My family was never about back-to-back extracurricular activities, rushing meals, or eating on the run. Growing up, we always ate dinner together.
Every afternoon, after school, I would see two square, white, covered ceramic pots on the stove. One would contain a starch (usually rice or potatoes) and the other a protein (usually chicken or steak). These combinations, plus a salad of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and Thousand Island dressing from a bottle, comprised most of my childhood dinners. (Around thirteen I joined my best friend in vegetarianism, and ate a lot of pasta.)
In cooking, as in other domains, my mother is a planner. She made dinner in the early afternoons to “get it out of the way,” and reheated everything in the microwave before my dad got home. Timing that was always tricky, because my dad is always late. To estimate his true arrival time, we’d take his given ETA and add 15–20 minutes. Either way, we’d start eating by 7:30 p.m.
When I describe the dish, I wince. In fact, I’m shaking my head already. If I hadn’t eaten it so many times as a younger person and loved it, I would never have thought to eat it, or trusted anyone who suggested I try it—much less make it myself. It’s from the eighties. It sounds gross and, if I’m honest, a little tacky. It’s salmon baked with mayonnaise and onion-soup mix. For my sister and me, who don’t eat much packaged food these days, salmon with soup mix is a delicious comfort—the kind of thing you crave because your mother makes it, you only eat at home, and when you have it, you love it, despite (or maybe because of) the way you normally eat.
Just trust me. Caramelize your own onion if you want; make your own mayonnaise or spoon it from a jar. Either way, it’ll come out soft and gently flavorful. Would I ever make this dish at my home and serve it to friends? If I did, it’d be with equal parts irony and nostalgia, accompanied by booze. But eating it at my parents’ house is void of irony. It tastes like growing up, like eating dinner together at home. — Tamara Micner
- Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 1/2 lbs salmon (I use red spring, but I’m sure you could use sockeye or coho as well);
- 1 packet onion-soup mix (the brand doesn’t matter);
- 1/4 C mayonnaise (I use light mayo, but you can use regular mayonnaise as well).
- Heat the oven to 450°F.
- Cover a pan big enough to hold the salmon with foil.
- Put the piece of salmon in the pan and spread the mayonnaise over the salmon evenly with a knife. I cover the piece of salmon rather well with the mayonnaise. Not a thick layer—on the thinner side, just enough to cover it.
- Do the same with the onion-soup mix: I sprinkle enough just to cover the salmon, taking care that there aren’t too many onion flakes. I find it’s easier to use a knife or a spoon rather than just sprinkling it straight from the container.
- Place the salmon on the middle rack of the oven, uncovered, and bake for 30–35 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. We like it slightly pink inside, not thoroughly cooked. The onion-soup mix on top should look somewhat crunchy and brown.
- You can serve it right away, or you can make it ahead of time. It also tastes good at room temperature, or even cold. Leftovers are great the next day.