Baked Salmon with Baby Fennel, Mustard and Tarragon

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I love it when I can go to the farmer’s market on a Sunday and come home with …. fish. And not just any fish, but fresh-off-the-boat fish that tastes of the sea. Call me provincial European or mentally land-locked, but fresh fish on a Sunday?  At a Farmer’s Market?

Mind you, this is no ordinary farmer’s market. The San Rafael Farmer’s Market is one of the largest open air markets in California.  Each Sunday, farmers, purveyors and artisans gather in the shadow of the Marin County Civic Center, a stunning Frank Lloyd Wright construction, and sell their goods. Open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. you can easily pack a full day into several hours. Arrive early before the crowds, and enjoy a cappuccino or latte with an authentic Belgian Waffle or flaky French croissant. Then wander through the stalls and purchase seasonal vegetables and fruit, local cheese, meat and, of course, fish. It’s easy to overload on purchases and nibbles, freely offered throughout the market. Feeling tired? Take a break and listen to live music and enjoy a mid-morning snack of dim sum or artisanal pastry. Kids antsy? Give them a pony ride or a jump on a bouncy castle. If that’s worked up another appetite, finish with pizza or grilled organic sausages, falafel or panini. Then head home with your goodies, and plan your dinner.

Dinner on Sunday is always fun. Inspired by our purchases, a meal is created, usually simple, always seasonal and fresh. Which brings me to the fish. In the past 2 weeks we have twice been served gorgeous salmon filets by friends who have also been to the farmer’s market. Each time it has been so delicious and fresh that this Sunday we craved more and made a beeline for the fish stall. The salmon we purchased was so pristine, I didn’t even want to grill it and introduce any charred flavor to its buttery flesh. When we came home, I decided to marinate and bake it with fresh tarragon and baby fennel, which I also bought at the market. So, yes, we can get fresh fish at the Sunday Farmer’s Market. And, yes, we are very lucky.

Baked Salmon with Fennel, Mustard and Tarragon

The licorice flavors of the tarragon and fennel combine beautifully with fresh salmon in this easy and elegant spring dish. This recipe can easily be expanded to feed a crowd. Serves 4-5.

1 garlic clove
1/4 cup tarragon leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

2 pounds salmon filets, pin bones removed
2 to 3 baby fennel, bulbs thinly sliced

Smash the garlic clove with the salt in a mortar with a pestle. Add the tarragon and bruise with the pestle. Whisk in the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, zest and a small bunch of the reserved fennel fronds. Arrange salmon filets in one layer in a baking dish. Place fennel halves around the salmon. Pour the tarragon oil over the fish and fennel and spread to cover evenly. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours. Remove from refrigerator 20 minutes before baking. Bake in a preheated 350 F. (180 C.) oven until fish is just cooked through, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

9 thoughts on “Baked Salmon with Baby Fennel, Mustard and Tarragon

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    1. Depending on how much fennel you have, try reducing the tarragon to 2 tablespoons and the oil and lemon to 3 tablespoons each. This way you will have plenty of sauce to coat the fennel.


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