Early in my culinary career, while I was still in college and working as a pantry cook at a restaurant in Upstate New York, I was tasked with making a salad of sliced oranges, shaved fennel and peppery red onions, dressed lightly with olive oil, orange juice and lots of black pepper. That flavor combination was entirely novel to me, and I fell in love with the bewitching play of taste and texture: the anise-y crunch of the fennel, the sweet tenderness of the orange and the mild heat and bite of the onion.
It was surprising and refreshing and I have made it many, many times since for clients when I worked as a private chef and, until the pandemic hit last year, guests I invited over for a meal. I've served it in the early winter and spring; for lunch and dinner with lamb, all kinds of fish and chicken. Sometimes I supreme the oranges if I am feeling fancy; sometimes I quarter and sear the fennel in a pan to soften it instead of shaving it. I've added chickpeas and goat cheese coins, coriander croutons and green olive tapenade. I've served it with oil-packed tuna and pita, spring pea risotto, and Caprese sandwiches on pillowy focaccia.
But until recently, I'd never roasted it.
One cool morning, I had a craving for those flavors but wanted something warm, too. That's how the idea for this dish was born. The oven's heat sweetens the fennel and onion and caramelizes the sugars in the oranges, adding another dimension to my all-star trio. With winter citrus on its way out and fennel just sprouting from the ground, it's a dish I think of as easing us from one season into the next very, very gently.
Make this recipe tonight, or save it for this weekend.
Start by roasting sliced oranges, red onion and chopped fennel on a sheet pan. Rest salmon filets, seasoned with salt, pepper and orange zest, on top, and return the pan to the oven to cook the salmon. (If you like your salmon well-done, roast the vegetables and fish together from the start.) A few minutes before the fish is done, pour on a bag of frozen or fresh spring peas, and return the pan to the oven. A few minutes later, once the peas turn bright green, the dish is done. Sprinkle it with torn mint and serve.
For a vegetarian option, consider substituting thick slices of tofu for the salmon, adding a splash of soy sauce for a salty boost. Or roast the fennel, oranges and red onions and toss in a can of drained gigante beans before adding the peas. Season with lots of extra orange zest, juice, olive oil, flaky salt and mint.
Sheet Pan Salmon With Minty Peas, Oranges and Fennel
- 1 large navel or blood orange (8 to 10 ounces)
- 1 medium fennel bulb (about 10 ounces), sliced, fronds saved for garnish
- 1 small red onion (about 5 ounces), sliced
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided use
- 2 or 3 (6- to 8-ounce) fresh salmon filets, skin on or off
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 12 ounces frozen peas, preferably petite
- Handful of fresh mint leaves
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 450 degrees.
Cut the orange in half through its equator and, using a microplane or fine grater, zest one half. Set the zest and naked orange half aside. Slice the other orange half into thin rounds or half-moons.
On a large, rimmed baking sheet, using your hands, gently toss the orange slices, fennel, red onion, olive oil and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Spread the vegetables evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the oranges and onions start to caramelize. Remove from the oven and, using tongs, redistribute them so they can continue to cook evenly.
While the vegetables are roasting, rub the salmon with the orange zest, the remaining salt and the pepper. After the vegetables are cooked, lay the seasoned salmon in the center of the pan atop the vegetables. Roast for an additional 8 minutes, or until the salmon is pale and the oranges, fennel and red onions have started to crisp.
Remove the pan from the oven and pour the frozen peas around the salmon, breaking up any large chunks of peas. Roast for another 4 or 5 minutes, or until the peas are warmed through. Remove from the oven, drizzle with more olive oil, if desired, squeeze the remaining orange half over everything, and tear the mint leaves and fennel fronds over the peas. Serve the salmon with the roasted vegetables and peas on the side.
Makes 2 or 3 servings.