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Christmas Salmon

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

Festive red and green tapenade makes this delicious salmon dish look like Christmas, no matter when you serve it!

Christmas salmon

For the printable recipe click here.

A fish called Christmas

Christmas salmon is so-named for its festive, red-and-green topping of vibrant Sugar Bomb tomatoes; fruity, briny Castelvetrano olives; and verdant fresh basil.

Ironically, some of these simple ingredients may seem a little better suited to summer than Christmastime. However, with modern conveniences, Christmas salmon can likely be made year round, making it a lovely addition to your Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes, or a great holiday dinner option for something a little different on Christmas Day!

A marriage of flavors

Tomatoes and olives are a beautiful duo. We make a similar dish with kalamata olives in place of the Castelvetranos, and that pairing is truly a no-brainer--the kalamatas and tomatoes have such an affinity for each other. Christmas salmon, however, with the slightly more subtle, fruitier, green Castelvetranos, needs a few more ingredients to really unlock the magic.

Fresh garlic provides zestiness, crushed red pepper flakes spice it up just enough, and the basil, with its intriguing licoricey notes, all provide ample flavor. But the secret ingredient that stealthily unites the main ingredients is actually orange zest!

While it may seem slightly more standard to include something like lemon zest or lemon juice with tomatoes, the tomatoes and olives in this case are like two voices competing for a solo, and the orange zest turns it into a beautiful harmony, hitting all the right notes. I do not include orange juice in the mixture, so I usually slice up the orange after zesting and let the Monsters have a little snack.

The tomato-olive mixture needs to mingle and marry in the fridge for at least 20 minutes before serving, but it can be made up to two days in advance if needed. It will actually last a little longer than that (and still taste amazing), but it won't be as visually beautiful.

Any leftover tapenade is a lovely addition to a fresh, green salad, grilled chicken, or of course, a slice of paleo focaccia.

Christmas salmon

What type of Salmon is best?

Okay, I know I am supposed to tell you that wild salmon is the best choice, but honestly, I have a huge preference for Atlantic Salmon, which is typically farmed, over Pacific, which is more likely to be wild.

I love Organic, sustainably farmed, Norwegian salmon the most. At least that's my favorite out of what tends to be available to me locally. Steelhead trout is a similar choice for flavor and appearance.

Atlantic salmon tends to be a little smaller in size and lighter in color than Pacific salmon, and it has a mild, yet rich and fatty flavor.

I look for salmon that has not been artificially colored with red dye. While a lot of farmed salmon does have color added through their feed, often it is astaxanthin, the same substance that makes wild salmon pink through their natural diet. Sometimes the astaxanthin is a natural supplement, and sometimes it is artificially engineered. This article elaborates.

This is another reason why I like to buy the Organic farmed salmon when I can--they might be getting organic corn and soybeans, but they won't be loaded with GMOs and artificial whatnots.

Of course, wild Pacific salmon is probably the healthier and more truly paleo choice, but this recipe has only been tested with the Atlantic variety, so I can't vouch for how well the holiday tapenade stands up to the less-fatty, more assertively flavored Pacific varieties. Let me know if you try it!

Cooking the Christmas salmon

My favorite part of salmon is the crispy skin. If I see it in the trash after a meal, my kids get the standard "if you don't want the skin, you must give it to Mommy" lecture.

So this is all to say that my cooking method is pretty much all geared around maximizing skin deliciousness. If you're not a skin-eater, don't worry: this method also ensures moist, tasty flesh. The skin is easy to peel off after serving, and it helps hold the flesh together during cooking, while also helping prevent over cooking.

To get that perfect, crispy salmon skin, it is important to pat the skin dry before placing it in the pan.

patting the salmon skin dry

seasoning the salmon skin

Preheating the pan for thorough, even heat is helpful as well. I cook the salmon the longest on the skin side, then a little on the tops and outsides.

crisping the salmon skin in a cast iron skillet

cook the salmon a little on all sides

I aim for a about a medium rare cook, so not too wet in the center, but definitely not too dry.

Since you're going to the trouble of crisping up that skin, don't forget to season it! Also, when you remove the cooked salmon from the pan, you'll want to place it skin-side up in a single layer (not all stacked up) while waiting to plate, so the heat from the meat doesn't make the skin soggy. You will, however, serve the salmon skin-side down, so the tapenade gets mounded up on the flesh side. I sometimes like to use a slotted spoon for topping the salmon with the tomato-olive mixture so that excess moisture stays behind, but if crispy skin isn't your jam, you don't have to worry about that!

Even if you prefer to present the salmon on a large platter for your dinner party or holiday table, it's nice to cook off the portions individually and arrange them on the platter with the holiday tapenade on top so that they can be easily distributed without having to awkwardly cut into a whole salmon filet tableside.

Whether you fancy salmon for your Christmas table or a light summer lunch, this recipe is a delicious way to get some healthy fats into your diet, festive enough for the special occasions of the holiday season, and simple enough to be your main course for a weeknight dinner. It just might be your new favorite salmon dish!

Christmas salmon

Here's what you'll need:

For the tomato-olive topping:

  • 12 oz quartered sugar bomb tomatoes (or any variety of cherry or grape tomatoes),

  • 3/4 cup chopped pitted Castelvetrano olives

  • 5 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 tsp kosher salt

  • 1 tsp finely chopped orange zest

  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

  • 15 cranks black pepper

  • 3 T Extra Virgin olive oil

  • 1/2 oz fresh basil, chopped

For the salmon:

  • 1 whole salmon filet, skin on (excess scales and bones removed)

  • 2-3 T olive oil or ghee (or a mixture of both)

  • salt and pepper

Here's what you'll do:

  1. ​Make the topping: Combine all topping ingredients in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate till ready to use. May be made up to two days in advance.

  2. Cook the salmon: First preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, use a very sharp knife to cut the salmon filet into desired serving-sized strips.

  4. Next, press a double layer of paper towels down on the skin side of the salmon strips, and let it sit there while you heat the oil to ensure that the skin is as dry as possible.

  5. Add the oil to the hot pan and heat another minute or two.

  6. Peel the paper towels off the salmon and season the skins with salt and pepper.

  7. Using tongs, carefully transfer about half of the salmon (or however many pieces can fit in a single layer without touching or crowding) to the hot oil, skin-sides down. Use the back of the tongs to gently press down on each piece to ensure the skin is fully making contact with the pan. Season the flesh sides with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium, and cook on the skin side for about 5 minutes. Carefully turn the salmon pieces to cook about 1-2 more minutes on each side. Transfer the salmon pieces, skin-side up, to a clean plate, and repeat with remaining salmon.

  8. To serve, place individual portions of salmon skin side up on serving dishes and spoon the tomato-olive mixture over the top of the salmon.

Christmas salmon

For the printable recipe click here.

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Hey Y'all!

I'm the Monster Momma.

I'm a Christ-follower, wife, mother to five sweet paleo monsters, writer, and

paleo food fiend.

Join me and my family on our paleo journey!

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