Heart-healthy salmon that’s bursting with flavor has never been so easy. A low oven temperature virtually guarantees tender, perfectly cooked salmon every time and won’t overheat your kitchen either. If you’ve never tried harissa, an easy-to-find condiment made of roasted peppers and spices, now is the moment!
This recipe calls for one ingredient that may be new to you: harissa.
If you add this readily available spice paste to your weekly grocery list, however, you will be rewarded with a heart-healthy, flavor-packed meal that takes about five minutes to prep before popping into the oven.
The result, dare I say, is reminiscent of an entree served at a hip new restaurant.
For those who may not be familiar, harissa is a Tunisian chili pepper paste. On the map, Tunisia is situated on the Mediterranean coast of Northwest Africa, east of the southern tip of Spain.
As such, this dish complements a wide variety of Mediterranean and African flavors. It’s also flavorful enough to be paired with the most simple of sides, and the extra marinade can be used as a sauce.
Harissa’s main ingredients include a variety of roasted and ground peppers, spices, and herbs such as garlic paste, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and cumin. Olive oil is then added to create a paste-like consistency and carry the oil-soluble flavors.
Oil-free harissa powders and dry rubs are readily available, too. However this recipe relies on the paste, which can be found in the international aisle of most grocery stores.
As a quick but useful digression, I recently used the powdered version of harissa in place of my homemade Sazón seasoning in this simple, flavorful, grilled chicken recipe. Both are excellent summer grilling options that deliver great flavor with very little effort. (To make either meal extra special, top with this speedy avocado and tomato salsa.)
In the following salmon recipe, I rely on the technique I use in my original slow roasted salmon recipe. The surprisingly low oven temperature virtually guarantees melt-in-your-mouth fish and won’t overheat your kitchen on a warm day. That said, you may absolutely use this marinade with alternate oven temperatures and methods of preparation if you prefer.
For added convenience, the recipe is simple to scale based on number of diners as the measurements break into halves and quarters quite easily.
I’ve prepared this meal countless times over the years, and it’s as much a pleasure to make as it is to serve. Family and friends, both young and old, have cleaned their plates, and the vibrant red color is striking.
The grilled shrimp recipe pictured below offers another delicious way to enjoy harissa. Also, for those who are wondering, the pastes that are sold in most grocery stores are not highly spicy. And unlike many condiments that are opened for a single recipe and then sit untouched in the fridge for weeks, I’d wager to say you’ll have no problem making use of every ounce of this one!
Most brands of harissa that you will find will taste moderately spicy, which allows you to use this magical condiment liberally. Brands coming from abroad may be spicier, so taste first to be sure.
For a few more tasty ideas, harissa makes a flavorful dip or quick sauce when stirred into mayo or used in the shortcut harissa aioli recipe included with the shrimp recipe pictured above. Dollop the aioli over fish and shellfish, chicken, and a variety of vegetables. And then get creative with any leftovers (consider making enough to ensure leftovers!) and pair your chosen protein and vegetables with a cooked grain, and build a bowl that delights with the flavors of Northwest Africa and the Mediterranean.
Similarly, consider it fair game to whisk harissa into vinaigrettes, toss it with roasted vegetables, stir it into yogurt (for another type of sauce), and scramble it into eggs.
- ¼ cup (56ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup (6og) harissa paste (I last use Roland’s; click here for other brand images)
- 1 garlic clove, grated or minced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 lemon*
- 1 (2-pound) center-cut salmon fillet
- Optional for serving: mixed tender herbs such as parsley, cilantro, dill, and/or chives
- Preheat the oven to 250°F. Whisk the oil, harissa, garlic, and salt in a small bowl. Pour half of harissa oil into a baking dish that is just big enough to fit the salmon and swirl to coat. Thinly slice half of the lemon and remove any seeds; reserve the other lemon half. Scatter the slices in dish.
- Place the salmon in the dish, and pour the remaining harissa oil over the top, spreading evenly over the flesh with a spoon. (Prep-ahead option: At this point, the salmon may be covered and refrigerated for several hours.)
- Roast the salmon for 15 minutes. Remove the salmon from the oven and baste it with the harissa oil pooled in dish. Return it to the oven and continue to cook until the flesh flakes apart when prodded with a fork and is just barely cooked through the center, 10–20 minutes longer. (Tip: lean wild salmon, like sockeye, can cook in as little as 20-25 minutes total, while thicker farm raised fillets will require the longer cooking time. For salmon with a hint of pink in the center, look for an internal temperature of 120°F when taken with a quick read thermometer.)
- Squeeze the remaining lemon half over the salmon and scatter with some of the optional herbs. (I give the lemon a good squeeze but don’t squeeze every last drop. You could garnish with wedges from an additional lemon to please those who like a stronger lemon flavor.) Serve from the baking dish, or for a fancier presentation, cut the salmon into pieces or break it into chunks with a spoon, and then arrange the pieces on a platter along with the lemon slices, drizzling with the harissa oil from the baking dish and scattering the herbs overtop. Any remaining harissa oil is delicious drizzled over roasted, mashed, or baked potatoes, cauliflower, carrots, couscous, rice or another grain of choice.
*If you have an extra minute to spare, you may zest the lemon and include the zest in the harissa mixture where it will provide complementary bright, lemony flavor.
One more thing: I generally use wild salmon and keep the skin on. When using farm-raised salmon, I generally opt for no skin. Feel free to go with skin on or off as preferred.