[Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
Making a vegetable stew like the tomato-eggplant compote in this sheet-pan salmon recipe may not seem like the kind of thing one can easily whip up on a baking sheet, but with attention to just a few key details, it’s very doable. There are three things to pay attention to in order to pull it off successfully.
The first is the sequence of events. If you were to add the garlic at the very beginning, it would be at greater risk of scorching while the tomatoes initially roast; add it too late and you won’t have the chance to sizzle and coax its flavor into the oil. To avoid such trouble, we start by roasting the tomatoes until they show the first signs of splitting, then add the garlic, cooking it for a few more minutes to develop its flavor. Then we crush some of those tomatoes, so that their juices spread and protect the garlic from scorching as the newly added eggplant starts to cook.
Just as important is positioning ingredients thoughtfully on the baking sheet. When we add the garlic, we do it in the center of the sheet, which is less hot than the corners and edges. This ensures the juicy tomatoes take the brunt of the heat while the garlic sizzles more slowly in the middle. As we add more ingredients, we shift things around, pushing the crushed tomatoes and garlic to one side to make room for the eggplant and then pushing things over again when the salmon goes on. This thoughtful use of space allows ingredients to sizzle and brown when they need to, and not when they don’t.
Lastly, we remain at the ready to add water as needed throughout the cooking process to any areas that appear to be at risk of scorching. Water lowers the heat of any area that appears to be browning too quickly, allowing us to prevent burning only as much as is needed. Some browning, though, is good, developing deeper and more complex flavors in the compote—something the wide surface area of the baking sheet allows to happen more quickly than a pot or Dutch oven would.
To add even more depth and complexity to the compote, we reach for a few tablespoons of gochujang. The Korean chili paste adds a gentle heat, fermented umami depth, and a glossy texture, thanks to corn or rice syrup (which syrup depends on the specific brand you buy, but results will be good either way).
The result is an easy weeknight dinner of salmon fillets with an accompanying compote that’s silky and delicious, with a flavor that suggests a lot more ingredients and effort went into it than actually did.
Why It Works
- Carefully sequencing events allows a multicomponent sauce, plus protein, to come together all on one sheet tray.
- Keeping an eye on ingredients, positioning them thoughtfully on the sheet tray, and adding water if needed helps ensure nothing burns.
- A little bit of gochujang goes a long way toward adding depth, complexity, and a glossier texture to the compote.
- 1 1/2 pounds (675g) grape or cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- Kosher salt
- 4 medium cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 pound (450g) eggplant (about 1 medium globe or 2 large Asian eggplants), cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- Four 6-ounce (170g) skinless salmon fillets
- Fresh basil leaves, torn, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 450°F (232°C). On a rimmed baking sheet, toss tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt. Transfer to oven and roast, shaking sheet tray once or twice, until tomatoes just start to split, about 10 minutes. Add garlic to middle of sheet tray, stirring to lightly coat in oil, then roast until garlic is fragrant and tomatoes have softened more, about 5 minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, carefully crush the softest tomatoes.
Push garlic and tomatoes to one side of the sheet tray. Add eggplant to the empty half, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season eggplant with salt. Return to oven and cook, stirring once or twice, until eggplant is beginning to soften, about 10 minutes; if tomatoes and garlic threaten to scorch, add a little water to the hot spots to prevent it.
Stir together eggplant and tomato mixture, bursting more tomatoes if possible. Stir in gochujang until well incorporated. Return to oven and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is very soft, about 20 minutes; add a few tablespoons of water at any point if mixture seems dry or at risk of scorching, especially around the edges and corners of the baking sheet.
Push the tomato-eggplant mixture to one side of the baking sheet, scraping well to clear space for salmon. Lay down a sheet of foil just large enough to cover the cleared area and lightly grease with oil. Season salmon all over with salt, then place on prepared foil. Cook until salmon registers 115 to 125°F (46 to 52°C) in the center of the thickest part for medium-rare to medium, 6 to 10 minutes.
If tomato-eggplant mixture is too thick and dry, loosen by stirring in 1 or 2 tablespoons water at a time until desired consistency is reached. Season with salt, if needed. Using a thin metal spatula, transfer salmon to plates. Scoop tomato-eggplant compote alongside. Garnish with torn basil leaves, drizzle with fresh olive oil, and finish with some freshly ground black pepper. Serve.
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