Allen used to tease me about the fact that I always wanted to cook more salmon than needed for dinner just so I could have leftover salmon for breakfast. There is nothing better than a cup of hot coffee and cold leftover salmon. I don’t care what the flavor is. Asian style, barbecued, Cajun, pomegranate sauced, roasted, smoked, garlic butter, Harissa spiced, miso glazed, fennel and tomato, poached with herbs and wine—you get picture. I have about 223 salmon recipes…
When we became empty nesters, I still enjoyed cooking a whole side of salmon. I would still have a bit for breakfast. Then I would save the rest for this special pasta dish that became one of Allen’s favorites: Lemon-Spinach Salmon Pasta.
I decided this was a great way to use up that just-barely-cooked-but-perfectly-moist salmon that was Allen’s special gift to foodies like me and our kids. I have not yet perfected his technique, but I am getting better at it. The original recipe used uncooked salmon fillet.
All you need is about 8 ounces of leftover cooked salmon. Again, the cooking method doesn’t matter, but it should not be overcooked salmon. I usually wipe or rinse off any residual flavors of the salmon. Then the lemony aroma and flavor can “re-form” last night’s dish into something entirely different.
Another great thing about this dish is that the sauce is so quick and easy, it is ready by the time your pasta is boiled to al dente perfection. Simply get all the ingredients out next to the stove, get the pasta water boiling, then toss in the pasta. Although I do salt the pasta water, I don’t think it is necessary to make it “taste like the sea”. I don’t add handfuls of salt.
I also don’t add oil to the water because it just makes the sauce slide off the pasta. Use a pot that gives your pasta plenty of room to move around. Then remember to give it a good stir when it first starts boiling, the pasta won’t stick together.
If you are using dried pasta that takes 8-10 minutes, you will have plenty of time to make the lemon salmon sauce.
Break the leftover salmon up into large pieces. If using uncooked salmon, cut it into ½ inch pieces. Zest and juice the lemon and sprinkle over the salmon. Open the baby spinach package, and make sure you have the garlic, carrots, and lemon pepper seasoning at the ready.
This is the time to make use of those match-stick carrots that are prepackaged and ready for use—what could be easier?
Check the timing on your pasta, and when you have 3-4 minutes left, sauté the garlic and carrots in butter. When using leftover salmon, it only takes about 3 minutes. If using fresh salmon, cooking time is a bit longer. You can use oil, but try a light flavored, high temperature oil like (avocado, sunflower, canola) rather than olive oil, but the butter is a bit of a flavor enhancer when there are so few ingredients.
Gently toss in the salmon pieces, baby spinach, and seasoning. I like to put a lid on the pan and let the spinach steam for a couple of minutes as the salmon warms up. Stir once or twice while the pasta finishes cooking.
Drain the pasta but be sure to save some of the pasta water. Stir the pasta into the salmon mixture and add a ladle or two of water to create a cohesive sauce. The starch in the water helps the whole mixture stick together. You can also use a short pasta like fusilli, gemelli, or farfalle. When I do that, I just scoop out the pasta with a spider or strainer directly from the water into the sauté pan. Then I add a little extra pasta water to make the dish a bit saucier.
I would not use a tube pasta like penne or rigatoni for this because the sauce is light and there would not be enough to fill in the open tubes.
Sprinkle the lemon zest over top and serve with bread or toast. Add a nice green salad –if you have made it ahead of time!
Lemon Salmon Pasta
- 8 ounces uncooked fettuccine
- 8 ounces leftover (or uncooked) salmon fillet
- 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
- 1/2 – 1 cup matchstick carrots
- 5 ounces (3 cups) baby spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup pasta water
Boil the pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, break apart the leftover cooked salmon (or cut uncooked salmon fillet into 1-inch pieces). Sprinkle with the lemon juice. Sauté the garlic and matchstick carrots in the butter; stir in the lemon pepper seasoning.
Add the cooked salmon and spinach, gently tossing it all together. Cover with a lid to steam and warm it all through. If using fresh salmon, sauté it first without the spinach for about 2 minutes, then add the spinach and cover.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, stirring gently. Sprinkle with zest and serve.