5 Ways To Cook Perfect Salmon Every Single Time
If you’re not super confident in your cooking skills, salmon can be a little intimidating. Which side do you sear first? What shade of pink should it be? How do you know when it’s done?!
Truth is, salmon can be one of the easiest things in the world to cook—you just have to find the method that works for you. Trust me, though it looks impressive and fancy, it’s amazingly simple. Anyone can do this.
First of all, which salmon should I buy?
Valid question! There are multiple species and varieties of salmon available at the grocery store. They can vary by size, price, availability, and flavor—read more about which type is best for you.
As with the consumption of any fish, it's important to keep sustainability in mind. If you're looking to make the most ethical choice, keep Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch app handy. You can use it to search for the exact type of salmon that is available to you. Otherwise, go for the highest quality, freshest fish that fits in your budget. Don't forget that the nice people behind the counter have so much knowledge to share with you—all you gotta do is ask!
A note about how long to cook salmon:
According to the FDA, salmon should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°. When working with good-quality salmon, we tend to check for doneness with a fork rather than a thermometer. Once the salmon easily flakes with fork, it's good to go! Just be sure you're checking the thickest part of the fillet.
Broiling salmon is one of the easiest and most hands-off techniques. To start, preheat your broiler to high and place an oven rack in the top third of your oven, so that the salmon will be about 5 inches away from the coils of your broiler.
Place your filets on a greased aluminum foil or parchment-lined baking sheet (to prevent sticking!) and season thoroughly with salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you like. Here we used herbs, grainy mustard, and garlic, which is a fresh and punchy preparation that pairs well with plenty of sides. Broil 5 to 8 minutes, depending how you prefer your fish.
Want an easy way to check if the salmon is ready? Press against the corner of the filet with a fork. If the fish flakes, you’re good to go!
Similar to broiling, baking is super easy to master and perfect for a quick weekday dinner. We especially love roasting one large filet instead of several small ones; it kills the presentation game.
Preheat your oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with foil. Bake your filet skin side-down for 12 to 15 minutes, or until pink and opaque. You can go really anywhere with how you flavor it: In our classic recipe, the salmon is cooked directly on a bed of sliced lemons and seasoned with garlic, honey, and thyme.
Alternatively, you can coat the entire filet with various seasonings, like feta and herbs and everything bagel seasoning. The benefits of this technique are two-fold: it add flavor to every bite and provides a protective layer to keep the fish moist while it cooks.
If you’ve ever ordered fish at a restaurant, there’s a good chance it’s been seared. That's what gives it a nice golden crust and crispy skin. Good news: you can do it at home.
In a nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high, coat the bottom of your pan with the fat of your choice (we’re talking butter, veggie or olive oil) and get the pan HOT. Place your filets skin side-up (you should hear a sizzle) and cook until the filets naturally release from your pan with a spatula. (If it doesn't release, don't force it!) When the crust is fully formed, in about 6 minutes, it’ll be an easy flip.
After flipping, let the skin get nice and crispy and cook for about 4 more minutes. (If your skin is getting too crispy and the center of your fish is still looking a little pink and firm, pop the whole skillet in a 350° oven and roast for 5 minutes.) The result? Restaurant-quality fish without the price tag.
Poaching is an easy way to ensure moist salmon every. single. time. First, season the salmon fillets on both sides. In a large skillet, bring 1 cup water + 1 cup dry white wine to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add salmon. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes. Remove salmon carefully with a fish spatula or large slotted spoon.
If you want to add extra flavor, throw some fresh herbs and garlic cloves into the skillet. Fresh dill tastes especially amazing.
When it's nice out, you gotta grill. Those char marks = smoky flavor. There are two grilling techniques that we love for salmon.
First up: how to cook salmon straight on the grill (or grill pan). As always, season your fish. Heat grill over medium-high heat, and oil the grates to make flipping easier. Add salmon skin-side down and let cook 6 to 8 minutes, or until the bottom half of the fish looks opaque and the skin easily releases from the grill. Flip and cook 4 to 6 minutes longer, or until the entirety of the fish is cooked through.
Grilled salmon foil packs are next! We love 'em because you can basically prepare your whole meal in one packet. And it's a really fun way to serve dinner to guests without the mess.
First, choose your veggies and seasonings. You'll want to pick quick-cooking options, or slice things nice and thin. Zucchini, bell peppers, onions, asparagus, and thinly sliced potatoes are all great. As for the flavor bombs, we almost always add some sort of citrus, hearty herb (like thyme or rosemary), and garlic. Adding a tab of butter to each packet is always a wise move.
Season everything generously with salt and pepper, and place on top of a large strip of foil. Fold the foil in half then fold up the edges to seal the packet. Place packets on preheated grill and cook until the salmon is cooked through and veggies are tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
If you're stumped on how to build your foil packs, we love our versions with lemony asparagus, summer squash seasoned with honey and chipotle, and our beloved Tuscan butter sauce.
How do you like to prepare salmon? Let us know in the comments.
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