The Searing Secret

Perfect pan-seared salmon depends on a very hot pan. Use a heavy cast-iron skillet, which heats evenly. Warm the pan before you add the oil; this restaurant trick allows the pan to get really hot without burning the oil. A preheated pan also requires less oil. Try this method with other meaty fish or even with sea scallops; they'll be golden brown outside and tender inside.

Pan-searing is one of the easiest ways to prepare salmon. Just heat up the pan, add the fish and in a matter of minutes the fillets have a crisp, golden crust. Tabbouleh, the Middle Eastern bulgur-herb salad, provides a refreshing contrast to the rich salmon, as do tender sautéed cucumber slices. For dessert, you can whip up an impressive coconut chocolate ice cream pie from only three ingredients. The salmon should be seared at the last minute, but the rest of the meal can be made in advance.

Judith Sutton is a New York City food writer who has worked at several Manhattan restaurants. She is a frequent contributor to FOOD & WINE.