Brown Butter Roasted Salmon

As I sit eating the same salmon-topped salad I've enjoyed no fewer than three times in the last week, I'm listening to a playlist called "Go to Sleep, Jack." It turns out this playlist is also excellent for writing. It's got the kind of songs that are pleasant, soothing, and just forward-moving enough to sustain an inner journey of the imagination, but not so catchy or noticeable that one gets hung up on lyrics or, horrors, feels compelled to dance. On it is every song I've ever sung to Jack at bedtime, and upon compiling the playlist, I realized none except one is an actual lullaby. In the early days of motherhood, trying to lull a seemingly unlullable baby to sleep, or at least to quiet baby serenity, one sings whatever song comes to one's mind. Evidently my mind called most readily those scruffy guardian angels named Johnny Cash, James Taylor, and the anonymous folk song weavers of Americana. Plus a heartbreaking miracle of an acoustic Amy Winehouse track, a cover of "To Know Him Is to Love Him." I'm not sure Jack will be able to correctly pronounce "O, Shenandoah!" until he's about ten, but he sure as hell knows the song.

I do a lot for Jack, as any parent does for their child. He's got special playlists, like this one, for when we're driving in the car and he's hit a wall of fatigue that nothing except a steady 72mph and the more moody Chet Baker tracks can cure. I know the clothing brands that fit his longish torso (a gift from his father) better than others, and the ones that make pants with actual functioning drawstrings (don't get me started) to cinch right under his belly button. I buy small frozen pieces of breaded chicken, sometimes in the shape of dinosaurs. I pay roughly 749% more for these than for the unadorned chicken I buy for nights when I do have time to make a family meal not involving animal shapes, extinct or not. I don't sleep past 5:30am, even on mornings like this one when he's sleeping over at my parents' house and not down the hall to wake me up with his morning whoops and hollers and the occasional song, Ring Around the Rosie being the current (chilling) favorite. 

But when it comes to the kitchen, most of the things I do are not for him. I don't mean I don't cook for him or spend time with him in the kitchen. I mean a lot of the food I write about here isn't necessarily Kid Food. As hard as we've worked to make sure Jack at least tries everything on his plate, he's not one of these kids who will happily gobble up just about anything. He's not even a kid who will gobble up foods that I tend to think of as Kid Food - pasta, cheese, hot dogs, scrambled eggs. (What Kid Doesn't Like Cheese??? is maybe my next essay.) I know it's a hilarious joke from the universe telling me to lighten up. So I have.

And because I'm a really cool mom and I never ever worry about what my kid eats, I've stopped worrying about whether Jack will love my favorite foods. Because I love them, and that's enough. 

Case in point: a gorgeous slab of roasted salmon that's nothing short of - I'll say it - elegant. But lest you think it's all chiseled jawlines and Norwegian wool sweaters over here, this brown butter roasted salmon is also a bona fide workhorse, impressive for a dinner party crowd but just as fitting for one or two people, broken up over rice or next to a pile of salt potatoes with matching herbs, with plenty left over to bolster salads or mix into rice bowls in the coming days.

If you've got a young one who enjoys salmon, this is a must for your rotation. The alchemy here is in the brown butter, which comes together in the oven as the fish roasts - without the need for a watchful eye (and sometimes the accompanying anxiety) to make it on the stovetop. Its nutty flavor tempers and balances the clean, sometimes strong, taste of salmon, and truly makes the dish. You can spoon any additional brown butter over the salmon and whatever sides you've chosen. Also, the skin gets removed during the cooking process, saving you some cajoling if you've got any small squeamish eaters. The preparation is literally five minutes, cooking time maybe 20 in total. 


Brown Butter Roasted Salmon - adapted from the New York Times


  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mixed fresh herbs, chopped, such as parsley, dill, chives, or chervil
  • 1 large salmon fillet, about 2 pounds, pin bones removed and skin left on
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat oven to 475F. While the oven heats, put the butter, olive oil, and half of the herbs in a large metal roasting pan with high sides. When the oven is ready, put the pan in and allow the butter to melt, about 5 minutes. 

While the pan heats in the oven, season the salmon with salt and pepper. Remove the pan and place the salmon on top of the melted butter and herbs, skin side up. (Yes, up!) Return the pan to the oven and roast for about 5 minutes. Remove the pan again, then peel off the skin. It should come off smoothly and the fish will be warm to the touch, but not too hot to handle. Season this side of the salmon with more salt and pepper, then carefully flip the fish. Baste the fish with some of the butter and herbs, and sprinkle the other half of the fresh herbs on top. Return to the oven and roast for another 5 minutes or so, or until the internal temperature of the fish reaches 140F. 

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Then the salmon is ready to serve, even directly from the pan, if you like. Break up the fish gently with a large spoon and serve with additional brown butter on top.

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