Lately we’ve been getting some really nice strawberries in our local markets. Due to their natural tartness, strawberries can suit savory dishes as well as sweet. Here I’ve combined crispy pan-seared salmon with a strawberry balsamic relish, topped with a fresh basil garnish. This uncommon pairing of simple ingredients results in a symphony of bright flavors. It’s a quick, easy, and unexpected entree, just perfect for spring.
Ina Garten’s recipe for balsamic macerated berries inspired the strawberry relish here. I absolutely love Ina’s simple method, which results in a sweet, complex, utterly delightful sauce that requires zero cooking (and very little effort). While Ina uses the berries to top ice cream, I wondered if I could apply the same technique to a savory dish.
Balsamic-macerated strawberries are the star of the show here. In culinary maceration, liquid – or in some cases sugar – is applied to an ingredient like fruit. Over time the fruit softens and breaks down a bit, releasing its juices. Natural flavors are amplified in the resulting relish, which often resembles a compote.
I tweaked Ina’s berry recipe by removing sugar and adding salt. I also added lemon zest during the maceration process, allowing it to meld with the other flavors. A good quality balsamic is key here. Fresh basil brings out a distinctly Mediterranean personality in the final dish. The result is a surprisingly complex no-cook strawberry balsamic sauce. It would be lovely on any grilled fish or chicken.
This recipe is a great way to use up a batch of strawberries that will soon be past their prime. It’s a light, lovely dish that only takes a few minutes to prepare. Enjoy!
Salmon with Strawberries, Balsamic and Basil
A quick, delicious, and seasonal salmon entree with crispy seared salmon and an unexpected, flavorful strawberry balsamic sauce with fresh basil garnish.
Strawberry Balsamic Relish Ingredients
- 1 lb fresh strawberries, hulled and diced
- 1 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (a good quality vinegar works best here - cherry or fig flavored balsamic is particularly nice)
- 1/4 tsp salt, heaping, or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1/8 tsp black pepper, or more to taste
- 10 large fresh basil leaves
Seared Salmon Ingredients
- 4 boneless salmon fillets, skin off or skin on
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper
You will also need: Large cast iron or PFOA-free nonstick skillet with metal handle, bowl, citrus zester
Nutritional information calculated using 1/4 tsp salt total for all four salmon fillets (in addition to salt in strawberry relish). Serving size is one salmon fillet topped with 1/2 cup of relish.
To Make Strawberry Relish
The strawberry relish for this recipe is very easy to make, and can be made up to 1 hour ahead. First, stem the strawberries and chop them into small pieces. Place them into a bowl, then stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt, black pepper, and fresh lemon zest. Let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the juices thicken and the berry flavor is sweeter and more vibrant.
The process used here, known as maceration, amplifies the natural flavor of the berries, bringing out their natural sweetness. When combined with the other ingredients, a truly interesting melding of flavors takes shape, resulting in a relish that can be used on a number of savory dishes, from fish to grilled chicken. Omit the salt (but not the black pepper), and it becomes a luscious topping for vanilla ice cream.
To Make Seared Salmon
Let the salmon come to room temperature - it will cook more evenly. I usually let the salmon sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes while the strawberries macerate. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Season fillets generously with salt and pepper.
Heat skillet over medium high for 3-4 minutes until drops of water sizzle on the surface. Pour 2 tbsp olive oil into the skillet and swirl around to evenly coat the entire surface. Oil may begin to smoke lightly after a moment or two.
Gently place salmon fillets into the skillet, up to 4 at a time (depending on the size of your skillet), making sure not to crowd the pan and that no fillets are touching. If using skin-on fillets, the skin side should be facing upward.
Turn the burner up to high. Let the salmon sear for 2-3 minutes until a golden brown crust begins forms on the bottom edge of the meat. You can see the crust forming where the fish touches the pan - you shouldn't need to move it. Once you see that, there is no need to lift the fillets. The crust will continue developing in the oven. The less you disturb it, the better.
Do not turn the fillets. Transfer hot skillet to the preheated oven. Let the salmon continue roasting in the oven for another 6-10 minutes. Cook time will depend on the thickness of the fillets and desired doneness. Some like salmon a little on the rare side. I like it fully cooked and flaking, but still moist. For a fillet that is 1-inch at its thickest point, It will usually take around 7-8 minutes in the oven. You may cut into the thickest part of one fillet with a sharp knife to check for doneness.
When the salmon is done to your liking, use an oven mitt to carefully remove the skillet from the oven. Use caution, the skillet will be very hot.
Remove the fillets from the pan carefully with tongs or a fish spatula and plate them crust-side up. If you're not serving the fillets immediately, you may want to take them out of the oven a little less-than-done, then leave them in the hot skillet to finish cooking before you serve.
Assemble and Serve
Give the macerated berries a stir and taste. If you've used ripe berries, the relish should be sweet yet tart, with a nice balance provided by the salt, pepper, and lemon zest. A touch of sugar can be added if your berries were not in season and less-than-sweet. If the relish seems overly sweet, stir in a bit more salt, wait a minute or two, then stir again. Adjust seasoning to taste, if desired.
Chiffonade the fresh basil. First, gather ten large leaves together in a stack and squeeze between your fingers, with the biggest leaf on the bottom of the stack.
Roll the basil leaves tightly lengthwise, like a cigar.
Slice through the roll crosswise with a sharp knife to create long, thin shreds of basil. Discard stem ends of leaves.
Spoon fresh berry relish over the seared salmon fillets, topped by equal amounts of fresh basil garnish. Serve immediately.