Salmon on a College Budget: Foolproof, Fast, Phenomenal!

Oven baked. Zesty. Tasty. So easy, you can’t say no.

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Serves: 1 • Prep Time: 10-15 mins • Cook Time: 8-11 mins

Straight from the Forq Kitchen!
by Rachel Silver

Cooking Salmon on a (College) Budget: Foolproof, Fast, Phenomenal!

It’s getting weird in my apartment.

Nts Nts Nts Nts.

That was the sound of me doing the happy dance after taking my first bite of this salmon. And shoveling more in.

I even sent my friend, Jian, quite an aggressive (enthusiastic?) text message demanding he come over RIGHT NOW to taste the best salmon in the world, NOT TAKING NO for an answer.

Then I calmed down.

And realized the beauty of a recipe: replication!

Cease frantic texting. Become embarrassed. Send apology text. Eat salmon. What was I saying?

I am a senior at Berkeley, soon to be a new grad (queue deeply moving graduation music). In my sophomore year I was lucky enough to move out of the dorms and into my own blessed apartment, where, hands down, getting a kitchen to cook in deeply changed my life. In college, I found that food is not so much an experience but a problem to be solved by the university kitchen staff: friends and I would joke that the cafeteria food had something ‘special’ sprinkled in because after meals—no matter what size portion you ate—you really didn’t feel right. I can joke about it all day long, but the lasting impression I have from eating away from home in that first year was how bleak, how unsatisfying, how basically unsatiating, the food landscape was. I was bloated and stuffed with calories—but ultimately, I was always hungry.

Cut scene, and visualize Rachel standing in her new kitchen, looking rather clueless. As excited as I was to have full reign finally over my own food, I found myself challenged to prepare meals that would be affordable, fast, and still delicious. (I would like to say ‘epic’ and ‘nuanced’ … even sophisticated in flavor, but honestly, I’ll settle for ‘delicious.’) But you learn fast, too. It didn’t take long to figure out that most basic of lessons: look at the stupid prices! While I can proudly say I have never turned my t-shirts pink in the laundry, I first thought filling the fridge meant simply schlepping myself up and down the aisles of the nearest grocery store and grabbing what looked good. During one fateful trip to Andronicos—(which I quickly learned was not a store priced for college students)—I unknowingly bought myself a gorgeous bag of juicy green grapes… for $12. $12!! How did this happen? What teenager realizes they need to look at price labels? Yes, I probably should keep this story to myself…

I found myself challenged to prepare meals that would be affordable, fast, and still delicious.

Why am I telling you this? Because I want other college students who are standing for the first time in their own kitchens feeling clueless—or anyone cooking on a budget who has the outrageous ambition to really enjoy their food—to participate with me in an experience of cooking that really can be all things: affordable, fast, and delicious! It takes a little time to discover the best deals in town, and rigorously chase them, but by becoming grocery-savvy, and having some fast-yet-fabulous recipes up your sleeve, you’ll never be stuck eating canned beans or endless baked potatoes again. (I’m not dissing the baked potato, I just could never eat it five nights in a row again. Ever.)

So let’s start right here, right now, with salmon! Affordable, awesome salmon!

Salmon is one of my favorite foods—give me salmon in any form (sake sashimi, salmon on the grill, salmon on the BBQ, salmon salad, smoked salmon, salmon burgers, the list goes on…) and I’m a happy camper. So I decided to explore whether I could afford to include salmon in my monthly food budget, and if so, how would I cook it while still leaving me enough time to study for midterms? I asked around, looked through some old cookbooks, knocked on some websites, and most of all, did some experimenting. The results? Salmon really is affordable and easy! And… just… elegant!

LET’S DIVE IN: How to cook salmon on a budget

If you’ve read my article on farmed versus fresh salmon, and how to choose cuts—including how your local fishmonger can help you—then I’m going to assume you are ready to do some recipe planning.

I use a filet of king wild salmon. It is beautiful and deep red in color. I picked mine up at Trader Joe’s for $13.99/lb. Prices vary across town: Whole Foods sells king salmon for 17.99/lb and coho salmon for 14.99/lb, the local fish market (Tokyo Fish Market) sells king salmon for 19.95 and coho for 15.95, and Andronicos comes in at a whopping 23.99/lb for king salmon and 15.99/lb for coho and sockeye. I scored with my Trader Joe’s purchase!

