Just One Pan, All the Flavors: Seared Salmon With Curried Leeks

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-18.jpg

[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

The problem with a lot of one-pot recipes is that they sacrifice many of a dish's best potential attributes in the name of convenience. I'm all for convenience, but not if it means I end up with something ho-hum. The trick is simply to be more strategic in your execution of steps.

This incredibly easy one-pan dish of seared salmon fillets with curried leeks is a prime example. I could have followed the lead of so many other one-dish salmon recipes by instructing you to pile the leeks on a baking sheet or into a roasting pan with some oil and seasonings, plunk the salmon on top, and throw the whole thing in the oven. But what you'd end up with would be half-cooked leeks, topped with overcooked salmon—and that salmon wouldn't even have a good sear on it! With some food-styling tricks, we could still make that look appetizing, as so many other recipe sites do, but it wouldn't really be all that good.

Instead, I add just a wee bit of extra work in order to guarantee superior results. It's absolutely worth it.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-3.jpg

I start by searing salmon, skin side down, in a hot cast iron skillet. High heat is always your friend when you're searing fish and want to avoid sticking—the sooner you can cook the proteins on the surface of the fish, the less likely they'll be to form an unbreakable bond with the pan itself. The other thing that helps a lot is to dry the fish well right before putting it in the pan. At the very least, you should pat it dry with paper towels, but I sometimes take it a step further, using the edge of my knife like a windshield wiper to express even more moisture out of the skin.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-collage1.jpg

The goal here is simply to crisp the skin and get the salmon started, but not to cook it fully. Then I transfer the salmon fillets to a platter to rest (skin side up, to prevent the skin from getting soggy) and proceed to cook the leeks in the same skillet, along with some curry powder for seasoning.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-1.jpg

The main thing to know about leeks is that you have to wash them with vigilance, as they can harbor gritty bits of sand and soil deep down in their concentric layers. For this dish, I slice them lengthwise to make short, noodle-like strips.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-collage2.jpg

Once the leeks have softened and cooked down sufficiently, I set the salmon fillets on top and transfer everything to the oven, leaving it in just long enough for the salmon to hit its perfect point of doneness—somewhere around 110 to 120°F (43 to 49°C) in the center of the thickest part for medium-rare.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-collage3.jpg

Just like that, with a three-step process—first sear salmon, then cook leeks sufficiently, and finally finish in the oven—you have a one-skillet dinner that's way better than the even shorter-cut alternative.

20170224-one-pan-salmon-curried-leeks-vicky-wasik-17.jpg

Oh, and I have to admit...I cheated just a little bit more, whipping up a quick, cold yogurt-cucumber sauce with fresh herbs to serve alongside the fish and leeks. That technically makes this a one-pot-plus-one-small-bowl dinner, but I think we can handle that, right?