This mouth-watering Broiled Salmon with Harissa and Dukkah is so packed with exotic flavors and appealing textures that you’d never guess it’s ‘health food.’ Best part — it takes less than 30 minutes from start to the dinner table! It’s quick enough for weeknights, yet elegant enough for company.
If you’re not sure what the heck harissa and dukkah are, don’t worry. I’ve become acquainted with these ingredients only recently myself, and now I’m in love! I’m so excited about this recipe, and my foray into harissa and dukkah, that this post is a little on the long side, so forgive me for that! 😉
Harissa is a spicy and aromatic chile paste that’s a widely used staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. And it can be quite spicy. Now, if you’re not a fan of spicy food, don’t stop reading! You can leave the harissa out and the rest of the dish will be wonderfully flavorful, just not spicy.
I was first introduced to harissa at one of our favorite restaurants here in Vancouver, Washington — Willem’s on Main. Willem’s focuses on the best local, seasonal ingredients, and expertly prepares everything from scratch. Deb and I love this place so much that we use any excuse we can find to go there. This is not a review, per se, but let me just give a big shout-out to Willem’s owner and chef, Paul Klitsie, who is a rare culinary talent. Paul, who is from the Netherlands, is classically trained, and has many years of restaurant ownership under his belt. His is the kind of place you want to support when you follow a “special needs” way of eating (WOE), such as grain-free and low carb. The food is fresh, well-sourced, and they know everything that goes into it. While Paul certainly uses some ingredients that don’t fit in with our way of eating, it’s easy to customize a gourmet meal there. And Paul always accomodates our special requests without a blink; no snooty chef stuff here. While it may cost a little more (but, truly, not much more) than some places, we can have a perfectly lovely gourmet meal and stay totally on plan. No compromises — yay! We have found that because we dine out far less often with our low carb WOE, we can afford to spend a little more when we do. And it’s worth every penny!
OK, back to harissa…. One evening, Paul had a gorgeous, fresh Northwest wild salmon on the menu (I think it was Sockeye) that he had topped with a layer of harissa paste and griddled to caramelized goodness on the outside and silky perfection on the inside. It was, indeed, spicy, but in a way that keeps you going back for more. It was a great first introduction to harissa. Deb and I also tried another dish in which he used harissa aioli (aioli is similar to mayonnaise) as a condiment — delicious, and less spicy than harissa straight up! Ever since my first introduction to that salmon with harissa, I’d been noodling on how create my own version.
Not long ago, I was meandering through my local Trader Joe’s (love that place), and I noticed that they had their own harissa paste. Into the basket it went. A little further down the aisle in the spice section, I noticed a jar of something called ‘dukkah.’ Having no clue what it was, I read the label and discovered that dukkah is a blend of nuts, seeds, and spices with its roots in Egyptian cuisine. Trader Joe’s version includes finely chopped California almonds, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, anise seeds, and a dash of kosher salt. It sounded intriguing to me, and I thought might be great combined with the flavors from harissa. I was spot on — this time, anyway. (BTW, this is not a sponsored post for Trader Joe’s; we are just big fans.)
There are no hard and fast rules about exactly what goes into harissa and especially dukkah. Different families and restaurants are known to add their own “secret” touches. In fact, I found a couple of recipes for homemade harissa and dukkah that look pretty good. I plan to try them out when I run out of my TJ’s stash. In the meantime, I’ve been experimenting with them in a number of different dishes. I have a shrimp salad recipe coming up in a few weeks that uses both ingredients. I’m also going to add some dukkah to my next batch of Crispy Low Carb Seed Crackers to shake things up a little. So many possibilities….
I should mention that Trader Joe’s dukkah blend includes both fennel seeds and anise seeds, which brings a pronounced licorice flavor to the party. I quite like it, but I know some people don’t care for that flavor. If that’s the case, here’s a simple recipe you can throw together for a version that doesn’t use fennel or anise.
On to the salmon. If you haven’t already heard about the many health benefits of salmon, I’m guessing you may have been living in some nutritional Siberia. Suffice to say, it’s evidently really, really good for you! Deb and I live in the Pacific Northwest, but we didn’t grow up here, so we didn’t have a lot of experience with salmon before we moved here nearly twenty years ago. Salmon is practically a religion here, and we, too, have come to worship the salmon gods.
It took me a while to discover that not all salmon is created equal, and how it is prepared makes a big difference. Wild salmon (fresh or frozen) is better than farmed, in my opinion, in terms of taste and health benefits. (I did notice, however, that health guru Mark Sisson recently had some cautiously optimistic things to say recently about the unique new farm-raised salmon brand that Whole Foods has launched.) Five species of salmon (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye) are harvested from wild fisheries in the Pacific Ocean. Atlantic salmon is primarily farm-raised. I often use coho and sockeye, because they are plentiful and affordable here. They are leaner than some species, which generally translates to a milder flavor that I usually prefer. However, we have various salmon species ‘seasons’ here, and I wouldn’t say that I have a particular favorite.
Because of the broiling technique used here, salmon fillets of a relatively even thickness will probably work best. I usually buy a side of salmon, cut the thinner ends off and save for another use (such as salmon burgers), and then divide the rest into fillets. In this case, I started with a nearly 2-lb side. After removing the skin, it yielded four 5-ounce filets, plus 6 ounces extra from the end pieces. Many people like to eat the skin, and you can certainly leave it on. It’s not my thing, plus I like to get a little sear on the bottom of the fillets, so I removed the skin and discarded it. If you don’t eat the skin, but you don’t want to remove it either, just leave it on. It might take an extra minute or two of cooking, but when the salmon is done and rested, simply slide a thin spatula between the skin and flesh and the filet will pop right off.
