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!
Featuring a honey butter-glazed side of salmon baked in foil, slathered with creamy dill sauce and finally topped with a Holiday “Tapenade”, this dish 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….. 😉 – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Christmas Baked Salmon
- 1.2 – 1.5 kg / 2.4 – 3lb salmon side (skin on, bones removed, Note 1)
- 2 1/4 tsp salt , cooking/kosher (Note 2)
- 1 tsp black pepper
Honey Butter Glaze:
- 150g / 5oz butter , unsalted
- 1/2 cup honey
- 3 garlic cloves , finely minced (garlic press or knife)
Creamy Dill Sauce:
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream , full fat (low fat is too watery)
- 1/2 cup fresh dill , finely chopped (lightly packed cup)
- 1/2 eschallot (French onion) , finely grated
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
- 1/2 tsp salt , cooking/kosher (Note 2)
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cup slivered almonds , toasted (Note 3)
- 1/3 cup parsley , roughly chopped
- 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pomegranate , only the seeds
- 1/4 cup parsley , roughly chopped
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 lemons, extra , cut in 6 pieces each (for serving, don't skip this)
Creamy Dill Sauce
- Mix ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Keep refrigerated until required.
- Plump cranberries: Heat orange juice in a saucepan over high heat until hot. Turn stove off, add cranberries, cover. Stand 15 minutes, then drain in a colander (discard liquid). Cool.
- Mix: Mix cranberries, toasted almonds (see Note 3), parsley, salt and olive oil in bowl. Use at room temp.
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (all oven types).
- Prepare salmon: Place a large sheet of foil on a tray (double layer for safety is recommended), then top with baking/parchment paper. Place salmon on paper, then fold up the foil sides a bit to cup them so glaze won't run onto tray.
- Glaze: Place ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat. Once it started foaming, turn down to medium, let it foam for 2 minutes then remove and pour straight over the salmon.
- Season: Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper, putting most of the salt on the thicker part of the salmon.
- Wrap: Cover salmon with a smaller piece of paper, then foil. Fold and seal up sides to enclose salmon in a parcel – it doesn't need to be 100% tightly sealed.
- Bake 15 minutes. Remove salmon from oven.
- Uncover / fold excess paper – Remove paper and foil and paper cover. Fold/scrunch paper and foil sides down to expose salmon surface. Tucking paper down also ensures it won't catch fire when broiling.
- Grill/broil to brown: Switch oven to grill/broiler on high. Place salmon on middle shelf in the oven and broil 7 to 10 minutes until you get caramelisation mostly on the edges, a bit on top. Don't put it too close to the heat element otherwise paper might catch on fire! Check to ensure salmon is cooked – either pry open in middle to check or use a probe to check internal temperatures (Note 4).
- Transfer to plate: Use foil overhang to transfer salmon onto serving platter straight away (otherwise it keeps cooking). Slide the foil then paper out from under the salmon (see video at 1 min 24s or step photos in post), allowing juices to pool on platter (it's gold stuff!).
- Cool: Loosely cover with foil, then leave to cool for at least 15 minutes, up to 1 hour or longer (for room temp serving – Note 6 for serving notes).
Assembly and serving
- Dollop then thickly spread with Creamy Dill Sauce (~0.8cm / 1/3" thick layer).
- Pile over Holiday Tapenade, scatter generously with pomegranate seeds, and then remaining parsley. Squeeze over lemon juice.
- Serving: Serve with extra lemon wedges so people can add more to taste. Cut into pieces – I use a cake cutter for serving. Encourage people to slop up some of the honey-butter sauce that will be mixed with semi melted Creamy Dill Sauce – it's so good! This dish is best served slightly warm, not piping hot, also excellent at room temp.
- Salmon – Trout is an ideal direct sub (though typically smaller, so scale recipe down or use multiple);
- Salmon fillets rather than whole side – bake in foil 10 minutes, then grill/broil 10 minutes). Would also be VERY pretty in individual portions so it looks like this.
- Smaller salmon side – eg the middle or just the tail end. For anything around 600g / 1.2lb and larger, follow recipe as written in terms of cook times but scale quantities down by clicking Servings and sliding down until you hit the target salmon weight.
- Butter – Best is ghee or clarified butter (store bought or homemade) for dairy free alternatives, followed by margarine.
- Honey – Maple syrup, but simmer for an extra 1 minute to reduce a bit further
- Sour Cream – The only suitable sub is spreadable (tub) cream cheese but that’s a bit thick so would need to be thinned with a touch of olive oil to make it in a soft spreadable paste as pictured in the video. If you use block cream cheese, you’d need even more oil for thinning. Yogurt is too watery.
- Dill – Classic herb for salmon, but can sub with chives or finely chopped green onions.
- Almonds (all should be roasted, unsalted) – Whole (preferably blanched) almonds roughly chopped yourself, pistachios, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, macadamias.
- Nut allergy subs – Pepitas or sunflower seeds
- Dried cranberries – Craisins, dried sour cherries (roughly chopped), golden raisins*, normal raisins* or sultanas*, any other dried fruit like apricots* chopped (items marked with * add 2 tbsp lemon juice into hot water for plumping, will add touch of tartness like cranberries have)
- Orange juice – Apple juice, any other non-thick fruit juice, water + 2 tbsp honey
- Parsley – Chives or green onions
- Pomegranate – These add colour and juicy little pops to the dish. No fruit provides anything quite similar in terms of colour but for flavour, best is to use red (seedless) grapes. Cut into 1/6 or 1/8, about 3/4 cup. Cherries also work!
- Dairy free version – give it a Middle Eastern spin by using hummus instead of sour cream (just be sure it’s a nice thick consistency you can slather on), and instead of parsley use fresh coriander/cilantro instead (roughly chopped) and increase to 1/2 cup. It’s really, really good, I made it with fillets. It’s a Christmasy version of Salmon Tarator, a traditional Middle Eastern dish from which this recipe was inspired.
- Tapenade – 24 hrs in advance (fridge) but keep toasted almonds in pantry and stir in before serving (few hours ahead is fine), ensure it is at room temp when using.
- Creamy Dill Sauce and Honey Glaze – 24 hours ahead, fridge (glaze will need to be reheated to make pourable).
- Pomegranates – bash out the seeds the day before! See in post for how;
- Salmon – better baked fresh on the day but it is still stellar cooked the day before (based on all leftovers I have been inhaling!). But honestly, reheating cooked salmon is just as much effort as baking fresh, in my opinion!
Life of Dozer
He can tell just by looking at it that the Christmas Baked Salmon is super duper delish!!! (Funnily enough, he seems to determined that about everything he looks at…🤔🤔🤔)