Healthy, DELICIOUS food doesn’t get any easier than this pesto salmon recipe with bright parsley and heaps of sweet roasted garlic.
All images and text ©Jenny DeRemer for Not Entirely Average, LLC
Parsley Pesto Salmon Recipe
Honestly, so many flavors compliment fish, whether you prepare it baked, poached, or grilled. When it comes to fresh herbs though, there are a handful that stand out among the rest primarily because they do not impart an unpleasant or bitter taste to the cooked fish. My ‘short list’ for herbs which pair best with fish, salmon in this case, are parsley, fennel, tarragon, dill, sweet and purple basil, sage, rosemary, bay leaves, French thyme, and cilantro.
When most of us think of pesto, we consider basil and olive oil as the two primary ingredients, generally accompanied by a handful of pine nuts and parmesan cheese. Today’s baked pesto salmon recipe requires parsley and fennel as the herbs of choice.
Think ‘light meal with bright flavors’ when you peruse this recipe, THE BEST baked salmon recipe. Use smaller salmon filets or a single large fillet as I have here depending on for whom and how you plan to serve this meal.
Parsley is bursting with its own unique bright flavor, so adding the finished pesto just before placing the fish beneath the broiler really provokes that singular nuance. Combined with a fennel stalk, lemon zest, roasted peppers, and roasted garlic, this distinctive homemade pesto gives the salmon true Mediterranean flavor.
Salmon scores extra points as a dinnertime main because it’s loaded with good fat and heaps of omega-3 fatty acids. Whizzing up fresh herbs and aromatics for your own pesto will make so much sense to you once you’ve tried this dish!
Do You Have What’s Needed for My Parsley Pesto Salmon Recipe? Check the List!
- single roasted red pepper, either jarred or fire roasted on your grill
- olive oil
- 2-pound salmon fillet
- whole heads of garlic
- an onion
- sea salt
- black pepper
- bunch fresh parsley
- fennel stalk with fronds
- zest of a lemon
- raw almonds
- Balsamic vinegar
How This Recipe Came About…
If you’re looking for great options when it comes to consuming more fish, earmark this recipe if you do nothing else. Not only is the pesto salmon recipe a delicious way to consume healthy fat, but I can also guarantee you a second recipe to help use up any leftovers.
Over my 10-day stay in what can only be described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I enjoyed this pesto salmon recipe three times. I kept returning to the restaurant where I’d experienced it on our first night in town because I just could not get enough of it.
The plate emerged from the kitchen with a couple of extra items aside from what I am offering herein today – tiny potatoes and blistered cherry tomatoes. They’d been scored on top and roasted right on the baking sheet with the fish.
The entire experience on all three occasions had me exiting the restaurant as though I’d just consumed a steak dinner; it was that hearty. Rather than a high-fat meat supper however, I was enjoying an entree with so much flavor that was also a healthy meal all the way around.
Why Not Basil Pesto?
To this question, I’d respond ‘well, why not parsley pesto?’ We all know how yummy basil pesto is, however, what sets this fish apart is the uniqueness of the flavors.
Also, this easy vegan pesto doubles as a fabulous gremolata for sprinkling atop salads and fried tofu snacks. If you grow parsley at home, this little hack is a great way to use a small amount of it without a lot left over.
Can I Use Any Salmon?
Yes, any skinless salmon fillets will work in this dish. Remember to start with the FRESHEST filet you can afford or get your hands on.
I LOVE my local big box store for this reason, as scoring a reasonably priced 2-pound fillet costs me (as of August 2022) about $22. The entire recipe serves 8, so this works out to around $2.75 per serving.
My photos herein represent Atlantic salmon which was what was available on the day I decided to photograph this. Use whatever salmon you like for this easy recipe just as long as it’s FRESH, not CANNED.
How To Make This Pesto Salmon Recipe?
One Large Fillet or Individual Smaller Fillets?
As I referenced above, I love my big box store for grabbing the freshest fish. Because they sell everything in gargantuan, it was not difficult to score a 2-pound package of salmon.
I like to leave my fillet whole and in-tact. I will serve it this way directly from the baking dish or I will gently slide it onto a fancy platter if serving to company.
If you prefer to bake up individual salmon filets, by all means grab your knife and go to town. If you do trim into individual portions, place salmon fillets with their sides touching into the baking dish as though they were one large filet.
Roast the Garlic and The Onion
Preheat oven to 375°F and grab a baking dish to fit the size of your salmon filet nicely. You DO WANT room around the edges, so do not go too small.
Tear off a large enough sheet of parchment paper to fit the baking dish. You want to use parchment paper, so the fish does not burn or end up sticking to the baking dish bottom and becoming an otherwise flaky salmon.
I crumple my parchment several times, smoothing it out between. It ‘stays put’ now when I fit it into the baking dish.
Drizzle some olive oil (or avocado oil) over the parchment. You needn’t cover the surface entirely, just the middle-ish as we are only going to be roasting the vegetables in this first part.
Trim the onion and cut it in half. Trim the base from the garlic heads. Place all cut side down into the olive oil.
Drizzle a light streak of olive oil over the onion and the garlic heads and sprinkle with sea salt and some freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
Roast for 30 to 40 minutes using kitchen tongs to carefully turn the onions cut side up halfway during roasting. Leave the garlic cut side down for the duration of the roast.
Make Some Pesto
Here is when having a food processor makes my life so easy. To make this pesto sauce, take your bunch of parsley (washed, stems and all), and tuck it loosely into the barrel of the processor.
Cut a nice sized stalk of fennel from the bulb and tear off a few lofty fronds and set aside. Reserve the bulb for later use.
