Panko Crusted Salmon

Panko Crusted Salmon   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Panko Crusted Salmon | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and today I’m making Panko Crusted Salmon for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Miguel While You Were Out”

The Set-up: Miguel is visiting from New York to take pictures of Ina’s garden, so she’s treating him to a home-cooked dinner.

The Menu: Panko Crusted Salmon, Warm French Lentils, Chicken Noodle Soup, Chicken Stock, All-American Cheese Board

0:52 – We’re starting today with Miguel’s favorite Chicken Noodle Soup which Ina is planning to send with him in a thermos when he leaves. How sweet!

1:20 – Naturally this starts with homemade Chicken Stock. We get a quick overview on the process, which is involves a 20 quart stock pot. That’s not a typo – twenty quarts.

2:56 – A brief check-in with Miguel as he snaps some shots in the garden. I bet it’s heaven out there on a late spring day.

3:23 – Ina has declared that egg noodles are really the only appropriate noodle for chicken noodle soup. True. It honestly wouldn’t be the same with bowties or linguini.

4:34 – Ina has roasted two chicken breasts to help the meat retain its flavor in a way that it doesn’t when you boil it. Boiled chicken frankly sounds incredibly unappetizing.

5:51 – It’s so freezing today and I am officially now craving chicken noodle soup. Do you think Ina would send an extra thermos for me…?

6:47 – I love that Ina actually tastes her food and adjusts the seasonings if they need it. Pro Tip #1: Salt is the key to making chicken soup taste really delicious.

9:32 – Moving on to Panko Crusted Salmon. Ina says she assembles it ahead so it’s ready to cook when company arrives. My one qualm is that salmon is so ‘fragrant’ that I hesitate to cook it for company.

10:14 – Interesting technique, the mustard is used for flavor but also to help adhere the panko and seasonings to the fish.

11:29 – Out to Miguel raiding the garden. He’s taking clippings for some project of his own mysterious devising. What is he up to?

12:06 – All will be revealed I suppose. In the meantime: Warm French Lentils. I’ve make Ina’s other recipe a ton (and it’s incredible) but this is a different version.

13:45 – She says the two secret and fairly random ingredients are an onion stuck with whole cloves and a turnip, which season the water the lentils cook in. Presumably both will be removed before the dish is served.

14:38 – Ah yes, the vegetables have been removed and now the drained lentils go in with sautéed carrots and leeks. Again, this recipe diverges from the other with the addition of a mustard vinaigrette.

19:17 – Ina has arrived at a little cheese shop called Lucy’s Whey at the Amagansett Farmer’s Market (awesome name) to select some options for her All-American Cheese Board.

20:30 Ina often suggests that one creamy/soft, one hard, and one blue option give a nice variety for a small cheese board. Lucy recommends Moses Sleeper, Vermont Shepherd, Bailey Hazen Blue all from Vermont.

21:41 – Now that the cheeses are settled, it’s time to pick up a few jams, crackers, and dried fruit to round out the board. PS: Ina has an account at the shop, such a charming small-town!

22:55 – Now for a little cheese board-arranging lesson. Step 1: layer the cutting board with a flat green leaf (fig, hydrangea, etc.), Step 2: give the board some height with a nice pile of green grapes.

23:02 – Step 3: place the wedges of cheese; Step 4: fill in with big blocks of crackers, dried fruit, and a small dish of jam.

27:19 – It’s time to cook the prepped Panko Crusted Salmon first by searing the skin side in a hot pan on the stove-top then finishing the cooking in the oven.

28:54 – Ahh, as promised the surprise has been revealed: Miguel set the table on the porch and arranged it with flowers from the garden. Perfect timing because dinner is ready!

29:43 – It turns out that great minds think alike – the center piece and the All-American Cheese Board both feature a fig leaf back drop. Hilarity ensues when Ina shows Miguel his to-go thermos of Chicken Noodle Soup.

Final Thoughts:
Just when I think Ina has developed the perfect recipe, she transforms it into something else entirely.

Ina’s seafood cooking techniques are so spot on.

I suppose a gift of Chicken Noodle Soup is sort of odd, but how endearing!

Panko Crusted Salmon   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Panko Crusted Salmon | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I’ve made versions of salmon in the past, but never anything ‘crusted’ so Panko Crusted Salmon was a new adventure and one I’m happy to say is practically fool proof.

Panko Topping – this really is the place for either plain or whole wheat panko crumbs, as opposed to traditional bread crumbs. Their rougher texture provides more little nooks and crannies to catch hold of the lemon zest and other seasonings, as well as places for toasting and crisping to take place.

Mustard – One to two teaspoons of Dijon mustard might seem like a lot for one piece of fish, but I urge you not to skip it. The flavor is excellent with the salmon, which can totally stand up to it’s robust spice, and it serves a dual purpose by also giving the panko a place to adhere. No point in putting a crispy coating on something if it’s just going to fall off the minute you move the food.

Cooking Time & Resting – I found the cooking + resting time to be spot on for a perfectly cooked piece of salmon. One recommendation though: loosely cover the cooked fish with foil so that some of the heat can escape. Formerly crunchy bread crumbs gone soggy with steam is not a good look.

Panko Crusted Salmon   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Panko Crusted Salmon | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, 100%. I needed a 10 inch oven-proof sauté pan, a small mixing bowl, small cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring cups, measuring spoons, a microplane zester, and a fish spatula. That’s all!

The Verdict:
Ina is an absolute wizard with cooking fish and her Panko Crusted Salmon is no different. The fish emerges from the oven perfectly cooked, tender and moist with the crispy, crunchy panko for contrast. As always, the flavors are spot on and elevate anything you’d like to serve along side. I recommend a base of crisp, leafy spinach or baby kale, preferably topped with the Avocado and Grapefruit Salad from last week. A fresh and light dinner that’s still grounded by the salmon.

Panko Crusted Salmon  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Panko Crusted Salmon | Image: Laura Messersmith