Dinner · fish · Sides

Brown Butter Broiled Salmon, Asparagus with Crispy Leeks, & Cliff’s Sage Advice

“Pretend like you know what you’re doing.”

That’s what Dad said to me on the tenth time I sat behind the wheel of my 2000 Volkswagen Beetle.

My overly-indulgent grandfather purchased me my dream car when I graduated high school as a surprise. It was perfect. Lime green, tan leather interior, sun roof, heated seats – it was the exact car I built on the Volkswagen website for the last four years.

Except there was one problem. It was a manual.

I struggled over the course of several lessons from Dad – a man who’s teaching ability was almost never put into question, except when he taught his children to drive. If you knew Cliff Radcliff, you would assume he would be the calmest and most practical of driving teachers. But he was nearly constantly hitting the imaginary breaks. When I picture my driving lessons with him I see him pushed up in the corner of the passenger seat, bracing himself with his forearms and pressing on the ground with his right foot – shocked that his child lacked such common sense. He was always tensely telling me to ‘relaaa-ha-haxx’ and begging me to explain the strange contortion my arms always seemed to end up in when turning the wheel.

“Look, I can turn the whole wheel with one pinky – what are you doing with your arms – let go! Let go of the wheel!”

But this time. This time was different. We both walked to the car nervous. We both worried about the outcome. We both sat and clicked in, deep breaths trying to calm our nerves. And the he said it:

“Pretend like you know what you’re doing.”

Normally, I would overthink someone telling me this. But I fell into the words Dad said that day. I believed them and accepted them and put them into practice.

I pretended I’d been driving a manual for decades. I pretended I could tell when the car need a gear shift. I pretended I understood the balance required.

And, it worked.

It worked! And I felt it working. And I felt Dad truly relax. Perhaps for a show of faith he knew his daughter needed desperately, he even reclined his seat and closed his eyes for the last leg of the trip home.

It was one of the most important things Dad ever said to me. And in moments when I’ve struggled to meet a challenge, if I harken back to that moment and that success, I succeed again.

I think its because to truly pretend to know what you’re doing, you have to know what you’re doing. I wasn’t unequipped in that moment. I knew everything I had to do, I just didn’t trust myself. The pretending, wasn’t really pretending. It was just letting go of the fear of failure.

So, if you struggle in the kitchen, take a deep breath and pretend you know what you’re doing. Because you do. You understand food. If you know the basics, like what temperature meat needs to be cooked to, or that maybe you shouldn’t mix onions and bananas, you’ve got this. Sure, google what spices go well with beets. Look up the way other people do it. But then, trust yourself and your own taste buds.

Take a deep breath.


Be here now.

And believe in yourself.

And when you succeed, thank yourself. And tip your hat to Cliff Radcliff. A pretender who lived one of the most honest and valuable lives I know.

Brown Butter Broiled Salmon

Serves: About 4-6 depending on Salmon cut


  • 1 whole salmon fillet (2-3 lbs)
  • Lemon Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Coarse Salt
  • About 2 T unsalted butter


  • Sheet pan
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Pastry Brush
  • Meat Thermometer


  1. Move your oven rack to the highest placement. Preheat your oven to 425 F/220 C/Gas Mark 7.
  2. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and lightly brush the foil with olive oil using a pastry brush. You’re looking for very light coverage here.
  3. Pat your salmon dry, check for any needed bone removal, and using your pastry brush, lightly coat the skinless side of the salmon with olive oil. Again, you’re not looking for a gloppy, drippy mess, just a light coating.
  4. Sprinkle with a generous amount of lemon pepper and a light amount of salt. Transfer to the sheet pan.
  5. Bake your salmon. The time will vary based on the size and thickness of your salmon cut. Generally speaking the rule for salmon is about 4 to 6 minutes per half-inch. This means you’ll need to occasionally check for doneness.
  6. When your salmon registers at about 130 F, pull out and quickly dot down the center with about 2T total of butter. Switch your oven to broiler, keeping the same temperature, and put the salmon back in.
  7. Broil until the salmon registers 145 F in its thickest part.
  8. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for about 5 minutes.

I served this with roasted asparagus with crispy leeks. Just trim the asparagus, slice some leeks, toss in olive oil, salt, & pepper, toss on a parchment lined sheet pan and in the oven. It can be in there underneath the salmon. Once I pulled the salmon out, I popped the asparagus and leeks under the broiler while the salmon rested. I like a good crispy leek and asparagus top, but you can cook to your liking. The asparagus and leeks were great warm, but were equally delicious at room temperature, so don’t worry about timing everything perfectly.

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