Recipe: Penne with Salmon and Capers in Tarragon Cream Sauce (video)

Penne with smoked salmon and capers in tarragon cream sauce is an elegant and indulgent holiday pasta dish that is deceptively easy to make and beautiful to serve. This is a great recipe to make during the holiday season when there seems to be a shortage of time and an abundance of smoked salmon - either leftover from holiday parties or as part of a lovely gift basket. The smoked salmon only needs to be warmed through so the dish goes together in the time it takes to cook the pasta. Perfect for a quick bite before an outing to the mall or as an easy dinner at home while writing out cards and wrapping gifts. It is also ideal as a last minute dinner party entrée!

Pasta101 Cookbook photo

This recipe is featured in the cookbook: "Pasta 101 - 12 Easy Pasta
Recipes You Can Make in Under 30 Minutes."


recipe: penne with salmon and capers in tarragon cream sauce


This dish can also be made with poached or baked salmon. Just cook the salmon until just barely done (slightly pink in the center). It will continue to cook when mixed with the sauce and hot pasta so if you cook it until it is slightly underdone, it will remain moist and delicious.

All types of salmon provide a good source of high quality protein, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and "good" fat. The amount of fat varies by species but a 3 oz serving has only 120-180 calories. Salmon is also a good source of vitamins and minerals. If you're looking to add more seafood to your diet, salmon is an excellent choice. I recommend choosing wild salmon over farm-raised if you can find it.

SEE ALSO: For more information on healthy, natural smoked Maine Salmon, please visit Ducktrap River of Maine

Recipe: Penne with Salmon and Capers in Tarragon Cream Sauce

Rating: 41

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 for dinner, 6 for lunch, 8 as a starter

Recipe: Penne with Salmon and Capers in Tarragon Cream Sauce

Quick and easy to make - elegant and indulgent to serve, penne pasta with salmon and capers in a tarragon cream sauce is a delightfully creamy yet surprisingly healthy pasta dish. Salmon has loads of healthy omega-3s and is an excellent source of lean protein. The pasta provides the complex carbs in a meal that is rich, satisfying but energizing!


  • 1 lb. penne pasta (or similar bite-size shape)
  • 2 medium filets of cooked salmon or 1 (4 oz.) package of smoked salmon, sliced into bite size pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 (7 oz.) container of crème fraiche
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, some whole leaves for garnish
  • 1/4 cup capers (optional)
  • salt and fresh-ground black pepper


  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil (4 quarts or liters per pound of pasta). Add a lid to bring to a boil faster but cook the pasta without it.
  2. Poach or bake the salmon filets if using until just barely done (7-10 minutes depending on thickness). Allow to cool slightly and break carefully into bite size pieces, discarding the skin
  3. If using smoked salmon, slice the salmon into bite size pieces and set aside
  4. When the pasta water is at a rolling boil, add a heaping tablespoon of salt and drop in the pasta. Give it a good stir to prevent sticking. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.
  5. While the pasta is cooking, put 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan and turn the heat to medium low. Add the garlic and sauté gently for 2-3 minutes. Do not let the garlic brown or it will be bitter.
  6. Add the creme fraiche, minced tarragon, lemon juice and lemon zest to the saucepan and stir to blend. Stir in half of the salmon and heat through. Season carefully with salt and pepper (smoked salmon is quite salty so taste the sauce before adding your salt)
  7. Turn the heat to low and keep the sauce warm.
  8. When the pasta is al dente (still firm to the bite), carefully reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and return it to the hot pot, off the heat.
  9. Using a rubber spatula to get every delicious morsel, scrape the cream sauce into the hot pasta and stir gently to coat. Add the capers and the remainder of the salmon.
  10. Add enough of the reserved pasta water to smooth out the sauce to a satiny consistency. Stir gently to heat through.
  11. Plate into individual bowls and garnish with additional capers and sprigs of fresh tarragon. Serve immediately.


Add fresh steamed asparagus or spring petite peas for a bright, refreshing taste. Fresh dill can be substituted for the tarragon - just go easy as dill can be overwhelming. A blend of sour cream and cream cheese can be substituted for the creme fraiche - just heat it carefully and don't allow it to boil or it may curdle. A crisp green salad, hearty slices of artisan bread and a lovely dry white or rosé wine makes this the perfect meal any time of year.

The quick video below is a short-hand version of the above recipe. She skips the capers and uses onion - not garlic -  and replaces the tarragon with fresh parsley for a simple, creamy pasta and salmon dish. Simple. Delicious.

The video below demonstrates how to de-bone a fresh salmon filet. Great production values and knowledgable chef!

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