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SALMON TOPPINGS: Everything works

This salmon recipe goes a little off road as I experiment with some heat, some tartness, all balanced with some sweetness. The combination packs a flavorful punch!

I don’t believe you can go wrong when deciding with what to top your salmon filet. (And shame to the smart aleck who tries to prove me wrong by defaming a beautiful salmon filet!) Whether you choose olive oil or butter, rosemary or thyme (or both!), even brown sugar, salmon is incredibly accommodating and versatile. Don’t be afraid to dress up your salmon with some zing! Throw in some chili flakes, or blend cayenne and paprika, to spice it up! I love me some spicy.

Get a little crazy.

Here are a few of my favorite salmon rubs:

The Heat: 1 T olive oil, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t cayenne, 1/4 t paprika.

The Heat ‘n’ Sweet: 1 T olive oil, 1 t brown sugar, 1/2 t chili powder, 1/3 t ground cumin, pinch of salt, pinch of pepper.

The Zest: 1 T olive oil, 1/4 t chile flakes, 1/2 t orange peel zest, 1/2 t salt, 1 chopped rosemary sprig.

The Bomb Diggity: 1 T olive oil, 1 T butter, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 3 chopped large basil leaves

After assembling all these salmon toppings comes my favorite part: smearing the salmon with all this goodness! I like to get messy when I cook. Perhaps it’s the little kid in me, wanting to touch and squish everything in my path. Just don’t forget to pop your bad boy onto the foil before you add the oil and herbs, so the foil will catch the dribbles. Fold the sides of the foil up a smidge before you start drizzling. Thank me later.

Now the magic happens. It’s truly so easy. Fold the sides of the foil up so the salmon is completely (and tightly!) encompassed in its tin cooking-vesicle. This keeps the salmon moist and seals in the flavors. It also makes for a very easy cleanup! And voilà!

Pop that baby in the oven, and you will soon find yourself with a foolproof, fast, and phenomenal salmon dinner that hits every note: it’s healthy, affordable in moderation, sophisticated, and even responsible when you choose sustainably farmed salmon filets.


Here’s how to make this delicious recipe

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil.

Rinse your salmon and pat dry. Now is a good time to check your salmon for bones. Place your salmon onto the foil and drizzle with oil. Salt and pepper to your liking. Don’t forget to wash your hands after handling raw salmon!

Prepare your salmon toppings. In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, grated ginger, and lime juice together. Cut the ¼ lime into two pieces before squeezing to ensure the most juice comes out. Chop scallions and red baby bell pepper and add to mixture. (Chop and add red chili pepper if you want extra spiciness!)

Slightly fold up all four edges of the foil—this prevents the dribbles from spilling onto the baking sheet. Drizzle your mixture over your salmon and sprinkle chili flakes on top.


Drizzle your mixture over your salmon and sprinkle chili flakes on top

Fold the sides of the foil completely over the salmon, creating a sealed pouch.


Fold the sides of the foil completely over the salmon, creating a sealed pouch

Pop your salmon into the oven and cook for 8-11 minutes, depending on how rare you like it. I like my salmon a bit rare, so 9 minutes was good for me.

Remove salmon from oven, unwrap foil (be careful of the hot steam), carefully place salmon on a plate (an egg spatula works well), and squeeze some lime juice on top. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot!


  • 1/2 lb piece of salmon (for me this was one salmon fillet)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste, (or my favorite, Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt and Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Pepper – again, buy this, you won’t be sorry!)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • Juice of 1/4 lime
  • 1 scallion chopped
  • 1 red baby bell pepper deseeded and chopped
  • 1 pinch of chili flakes and/or cayenne chopped
  • 1 red chili deseeded and chopped – if you like spiciness!
  • Sprig of fresh cilantro to serve
  • Lime wedges to serve

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Who’s Cooking Today

Rachel Silver

Rachel Zoë Silver, a recent Cal Berkeley graduate, has been a foodie since her first sushi at three years old. With heritage from the Pacific Northwest, she learned early how to select the best fish from the Pike Place market. Her parents, also cooks and foodies, schlepped her to the best restaurants up and down the West Coast and through Italy. Rachel was still missing her front teeth when she mastered her grandmother’s Apple Pie recipe. She is still as excited by food as she was when, at 18 months, discovered on the pantry floor, hands and face smeared brown, she declared, “Chocolate is Yum!”

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The full FORQ salmon recipes archive, straight from our FORQ Enthusiasts.

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