Quarter Sheet Pan Salmon Dinner for 2

…or for one with leftovers

Sheet pan dinners have been having a moment– for a quite a while. Even established cooks are hooked on quickly oiling and seasoning meat and vegetables so they can have the thrill of sliding what is actually a half sheet pan (more on that in a minute) into the oven for an ultra easy dinner. Instead of watching and stirring pots on the stovetop, they can text a friend, read a novel, order from amazon, chat up the cat, read Alyce’s blog, sip a glass of wine, or even set the table. Today’s recipe, however, is made on a quarter sheet pan. Just perfect for cooking for one or two or for heating up a very few things. Especially at holiday time when, well, time is of the essence. (Roll eyes upward thinking of the to-do list. Is your tree up? What cookies are you baking? Gifts ordered? Clothes at cleaners? ) And I adore quarter sheet pans, which I first heard about from the fine food writer David Lebovitz. Once David said to get one, I got two. And do they fit in the dishwasher perfectly? Yes. Love that. If it doesn’t go in the dishwasher, I’m thinking twice about keeping it.

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Tuna Tapenade

If you happened to be in my house and heard me slurring together a long stream of loud and nasty words from the attached garage, you could correctly guess the freezer door had been left ajar and certain preciously-stored food stuffs had begun to defrost. (Or that a mouse had chewed a hole in something like my best bag of coffee.) Now I’m not dumb and my memory is intact; I always lock the freezer door after grabbing a pack of burgers or a quart of soup. I learned the hard way during Covid’s scarcity months that’s the only foolproof method to insure everything remains at 0 degrees F, which is where you need long-stored food. Somehow in the previous day or two, I had turned the key but perhaps didn’t push the door closed tightly. Luckily (phew and phew again) most things were still hard as a rock, but there were a couple of packages of –sigh– thawing meat and fish out toward the front of the middle shelf. 3 boneless heritage pork chops were tossed into the fridge for another night, but 2 good-sized tuna steaks needed nearly immediate cooking. Had I planned on fish? Did I have anything to go with it? Well, I’d better because there was going to be tuna for dinner.

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FRIDAY FISH: Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato-Sweet Pepper Salsa

Shown here with Red Onion-Oregano Potatoes and Cheesy Green beans.

For Hot Cross Buns and Easter brunch ideas, scroll down to bottom under LIFE GOES ON.

No matter what kind of fish or seafood you’re cooking, there are two basic secrets to its success. #1 Don’t overcook it. #2 You need a great sauce. I mean, think about it. Even everyday sorts of fish or seafood like fried shrimp or fish and chips come with a sauce you just have to have: cocktail sauce for the shrimp and tartar sauce for the fish. Right? This is also true of fish cooked by chefs in upscale restaurants, though the sauces may (or may not) be a tish more sophisticated. Sometimes butter and/or lemon are all that’s called for, as in Sole Meunière, which is not much more than thin and floured sole fillets cooked in–yes– butter and lemon, then sprinkled with, what else? Parsley. Simple is as simple does. And the dish has been top drawer famous forever! No matter the fish, it is often the sauce that counts.

That’s especially true in my quick Friday Fish for this week, Pan-Seared Halibut with Tomato-Sweet Pepper Salsa. Everyone knows pico de gallo and other sorts of Mexican salsas often made with cilantro and jalapeños, but a fresh tomato salsa (salsa only means “sauce”) without those two ingredients and with sweet peppers, tiny ripe tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and lemon, orange, or lime is something different. That difference is smile-worthy because instead of being overwhelmed by large-scale flavors, this mild fillet is enhanced and freshly seasoned by what is almost a baby salad garnish — which takes the dish over the top to my tastebuds.

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FRIDAY FISH: Tuna-Asparagus Pasta Chowder

You adore clam chowder but your cupboard is full of tuna. It’s ok; I’ve got it covered. You can still have chowder–with tuna!! Does it work? Yes, yes; it totally does. And is it yummy? It definitely is. I thought about making chowder with canned tuna for a long time before I did it, but now that I have, it’s in my playbook for good. Tuna Chowder is easy, inexpensive, and even qualifies for what we’d call, “Cheap Eats.” This version adds some tiny ditalini pasta for fun and texture, but if you don’t like it, just add extra potatoes and you’ll be fine. Last time I cooked shrimp, I saved the shells in my freezer and was able to make a fast shrimp stock to bolster the flavor of the chowder. (Buying fish stock is above my pay grade at $3 a 15-ounce can. You can make it, though.) Vegetable broth is ok, too, and is better when spiked with a little clam juice, which is sold right near tuna at the store. Even chicken broth works in a pinch.

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Oven-Roasted Rosemary Halibut with Fresh Tomato-Zucchini Sauce

Shown here with white beans.

