Recipe: Ruth Pretty’s Roast Salmon with Caramelized Balsamic Onions & Citrus Crème Fraiche

Flaky salmon over rich caramelized onions is a guaranteed Christmas show-stopper. 

Words & recipe: Ruth Pretty  Styling & photos: Carolyn Robertson

Serena Bass, my New York-based friend and a fabulous chef, introduced me to this spectacular party dish. It’s also great served cold the next day.

Serves 8 to 10

Roast Salmon with Caramelized Balsamic Onions


For the caramelized balsamic onions:
85ml olive oil, preferably extra virgin
1.6kg red onions, peeled, halved vertically, and thinly sliced
100g brown sugar
125ml balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons finely chopped thyme leaves
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, lightly toasted and roughly ground
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup roughly chopped dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves

For the salmon:
115g unsalted butter, softened
2 salmon sides, each weighing 1.3k to 1.5kg, skinned and boned
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 or 4 lemons, cut into wedges
Citrus Crème Fraiche (recipe below)


Heat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a large, low-sided baking tray.

Set two heavy frying pans over a medium-high heat and divide the oil between them. Add half the onions to each pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until translucent and soft. Add half the sugar, balsamic vinegar, thyme, fennel seeds and garlic to each pan. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until almost no liquid remains.

Transfer onions to the prepared baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from oven, add the herbs and cool. (The onions can be done in advance and refrigerated for up to three days.)

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To prepare and cook the salmon, heat the oven to 180°C. Line a large, low-sided baking tray with a Teflon sheet or lightly greased baking paper.

Rub butter all over the salmon and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay one salmon fillet, former skin-side up, on the prepared baking tray. Arrange caramelized onions down the centre of the salmon fillet.

Place the second salmon fillet, former skin-side down, on top of the onions. Tie with culinary string every 5cm, or into 8
equal portions.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the salmon is just cooked, aiming for medium-rare (if it’s oozing white, milky juices it’s overcooked). Cover loosely with a tea towel and rest away from the heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, lift the corners of the Teflon or baking paper (another pair of hands can be helpful here) and transfer to a platter. Gently pull out the Teflon or paper and remove the string if desired. Serve hot or warm, with lemon wedges and Citrus Crème Fraiche.

Citrus Crème Fraiche

Makes 430ml

Stir together 400ml crème fraiche, 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest, 1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon lime juice (or orange juice) and ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt. Store, covered, in the fridge.

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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