: salmon actually does really well with dairy, provided it's of the tart or tangy variety and served in moderation. Think a blue cheese and bacon-smattered iceberg salad or some salty curls of Parmesan in a classic Caesar. In summer, when vegetable options abound, look to sweet ingredients with a sharp edge, like a quinoa and vegetable mix tossed in olive oil and red wine vinegar.
There's also a lot to be said for salmon and corn. Regular grilled corn will do just fine, but I tend to find it to be a little too much sweet-on-sweet. Something like elotes (Mexican street corn) makes a great substitute, since it's slathered in a tangy layer of sour cream and mayo, along with some chili powder and Cotija cheese. But I often prefer to slice the corn off the cob entirely and give it a punchy dressing. Try it grilled and tossed with herbs, feta, and tomatoes or go for a completely raw version with radishes, cucumber, and shiso.
Another great salmon companion? All things panzanella and pasta salad (not, however, of the mayonnaise-y variety if you please): the bread or noodles give the salad a heartier edge and cling to the dressing for a bright and satisfying side that combines almost all your food groups in one easy-to-prep bowl.
Try salmon with some garlicky braised or broiled greens and you may never go back. I can't count the number of times I've served it with little more than some charred spears of broiled asparagus with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of salty cheese or their more tender braised cousins.
Asparagus may be the most common vegetable pairing for salmon, but this dish of bacon-braised string beans, or some spicier Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans can be pretty killer, too. Or keep things ultra-simple and give some braised long beans with tomato and garlic a shot. I'm also partial to a quick sauté of bitter greens like broccoli rabe, swiss chard, or collards—they need little more than olive oil, garlic, and a bit of lemon juice to make a salmon-friendly side.
Given salmon's smooth, fatty character, I like my side dishes to offer a little textural contrast. That's why crunchy, craggily, golden-brown potatoes make a great partner. Lucky for you, Kenji has painstakingly perfected the art of the crispy potato, from his ultra-crispy roasted new potatoes to the golden crags of his smashed potatoes. Then there's also these salty herb-roasted new potatoes and even some killer duck fat-fried fingerling potatoes. Still looking for more variety? Step up your game with these crisp potatoes in a garlic and Parmesan butter.