Often heard as a Christmas carol, Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” imagines the Nativity scene and closes with the question of what to bring as an offering.
She first answers, “If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb,” and concludes by offering her heart. Both gifts — a prized feast and love — make for the ideal holiday meal no matter the celebration.
A challenge for the home cook is that most dinner-party main dishes take time away from family and friends. Turkeys, hams and rib roasts require hours in the oven and sometimes demand basting or glazing. But these two delicious dishes, a miso-cream salmon and beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce, roast one after the other in under an hour, to balance the craving for a special centerpiece with the desire to chat over cocktails or watch kids play with their new gifts.
You don’t have to prepare both the salmon and the tenderloin, but together, they feel especially festive and offer an option to those who don’t eat red meat. (For vegetarians, try a stunning gratin.) The tenderloin roasts for less than half an hour; then, to arrive at a juicy medium-rare doneness, it rests at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes, which is just the amount of time the salmon takes in the oven to come out silky. All they need to feel like a full meal are a simple salad and bread, but you can ask guests to bring side dishes or throw together some effortless ones yourself.
Even though a whole salmon fillet cut from one side of a fish is much larger than individual pieces — and looks far more elegant — it doesn’t take much longer to cook.
Emma Teal Privat, a founder of Salmon Sisters with her sister, Claire Neaton, in Homer, Alaska, said that it roasts “really quick” and warns against overcooking to prevent dry salmon. They see an uptick in sales of whole fillets for the holidays because the cut is “really impressive, looks great on the table and it’s so easy to just put it in the oven.”
To ensure that salmon stays moist in the dry heat of the oven, I slather the fish with crème fraîche, which adds richness without sliding off the top the way oil and butter do. Shiro miso stirred into the mix offers a butterscotch savoriness. The same ingredient pairing is warmed into a creamy sauce, with citrus juice swirled in at the end for fruity acidity.
It’s a sauce that could save anything, but it won’t have to rescue the fish if it comes out of the oven at the right time. The best way to see if salmon is done is to slide a thin-bladed paring knife or metal cake tester into the thickest part of the fish. It should glide in with only a little resistance and, when it comes out, it should feel warm, not hot. If you prefer more precision, you can use a meat thermometer, looking for 120 degrees for medium-rare and 130 degrees for medium.
While you don’t need a meat thermometer for the fish, you definitely do for the beef tenderloin. Cindy Garcia, a butcher who won a gold medal at an international butchering competition, said that tenderloin is an expensive cut because there are only two on a cow, each one a muscle that starts beneath the ribs and runs along the spine down the back. Because cows stand on all fours, those muscles aren’t used much, yielding supremely tender meat.
To preserve and highlight that buttery texture, the whole tenderloin should be roasted so that the outside browns (but doesn’t form a tough crust), and the center ends up evenly rosy. With a good meat thermometer, you’ll know exactly when you’ve hit the right temperature — 120 to 125 for medium-rare.
Getting the outside of the tenderloin to brown doesn’t require searing, which is challenging given the length of the cut and can risk overcooking. Instead, a combination of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and sugar mixed with butter helps the meat develop color and caramelize in the oven. It also bolsters the mild flavor of the meat, as does a classic horseradish sauce.
Because tenderloin is lean, it still tastes great at room temperature (to put it bluntly, there’s no congealing fat). And because salmon is fatty, it maintains its rich flavor as it cools. So even though these dishes come together quickly, they can be lingered over on a long evening with those you love most.