No need to type “steelhead: trout or salmon?” into your browser search box and plunge down that twisty rabbit hole. Just ask Adam Sappington, executive chef and co-owner of The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar in Portland’s Southeast-Northeast Montavilla neighborhood. Steelhead is ocean-run trout, available year-round from responsible fish farmers. He also recommends Chinook or King salmon for this simple, succulent salt-baked steelhead with soft herbs, lemon and cracked fennel seed.

In fact, Sappington wades into the deep end, assuring home cooks that any fish works in his recipe, which fills the kitchen with a heady aroma of mixed fresh herbs during the “bakey-bakey.”  So, all you culinary scouts seeking seafood merit badges: Be bold. Your fishmonger is not the boss of you.

When you watch this time-lapse video of Sappington making his recipe step-by-step, imagine the drama’s natural conclusion. Those silky slices of steelhead disappear in the blink of an eye, leaving only the wrinkly iridescent skin on his Great-Grandmother Ruby’s heavy, 175-year-old ceramic platter.

This quick, easy and so-tasty recipe is from the “Fins and Shells” chapter of Adam and Jackie Sappington’s new cookbook, “Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s The Country Cat.”

Suggested wine pairing: Sauvignon blanc, Tocai, pinot gris or rosé

Salt-Baked Steelhead with Soft Herbs, Lemon and Cracked Fennel Seed | The Country Cat Dinner House & Bar

4 servings

Prep: 10 minutes  Bake: 20 minutes | Easy

“My boys and I like hearty foods, so when I make something light like this herb-crusted steelhead for family dinner, we call it ‘mama food’ in honor of my lovely Jackie. Salt-baking the steelhead is a technique I picked up early in my cooking career from my mentor at Wildwood, Cory Schreiber. In my opinion, it is the ultimate way to prepare the fish. While the steelhead bakes, the salt evens out the heat and locks the moisture inside the fish. I often make this dish when we are having company over because it is easy to double and tastes as good at room temperature as it does warm. Serve it with a side of Chanterelle and Blackberry Succotash, fresh peas tossed in butter, or a platter of roasted asparagus.” – Adam Sappington


1 cup rock salt* or kosher salt
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh finely chopped tarragon
1-1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon cracked fennel seed**
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon pepper
Finely grated zest of one-half lemon
Finely grated zest of one-half orange
1 (1-1/2-pound) side of skin-on steelhead fillet
1-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, for seasoning
*Sometimes labeled as salt for making ice cream
**Place seeds in a mortar and pound with pestle until they are cracked into small pieces but not finely ground

To prepare

  1. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 325° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Pour the rock salt on top of the parchment paper and spread it around with your hands to form an even layer. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the parsley, tarragon, thyme, fennel seed, lemon pepper, lemon zest and orange zest and mix until just combined. Set aside.
  3. Place the steelhead, skin-side down, on top of the salt on the baking sheet. Using your hands, massage the oil into the flesh until it is evenly distributed. Season the steelhead with kosher salt, then gently press the herb mixture onto the flesh to cover the fillet evenly.
  4. Bake the steelhead for 20 minutes or until the flesh is just opaque in the center. Transfer the steelhead to a large serving platter and serve family-style, or divide it into four portions and transfer to individual serving plates. Dig in immediately or wait to serve at room temperature.

Published with permission from “Heartlandia: Heritage Recipes from Portland’s The Country Cat” by Adam and Jackie Sappington with Ashley Gartland (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015)