A whole fish carved at the table can make the party. Retrieve the cheeks for a couple of lucky guests.
Make Ahead: The salmon can be prepped and refrigerated several hours in advance. If you aren't asked to distribute leftovers to departing guests, you'll have enough for next-day salads, a souffle or an impromptu New Year's Day buffet.
Servings: 10 - 12
- One 6-to-8-pound whole salmon, preferably wild-caught, cleaned by the fishmonger
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 lemons
- 10 sprigs thyme
- 3 medium-to-large fennel bulbs (About 2 1/2 pounds total), trimmed, cored and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices, with a handful of fronds reserved
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Line a deep, rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan with parchment paper.
Rub the cleaned cavity of the salmon with 1 tablespoon of the oil, then lightly season it with salt and pepper.
Use a mandoline or a very sharp knife to cut the lemons crosswise into paper-thin slices. Lay half of the lemon slices in the cavity of the salmon. Strip the leaves from 6 of the thyme sprigs and scatter them over the lemon slices. Rub the outside of the salmon with a second tablespoon of the oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Toss the fennel slices with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a mixing bowl, making sure to coat them thoroughly. Spread the fennel in an even layer on/in the baking sheet or roasting pan. Place the fish on top. If just part of the head and/or tail of the fish hangs over the edge of the baking sheet or roasting pan, gently curl the fish to fit inside. If more than that extends over the edge of the pan, you can cut the fish in half crosswise and place the halves side by side.
Top the salmon with the remaining lemon slices, arranging them attractively, and scatter the leaves from the remaining 4 thyme sprigs and a few fennel fronds over and around the fish. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Pour the wine into the baking sheet or pan all around the fish, then continue to roast until the flesh is opaque throughout (use a thin-bladed knife to check) or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 130 degrees. Start checking at 30 minutes; it might take up to 45 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
Let the salmon rest for at least 10 minutes or cool to room temperature. Serve the salmon whole, directly from the baking sheet or pan, allowing guests to help themselves to a portion of the fish and some sliced fennel; or transfer the fish to a serving platter and arrange the fennel around the fish.
Adapted from "Good Food to Share: Recipes for Entertaining With Family and Friends," by Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan (Weldon Owen, 2011).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
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