Tequila-Lime Copper River Salmon


One of the many perks of living in the Pacific NW is the surfeit of amazing fresh seafood throughout the year but my favorite part of the year is the regrettably brief few weeks it’s Copper River salmon season. Summer is when these succulent celebrities of the salmon world make their way to fishmongers, markets, and restaurants throughout town, commanding premium prices, and garnering seafood groupies everywhere. So what’s all the fuss? The Copper River in Alaska is fed by the Copper Glacier making these 300 mile long, frigid waters with brutal rapids a near Hobbesian salmon run meaning that the salmon that spawn in this river have to be robust with high stores of yummy, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids to help them make this arduous journey. Roasting salmon with a coating of sauce is not only quick and easy but also well suited to this toothy, flavorful fish that tolerates the high heat of the oven (or grill) well due to its ample stores of delicious and healthy fats. And the dramatic presentation of half an entire fish slathered with tangy, zesty, garlicky tequila-lime olive oil-butter makes a simple meal easy enough to make for weeknight dinners look fit for entertaining guests as well. We’re having another heat wave in PDXville sponsored by our unwelcome guest Climate Change so while this was made a week ago when turning on the oven wasn’t akin to thermal suicide, since the weather has been anything but consistent I’m betting on being able to make this or some variation before the Copper River run ends. If you don’t have access to yummy salmon or don’t like it [gasp!] you could try Mahi-mahi or swordfish which have a milder flavor than salmon but still have a high enough fat content so they will do well with roasting or grilling too.

Since salmon does well with strong flavors, I’ve gone the tangy, zesty route. Slightly astringent aromatic shallots with zesty garlic and tangy lime wake up your taste buds. The soupçon of tequila gives you a slightly smoky note and if you’re not like me where cilantro tastes like soapy dirt, you can swap it for the milder parsley. Do take the 2 minutes to zest your lime cuz it really imparts a lime-y flavor to the sauce and the small amount of butter and olive oil create a vehicle for all those zesty flavors while also helping to keep your salmon succulent in 450F heat.


Is it done yet?
While you could stick a meat thermometer into that lovely fillet and leave a large hole to see if it’s reached 135-40F (for a final temp of 140-145 depending if you want it medium or medium-rare as the residual heat will raise the internal temp another 5F after you remove it from the oven) you can also simply stick a really sharp knife into it. When the flesh is medium, a knife will slide easily into it. If you like your fillet medium-rare you should feel some resistance at the midway point. Easy peasy, no?

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I used habanero-Meyer infused olive oil)
2 tbsp butter
1/2 shallot, minced
3 tsp (5-6 cloves) crushed garlic
2 tbsp tequila
2 tbsp lime juice ~2 small limes
1/2 tsp honey
1 tbsp lime zest ~2 small limes
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp canola oil
1 lb fillet salmon, pin bones removed (I used Copper River salmon)

In a small saucepan heat olive oil and butter over medium heat till foam has subsided. Sauté shallots and garlic till soft and translucent. Deglaze with tequila then add lime juice, honey, zest, and salt. Simmer till sauce is reduced 1/3 or 1/2 of the original volume. Stir in parsley and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 450F.


Cover a baking sheet or broiling pan with aluminum foil. Grease with canola oil. Place fillets skin side down on the baking sheet and top with tequila-lime sauce. Roast till opaque and a sharp knife meets no resistance when inserted into the flesh for medium doneness. If you prefer your fillet medium-rare you should feel resistance at the halfway point. A 3/4-inch thick 1 lb salmon with convection took me 12 minutes.

Serve salmon with the starch of your choice. We had a farro salad with suprêmed tangerine slices, steamed broccolini, and a miso vinaigrette which I will post a recipe for if I can remember how I threw together the ingredients made it 🙂 Makes 4-5 servings.

About Cam

Enjoying the hippie life in Portlandia :)


  1. Oh man, that fish is gorgeous! Growing up in Alaska I burned out on salmon by the time I was a teenager, but after college I rediscovered how tasty it is. As an adult, it’s now one of my favorite fishes. But here’s my sad confession: I usually cop out of cooking it and just order it in restaurants. *sigh* I really need to get over that habit because this looks delicious!

    • Cam

      I know what you mean. Growing up in North Dakota, I was really spoiled with amazing steak and even told my Mom once, “Steak. Again?” Now I eat beef rarely cuz it’s hard to get ones that taste as good as what I remember (as well as for health and philosophical reasons). I must say that for the most part I prefer eating salmon at home cuz it’s so much cheaper and easy to make. I like to save my outings for things I can’t make at home like fried chicken 😉 Just went to Screen Door tonight. My arteries are hardening but my tummy is soooo happy.

  2. Damn, tequila is banned in my place now..
    i think i’m happy with rice wine lately…

    • Cam

      Too many margaritas? 😉

      It’s such a small amount of alcohol that you could probably substitute sake or even whiskey without problems 🙂

  3. This is a fantastic sounding dish, Cam, with your photos and presentation showing it off in its best light. And I must say, in a sea of cilantro lovers, it’s good to come across another whose superior palate agrees with my own. (And I don’t care if they call it “fresh coriander”. I know what it is!) I cannot tell you how many times I’ve come upon a delicious sounding recipe, only to be disappointed to find “1/4 cup cilantro” in the ingredient list. Might as well throw in a couple tbsp of dish washing detergent. (Rant over.)
    I was at my market this morning and they were offering a special on wild-caught sockeye salmon and I imagine that’s about as close as I’ll ever get to your Copper River salmon. That doesn’t mean I cannot prepare mine our way. Thanks, Cam, for yet another great recipe.

    • Cam

      John, I can’t tell how much flak I’ve gotten from my family over the years for my inability to appreciate cilantro, it’s in almost all SE Asian dishes. My sister’s husband would put so much in his phở that it looked like he was eating pea soup. [gag.]

      Wild Alaskan sockeye is perfect. Actually, sockeye is my favorite species of salmon. If you ever come out to PDX you should come in the summer months. Not only is it less rainy but you’ve got Copper River salmon season and all the fresh local berries that don’t travel well/don’t get shipped out like marionberrries (they taste like a cross between blackberries and raspberries). We’ll stuff you like a piglet 😀

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