I’ve mentioned before that I’m not big on desserts because I get bored easily with sweet flavors. But when sweet is paired with sour and savory? Now that’s a taste sensation I can always get behind! Fortunately it’s front and center in this dish, where silky braised cabbage is the star. Savory, smoky bacon fat adds a touch of richness, crispy pancetta bits provide a nice crunch for textural contrast, and fresh dill – a classic pairing with red cabbage and caraway – lends a hint of herbal warmth. (If you’d rather not use pork, I’ve provided an alternative in the “Notes” section of the recipe.) I prefer red cabbage for its hearty texture and wonderful color, but you can also make this with green cabbage. It won’t be quite as pretty but it will taste just as good.
This braised cabbage contains very little fat and a ton of flavor, so it’s the perfect partner for a fatty and assertive fish like salmon. I personally only eat wild Pacific salmon which tends to be leaner than its farmed and Atlantic counterparts, but it’s still swimming with healthful omega-3 fatty acids. The salmon doesn’t need complicated seasoning, just salt, pepper, and a little dill to tie it in with the cabbage. We’re baking it low and slow in the oven until barely cooked through to maintain its beautiful bright color and unctuous texture. (Few things make me sadder than a gorgeous piece of salmon that’s over-cooked and chalky.) This slow-cooked method in a low oven is my favorite hands-off way to cook fish of any kind – you get perfect results every time and you’re much less likely to have all that unattractive white albumin oozing out. Fillets vary wildly in thickness, so the time your salmon spends in the oven will depend on how thick your salmon is. I estimate 9-10 minutes of cooking time per half-inch of thickness, so if your fillets are 1 inch thick they’ll take 18-20 minutes. If they’re a really meaty 1 ½ inches thick like the ones in my photos they’ll take 27-30 minutes. These estimates are based on the assumption that you take your salmon like I do – just barely medium-rare. If you want it more on the medium side, add another 1-2 minutes per half-inch of thickness.
Got all that? Good. Now get cooking!
I like to slice the pancetta or bacon into thin strips to mimic the shape of the sliced cabbage. If you’d rather go with a thicker cut like dice, you’ll have to cook it longer to render the fat. I wouldn’t make it thicker than a half-inch as it won’t render as well, and you want to keep the focus on the cabbage – the pancetta should be a background player here.
Remember last week in the post about Sweet Potato, White Bean and Rainbow Chard Hash when I said my cats love bacon? I wasn’t kidding. That’s my little Sophie trying to steal the pancetta. After this happened I hid it from her, and of course I forgot all about it until after I photographed the finished dish, dug in, and realized something was missing. Oops. Hey, even pros make mistakes!
This is how you want the onions to look before you add the cabbage – they should be nicely softened, translucent, and starting to shrink up from loss of moisture.
After you’ve wilted the cabbage a bit and added all the remaining ingredients it will look like this. Now bring it up to a simmer, cover it with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to low and let it cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. If your lid isn’t super tight and allows steam to escape, you may have to add a little extra chicken broth along the way to keep it from drying out.
Season the salmon fillets and place them skin side down on a bed of whole dill sprigs. As the dill heats up it will perfume the salmon. Once the salmon is cooked, carefully peel off the skin. There’s probably a grayish-brown film underneath the skin. If your fillets are wild, don’t scrape it off – that layer is where a lot of the healthful omega-3 fatty acids reside. If you’re using farmed salmon I recommend removing it because it may contain harmful pollutants. Once you’ve done all that, lay each salmon fillet on a plated mound of cabbage and dig in!
Here’s my plated dish. I like to finish it off with a drizzle of good aged balsamic vinegar (or balsamic reduction), but it’s completely optional.
- For Cabbage
- 8 ounces (1 cup) low-sodium chicken broth
- 75 ml (¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon) cider vinegar
- 60 ml (¼ cup) balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or brown sugar
- 4 ounces smoked pancetta or bacon*, cut into ¼-inch strips
- 1 medium yellow onion (about 8 ounces), thinly sliced
- Kosher salt
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon caraway seed
- ¼ teaspoon dill seed
- 2 lbs red cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (yield 10 cups)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
- For Salmon
- Four 4-6 ounce wild salmon fillets
- 10-12 whole dill sprigs
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish if desired
- Optional: balsamic reduction for garnish
- Make the cabbage: In a bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together chicken broth, cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, mustard and sugar; set aside.
- Heat a dutch oven over medium, and add pancetta or bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fat is rendered and pancetta is crisp, 8-10 minutes. Remove the pancetta from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a paper towel.
Add sliced onion to the pan with a pinch of salt and toss to coat with the rendered fat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent, 5-6 minutes. Add garlic, allspice, caraway, and dill seed and cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add sliced cabbage, toss to combine, and sauté until slightly wilted, 1-2 minutes. Add liquid, a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper.
Bring to a simmer, cover the pan, and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for one hour, until cabbage is tender. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if desired, add chopped fresh dill, and toss to combine.
- Prepare the salmon: While cabbage is braising, preheat oven to 250F. Arrange whole dill sprigs into a bed on a sheet pan (you can also use a baking dish). Rub salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Lay fillets skin side down on the bed of dill and sprinkle with chopped dill. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
- Cook the salmon: Once cabbage has been cooking for 30 minutes, put salmon in preheated oven. Cook for 20-30 minutes, just until barely firm when top is pressed.
- Serve: Divide cabbage among four plates, and top each with a sprinkle of crispy pancetta. Carefully separate salmon fillets from their skin (discard skin), and rest fillets atop cabbage. Garnish with chopped dill, and if desired, a drizzle of balsamic reduction. I personally think this is a complete and satisfying meal, but if you’d like to add a starch I recommend simple roasted potatoes.