Cut the stalk into 1-inch chunks and add them to the food processor. Next add in some raw almonds, the zest of a whole lemon, some quality Balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of sea salt.
Pulse several times to break up the fennel stalk before processing on high for 1 minute. The mixture should appear crumbly and dry as compared to traditional basil pesto. This is correct.
Assembling the Salmon
Rinse the salmon under cold water then pat dry with paper towel. I try to dry the surface of the fish as much as I can in this step.
If you are somebody who enjoys roasting your own bell peppers on your grill or over the flame on your gas range, grab a pretty red pepper and go for it. Nothing beats fresh and if I have time, this is exactly what I do.
If, however, time is tight, or you prefer to pop the top on that jar of roasted reds in the pantry, you’ll want to remove a whole one from the jar. Set it on your cutting board and go Ginsu, dicing it into very fine pieces.
Use a bench scraper to lift the bits of roasted pepper into a small bowl. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the peppers and stir to combine.
At the 30 to 40-minute mark, remove the baking dish from the oven and move the onion halves and the garlic heads to the sides. Boost the oven temperature to 450°F.
Arrange the salmon fillet(s) in the center of the parchment and spread the diced roasted pepper mixture all over. It’s at this point that I squeeze a clove or three of the half-roasted garlic from its papery skin and shimmy it atop the fish in a few spots.
Again, add a little salt and a little pepper to taste and pop the ensemble back into the hot oven for 15 minutes. Pour yourself a glass of white wine and set the table because your work here is basically done.
Ensuring the Salmon is Completely Cooked
At the 15-minute mark, your salmon should appear pink and the garlic, onion, and roasted peppers roasting with it, very aromatic. Remove the baking dish from the oven and turn the broiler to high heat.
Use a meat thermometer to ensure your salmon is registering close to 145°F internal temperature in the thickest part of the fillet. The broil will get it the rest of the way there as long as you are close.
If still however, registering in the 130°s, place the fish back into the 375°F oven in 5-minute increments. I like my fillet to be between 140°F and 143°F RIGHT BEFORE I BRONZE IT.
Bronzing the Salmon
Squeeze a few more cloves of the garlic out and swirl them around in the juices around the fish. Add the reserved fennel fronds and begin to scatter the pesto all over the surface of the salmon.
Place the salmon under the broiler, middle rack. Depending on your oven, allow the fish to go anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes making sure it does not begin to dry out.
Pull the salmon from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve this healthy dinner recipe alongside buttered orzo and a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon juice, or white rice and green beans.
This simple dish is great for any night of the week. And because it’s one dish and is short on fuss and long on flavor, enjoy easy cleanup for a change!
If You Like This Recipe…
…you might also like:
- Creamy Carrot Green Pesto Sauce
- Salmon Salad With Grilled Corn and Heirloom Tomatoes
- Brown Butter Peach Bourbon BBQ Sauce
- Smoked Salmon Brunch Frittata
Parsley Pesto Salmon Recipe
- large baking dish at least 2-inches deep
- parchment paper
- 1 large roasted red bell pepper rough chopped into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil
- 2 pounds salmon fillet left whole or trimmed into individual fillets, your preference
- 2 large garlic bulbs base trimmed, bulb intact
- 1 large onion peeled and halved
- 1 bunch parsley fresh
- 1 stalk fennel plus, 5 or 6 fronds trimmed from bulb and reserved
- lemon zest from 1 large lemon
- 1/4 cup almonds raw
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- sea salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a large baking dish, large enough to fit your piece of salmon with room on all sides, with parchment paper.
- Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil atop the parchment. Place the garlic bulbs and the onion halves cut side down into the baking dish. Dust with a healthy pinch of sea salt and some black pepper. Bake 30 to 40 minutes using kitchen tongs halfway through to turn only the onion halves right side up. Leave the garlic cut side down for the duration of the roast.
- Chop the roasted red pepper and add to a small bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and stir to combine. Set aside.
- In the barrel of a food processor, add the parsley (leaves and stems), the fennel stalk (chopped into 1-inch pieces to fit), lemon zest, almonds, Balsamic vinegar, and a few pinches of sea salt. Pulse to initially break up the fennel, then process on high for a full minute. The mixture should appear crumbly and dry as compared to traditional basil pesto. This is correct.
- Rinse the salmon under cold water then pat dry with paper towel. At the 30 to 40-minute mark, remove the baking dish from the oven and move the onion halves and the garlic heads to the sides. Raise the oven temperature to 450°F. Arrange the salmon fillet(s) in the center of the parchment and spread the diced roasted pepper mixture all over.
- Squeeze several cloves of the half-roasted garlic from its papery skin and shimmy it atop the fish in a few spots. Add some additional sea salt and black pepper to taste and replace to the hot oven for 15 minutes.
- Test the salmon in the thickest part of the fillet using an instant read thermometer. The salmon is cooked through at 145°F however I pull it at between 140°F and 143°F in preparation for the broiler which will get the fish to the 145°F in a matter of minutes while also bronzing the surface. If your fish is reading just under 145°F, pull it from the oven. If, however, the fish is still registering in the 130°s, place the fish back into the 450°F oven in 2-minute increments.
- Turn on your ovens broil element. Scatter the pesto atop the salmon and in any pools of liquid accumulating around the sides. Add the reserved fennel fronds in and around the ingredients. Place in the middle position beneath the broiler for 2 to 4 minutes only or the fish may become dry. Use the instant read again to test for doneness. You are looking for 145°F.
- Remove from the oven. Spoon any liquids that have accumulated in the bottom of the dish over the fish. Allow it to stand 5 full minutes before serving. Ensure each eater receives some of the roasted garlic and roasted onion.
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