Whether you purchase your salmon in filets or by the side, this is good time to check for, and remove, any pin bones. (Here’s a good how-to video.) Many times, the pin bones are removed before you buy it, but not always, so it’s worth checking. The larger the fish, the larger the pin bones, but even smaller ones can be unpleasant to come across while dining.
At this point, I move an oven rack to the upper shelf and turn the oven on broil to preheat. I place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack at this time, so it gets screaming hot. While the oven and pan are heating, I finish preparing the salmon. After patting both sides of the filets with a paper towel to remove excess moisture and seasoning with salt and pepper (both sides), I lay the filets on a piece of parchment paper or cutting board, skin side down. After stirring together the harissa aioli ingredients, I spread about a teaspoon of aioli over the tops of each fillet, reserving the remaining aioli to serve on the side. (If you’re nervous about the spice level, start with less harissa, and add more if you like.) Placing a tablespoon of dukkah in the center of each filet, I spread carefully to the edges and press gently on the dukkah to adhere. They’re ready to go!
When the broiler has finished preheating, I carefully remove the baking sheet (it is HOT), pour on the oil, and tilt the pan to spread the oil around. I then place the pan back in the oven for a minute or so to heat the oil. Removing the pan again to a heat-proof surface, and using a thin spatula, I carefully transfer the filets to the baking sheet, leaving at least an inch or two between them. The bottom of the fish will begin cooking the moment it hits the hot pan. Once all of the filets are in place, I return the baking sheet to the top rack, leaving the oven door ajar slightly, and set my timer for 3 minutes. Pro tip: You don’t want to burn the dukkah crust or overcook the salmon, both of which can happen in the blink of an eye, so don’t leave the kitchen! After the 3 minutes are up, I remove the pan (carefully!) and check the internal temperature of the salmon with a instant read digital thermometer. Side note: if you don’t have such a thermometer, get one! I use mine all the time. Who wants to take the chance of overcooking a beautiful (and expensive) piece of fish or meat? Not me!
Wild salmon (which is leaner than farmed and can dry out more easily) is perfectly cooked at 120F. If it hasn’t quite reached that internal temperature, turn the oven OFF and return the pan to the warm oven with the door shut. Check every 2 minutes until it reaches 120F in the center of a filet. Because the salmon starts cooking from the bottom and the top at the same time, it doesn’t take long for it to be done, although the time will vary somewhat based on the thickness of the filet and the intensity of your broiler element.
When the salmon is finished cooking, remove from the oven and let the filets rest for 5 minutes before sprinkling with green onions or fresh herbs. Serve with the remaining harissa aioli, a lemon wedge, and perhaps your favorite low carb veggies or a salad. Any leftover salmon will keep for about a day or two in the refrigerator, well covered, and you can serve it chilled or gently reheated.
If, perhaps, you don’t want to use either the harissa aioli or the dukkah, this is still a terrific technique for cooking salmon. Just drizzle a little avocado or olive oil on top of the fillets before placing in the oven.
While this recipe may seem like a lot of steps, it’s only because I wanted to walk you through it should you need the extra instruction. It’s a super simple technique, and once you’ve tried it I’m betting that this will become one of your go-to ways to cook fish.
I’m enchanted with the bold flavors of this Broiled Salmon with Harissa and Dukkah. The crispy dukkah crust with the silky interior of the salmon is a textural delight. The fact that the whole thing is ridiculously healthy is just a huge bonus. Do yourself a big favor and try this dish!
As always, we are available to answer your questions. And, after you’ve made this recipe, please let us know how it turned out in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you!
- 20 oz / 567 g salmon filets, preferably wild (4 filets about 5 oz / 142 g each)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tbsp / 7 g avocado oil or olive oil
- 5 tbsp / 65 g mayonnaise, homemade or high-quality
- 1 tbsp / 15 ml lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 2 tsp / 10 g harissa paste
- 4 tbsp / 30 grams dukkah seasoning
- green onions, thinly sliced, or fresh, chopped herbs, for garnish (optional)
- fresh lemon wedges (optional)
- Place oven rack in the top position. Preheat broiler. Place a rimmed baking sheet on the top rack and let preheat along with the oven.
- Remove any pin bones from salmon. Pat both sides of filets with paper towel to remove excess moisture, season both sides with salt and pepper, and transfer to parchment paper or cutting board, skin side down. Mix mayonnaise, lemon juice, and harissa to make the harissa aioli. Spread 1 tsp on top of each salmon fillet. Reserve remaining aioli for serving. Place 1 tbsp of dukkah in the center of each filet, spreading carefully to the edges and pressing gently to adhere.
- Carefully remove sheet pan from oven, add oil, and tilt pan to spread oil around. Return the pan to the oven for 1 minute to heat oil. Remove the hot pan from the oven (carefully) and transfer to a heat-proof surface. Using a thin spatula, transfer fillets to pan, leaving 1 or 2 inches between the filets. Return pan the top rack of the oven, leaving the door slightly ajar, and set a timer for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, remove pan from oven and, using an instant-read thermometer in the center of a fillet, check the internal temperature. Wild salmon is perfectly cooked at 120F. If it is not yet there, TURN OFF the oven and return the pan to the warm oven and close the door. Check internal temperature every 2 minutes until it reaches 120F. Remove pan from oven and let filets rest for 5 minutes before serving.
- Sprinkle salmon with green onions (or fresh herbs), if desired. Serve with fresh lemon wedges and harissa aioli on the side. Leftover salmon can be refrigerated, tightly covered for a day or two, and can be served chilled or gently reheated.
*I use Living Cookbook 2015, along with package information and data from www.nutritiondata.self.com, to calculate the nutritional information for my recipes. Thus, I can make no guarantees as to the accuracy.