Your Christmas main dish for this year has just landed!! Have you ever seen a Baked Salmon look so festive?? And it’s so EASY! First published in December 2020, this Christmas recipe was an instant hit with readers. Featuring a honey butter-glazed side of salmon baked in foil, slathered with creamy dill sauce and finally topped with a Holiday “Tapenade”, this pays extremely high dividends for minimal effort.
Festive Baked Salmon!
Every year I try to come up with one great centrepiece Christmas main dish that is you can make-ahead and is super simple, but still has that extra wow factor that will make YOU the star at Christmas Dinner….
This is what I’ve come up with this year: A festive Baked Salmon!
- Baked with a Honey Garlic Butter Glaze in foil;
- Slathered with a Creamy Dill Sauce;
- Topped with a Holiday “Tapenade” of dried cranberries, almonds and parsley; and
- Finished with pomegranate for a shower of festive colour and a generous dousing of fresh lemon juice.
The flavour and textural combination is stellar! It’s mostly savoury with hints of sweet, and that creamy dill sauce is a natural pairing with salmon. Finally the Holiday Tapenade topping just sings of festivities!
Have I emphasised enough yet how easy this is to make?? Read on!
Overview: How to make Christmas Baked Salmon
- Simmer 3-ingredient Honey Glaze for 2 minutes;
- Pour over salmon then bake wrapped in foil (easy clean up!);
- Spread cooked salmon with 4-ingredient Lemon Dill Sauce, 4-ingredient “Tapenade” (topping mix);
- Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, drizzle with lemon juice;
- Serve warm or at room temperature. Now sit back and bask in praise!
What you need for this Festive Baked Salmon
Here’s what you need for this festive Baked Salmon.
1. SIDE OF SALMON
- This is one side of a whole salmon. It should not be flavoured or pre-marinated in any way. If frozen, thaw thoroughly overnight in the fridge covered, and then pat dry very well (frozen fish gets watery);
- Skin on – for easier handling. Once cooked, the skin will hold the salmon together. Without it, there’s a higher change the flesh flakes open when transferring to the tray. Interestingly, I have never seen a side of salmon sold without skin – this may well be the reason; and
- Bones removed – Your fishmonger should have already done this, but just double check. Run your fingers across the surface, especially along the mid-line (where the spine was) where pin bone culprits sometimes hide. Check the belly section carefully too. If there are bones, use fish boning tweezers or just personal grooming tweezers to pull them out (pinch and yank with conviction!). Clean small pliers also work.
2. HONEY GLAZE FOR SALMON
This is used to bake the salmon so it gets infused with incredible sweet-buttery-garlicky flavour while it bakes. Here’s what you need:
To make the Honey Glaze, all you do is plonk everything in a saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken slightly and bring all the flavours together.
3. BAKING THE SALMON
The salmon is baked in foil which is handy for minimal clean up, but actually the main reason is because it holds the glaze around the salmon better while it bakes!
Here’s how the salmon is cooked:
- Line a tray with foil. (Recommended: A double layer of foil for leakage protection.) Then baking/parchment paper. Place the salmon on top.
- Fold the foil sides up a bit to cup them a little so the glaze won’t spill onto the tray. Pour the glaze over (it’s fine that the glaze is still hot);
- Top with another sheet of paper and then foil. Seal edges to form a parcel. No need to make it tightly sealed, just mostly sealed is fine;
- Bake for 15 minutes covered;
- Uncover, then switch oven to broiler/grill. Grill for 10 minutes to get some tasty caramelisation on the edges and a bit on the surface. IMPORTANT: Keep salmon on the middle shelf in the oven when broiling/grilling, don’t move it closer to the heat source – risk of paper burning!
It smells SO GOOD when it’s in the oven…. and here’s what the Baked Salmon looks like when it comes out!
Immediately transfer to serving platter using the paper overhang (otherwise the salmon will keep cooking on the tray), either lifting or sliding it off. And here’s how to remove the foil and paper from under the salmon – just tear and slide!