It’s easy to avoid cooking fish or to cook it as simply as we can possibly figure because we’re unsure of our fish-cooking abilities. Or maybe fresh fish isn’t so available and feels expensive — especially in a land-locked state. Perhaps there’s a fear factor involved or we wonder, “Is fish really good for us?” How fast does it go bad? When is it done? How do I not overcook it? So we go with grilled wild salmon once a month in good weather. Salt, pepper, lemon. Air Fried fish and chips might be a step up. A pound of shrimp for Christmas Eve. Truth to tell, fish is good for us, is readily available nationwide (even if frozen), and is the original fast –and easy — food. Lots of people order fish from restaurant menus, but hesitate to cook much at home. Want to change that at your house?

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Salmon with Red Pepper Sauce on Salad

If you’re a longtime More Time reader, you’ll have seen more than your share of caprese salads on the blog. While I’m not as addicted as it might appear, I’ll admit I make several during the warm months and…they are definitely photogenic. I mean. Red. Green. White. The colors are made to go together and not just in the garden or at the table. For instance, how many countries boast flags in those colors? Ok, I checked. Here they are (scroll down a while!). You have to admit, though, that this is actually a salmon salad; it just happens to be nestled into asparagus, greens, and yes, ok … caprese around the edges.

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Poached Salmon with Tarragon-Chive Aioli and Lemon Asparagus (French Tarragon Class, Part 1)

Bring seasoned water to a boil; add salmon; remove from heat and rest, covered, until done. Yes, that’s all.

While it always sounds like a joke, it definitely isn’t. There really are entire series of cooking classes devoted to BOILING WATER. As in, “He can’t boil water.” Well, kinda-sorta, but yes:

Andrew Zimmern’s Kitchen Adventures — Boiling Water 101 was a class I taught for 10 years at a local school in Minnesota. This recipe was one I designed to teach a basic skill but also deliver complex flavors and serve as a touchstone for family meals or entertaining. You really need to practice braising/poaching/blanching as often as you can because wet-heat cooking is much more subtle than dry-heat cooking but so much easier. Recipes like this will change your outlook on cooking for sure. Get wet! 

Andrew Zimmern

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Oven-Fried Fish Tacos for Cinco de Mayo

When we had kids at home and both worked full-time, tacos were on the regular weeknight dinner rotation, often on Tuesday because — Taco Tuesday. There were no special steak or roast pork or shrimp versions on tiny charred handmade corn tortillas topped with an amazing variety of fresh, crunchy vegetables and choice of piquant sauces. Instead our kitchen turned out pans and pans of ground meat specials served up on oven-heated stacks of flour tortillas and topped them off with shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and grated cheese — whatever kind was on sale. We always had jarred salsa, too, of course, probably the kind made in New York City even though we lived in San Antonio for 4 years. Like them or not; that was dinner. Mostly they liked them. If there was meat leftover (and this was a big if), there might be a taco salad the next night. You could guess: lettuce, ground beef taco meat, tomatoes, cheese, crushed tortilla chips, and bottled creamy Caesar dressing were the ingredients. Olives if we were lucky. As time changed and incomes increased, there was the occasional fajita meal featuring both grilled chicken and steak along with a big bowl of sautéed or grilled onions and peppers and a dish of Abuelita’s Rice. While fajitas still fall into our summer cooking routine these days —or even in the winter if I do the sheet pan version — the tomato-y, chili powder laden ground beef tacos have gone the way of boxed macaroni and cheese and canned tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches for Saturday lunch. Only a tiny sigh here.

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FRIDAY FISH: Caprese Salmon Burgers

Looking for Easter recipes? Try: Italian-Style Braised Leg of Lamb or Bake a Ham… or Asparagus for Lunch, Asparagus for Dinner or Carrot Cake Cupcakes or How To Make a Quiche out of Anything or Czech Easter Bread.

Come summer and time to cook outside, I stock our freezer with easily and quickly grilled proteins like chicken thighs and legs, bone-in pork chops, and sirloin steak for kebobs. Then all I have to do is talk my husband into firing up the grill, make a salad, and we’re soon ready eat. And while I’m happiest with all kinds of freshly made burgers if it’s a burger night, it’s also nice to have some pre-made frozen ones for those times when desperation is the mother of invention. A resealable bag of salmon burgers is usually at the top of my warm weather grocery list. I even keep whole-wheat skinny buns frozen, too, as they last a few weeks if well-wrapped and thaw in no time at all. What’s cool is you are SUPPOSED to cook these particular salmon burgers frozen–no thawing needed, no thawing allowed. Yes!

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FRIDAY FISH: Southwestern Fish Salad

Caesar Salad travels to Colorado and goes fishing!

Once, in a cooking class, I mentioned I loved “fish salads.” Crickets. Blank faces. “You mean tuna fish?” Well, sure…but not exactly or not totally. Back up. Let’s talk how we’re always hoping to eat healthy. Ok? There’s little healthier than vegetables–right? And second on the list, if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan, might be fish? Sure. When we put those two top-tier food groups together, what do we get? We get over-the-top wholesome, fit, hearty fare. I’ve always adored cooking fish IN vegetables because number 1: it’s so easy to overcook fish (and in a pan of vegetables, it’s harder); number 2: we’re back to the two top-tier food groups; and, number 3: fish is just so tasty cooked in, say, a light tomato-garlic-fennel-sweet pepper sauté.

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