As kitchen wisdom goes, I often think the best tricks are the simplest. One-pan cooking, for example. The ability to cook an entire meal on a single rimmed sheet pan — an act that leaves you with nothing but that one pan to clean when dinner’s over — to me is nothing short of magic.
The secret to making it work really is just a matter of organizing the order in which each ingredient lands on the baking sheet to ensure each gets neither too little nor too much time in the oven. And this recipe for baked steelhead trout with asparagus and potatoes will show you just how easy that is.
We start by seasoning all the parts individually at the beginning of the cooking process, not the end. If you wait until the end, the salt won’t do its job, which isn’t only to contribute saltiness, but to enhance the flavor of the ingredient to which it’s added.
In practice, salt doesn’t so much amplify flavor as tamp down bitterness, thus allowing a food’s other flavors — notably its sweetness or sourness — to shine.
First in the oven is the asparagus so that it can be properly cooked and lightly browned all by itself and without crowding. Any time you want to brown a vegetable in the oven, you must make sure to spread it out across the pan in a single layer. Then the asparagus takes a break and the potatoes go in. Finally the fish comes into play. Lay it right on top of the now-browned potatoes and bake it until tender on the oven’s middle shelf.
How do you know when the fish is done? When a knife slides in with little resistance, the fish is good to go.