HOW TO REMOVE FOIL AND PAPER FROM UNDER THE BAKED SALMON
At this stage, the salmon needs to be left to cool for at least 10 minutes otherwise the Lemon Dill Sauce literally melts straight off. Also this salmon dish is intended to be eaten warm rather than hot, or even at room temperature. This is extra-handy because there’s no need to stress over exact cook times in order to serve it piping hot!
4. LEMON DILL SAUCE FOR SALMON
This sour cream-based sauce provides an element of creamy richness to the baked salmon as well as acting as the “glue” for the Holiday “Tapenade” we pile over the top. Not including dill was never an option – it is, after all, best friends with salmon!
Here’s what you need – just mix them together to make the sauce:
Note: we only use the zest in the sour cream sauce because we deliberately want to keep it very thick and “paste-like” so we can slather it on thickly. The rest is used to liberally douse the finished dish for some welcome tang. It’s an essential step!
4. HOLIDAY “TAPENADE“
This jumble of goodies (which I call a “Holiday Tapenade”) is a terrific combination for both flavours and textures with the Honey Glazed salmon and Creamy Dill Sauce. The sweet, slightly tart cranberries and the nutty almonds contrast beautifully with the cooling Creamy Dill Sauce and the rich, Honey Glazed flesh of the salmon.
Here’s what you need for the Holiday Tapenade:
- Pomegranate – This is what we use to sprinkle across the finished dish for their jewel-like festive colour, and of course for great pops of tart juiciness!
- Dried cranberries – In the spirit of holidays and also for the tart/sweet profile rather than just plain sweetness that other dried fruits have. Alternatives (in order of suggestion): Dried sour cherries, golden raisins, normal raisins or sultanas;
- Orange juice – This is used to soak the cranberries in order to reconstitute them and plump them up. Otherwise, they’re rather shrivelled and chewy. Because this is, after all, for a special occasion why not one more step to make the cranberries extra special! As mentioned, it’s mainly for the cranberries, but the orange juice also adds a touch of extra sweetness and citrusy flavour – very on-theme for holidays! Substitute with any fruit juice you wish. Apple would especially be great – otherwise just use water with a dollop of honey or maple syrup;
- Slivered almonds – Purchased already cut into slivers (else sliver blanched almonds yourself), this is a lovely shape that you can use as-is. We also give them a quick toasting to boost the nuttiness and bronze them. Alternatives: Almonds (preferably blanched), pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamias, walnuts;
- Parsley for freshness and the green colour for Christmas!
- Olive oil to add just a bit of richness and bring it all together.
Make ahead option: Make the Tapenade up to 2 days ahead but leave the almonds out until just before serving. Almonds can be toasted ahead, just store them in the pantry until required.
And here’s how the Christmas Baked Salmon is assembled:
- Smother the salmon generously with the Creamy Dill Sauce. Generous is the operative word here! It’s the main sauce for this dish, and it’s also the “glue” for the Tapenade;
- Sprinkle the Tapenade across the surface. Really pile it on, use it all!;
- Then sprinkle over the pomegranate next, and finally the lemon juice (the Tapenade will catch it); and
- Voila! Presentation! Applause! Compliments! Bows!
How to serve this Christmas Baked Salmon
Present the salmon whole on a platter, like pictured above, so everyone can admire how pretty it looks.
Then you can either cut it into portions – literally just use a knife to cut it – or let everyone help themselves. I find it easiest to use a cake server for actually lifting slices to serve easily, so you might like to also provide something like this if you’re allowing guests to serve themselves.
I feel like this has been a really long post for something that I stated is a really easy recipe. And I still promise it is!
It’s just that a side of salmon is not cheap, and is the sort of thing we splurge on for special occasions. So I want to arm you with enough information and details to ensure you feel the confidence of knowing that you will nail this dish – even if you’re not that experienced in the kitchen.
Hand on heart, there is very little that can go wrong with this recipe. The only real pitfall will be if you overcook the salmon. However salmon is a forgiving meat because it’s an oily fish, so it’s really not the end of the world even if you do take it too far. But if you really want to be sure you’ve got it right, you can always use a meat thermometer (see recipe notes for internal temperatures).
I hope by now I’ve convinced you to put this on your Christmas menu as the (or a) centrepiece! It looks like Christmas, it tastes like Christmas and the fact that it’s so straightforward will remain our little secret…..