How to Cook Salmon
How to pan-sear, bake and grill salmon.
Follow just a few steps, and you can achieve perfectly cooked salmon: tender and buttery with crisp skin. We walk you through how to buy salmon (including the different cuts you might see in the grocery store) and three simplest ways to cook it as well.
What to Know about the Different Cuts of Salmon
At most seafood counters, you can buy several cuts of salmon, including a whole side, individual fillets and steaks.
A whole side is exactly what it sounds like: it’s an entire side of the salmon. Typically, it’ll weigh four to five pounds and serve about ten people. Sides of salmon are well-suited to grilling because they don’t dry out, but you can also roast them in the oven.
Fillets of salmon are simply pieces cut from a side of salmon. They can look long and skinny or squarer, depending on the way the side was cut. They typically weigh six to eight ounces and feed one person each. This is the most common type of salmon cut you’ll find in the store, mostly because it’s the most versatile: you can pan-sear it, bake it, poach it or grill it.
Finally, salmon steaks are thick slices of salmon that are cut from the entire body of the salmon — perpendicularly to the spine. They weigh eight to ten ounces and feed one person each. Pan-searing and grilling are the most common preparations for salmon steak (check out Food Network Kitchen's lovely recipe for Grilled Salmon Steaks and Summer Beans).
Types of Salmon
There are two general types of salmon, Atlantic and Pacific, with the main difference being that Atlantic salmon is farm-raised and Pacific salmon is wild. You'll find fresh Atlantic salmon (sometimes sold as Norwegian because it is farmed there) available across the country year-round. The quality is likely to be good because farm-raised salmon can be harvested and shipped within 24 hours, all in a controlled environment.
There are five species of Pacific (wild) salmon: king (also called Chinook), coho, sockeye (also called red), chum and pink. These wild varieties are most available in the summer months. Be sure to check for freshness since wild fish have been out of the water longer in variable environments.
King salmon is the largest type of type of wild salmon. It has the highest amount of oil, too, meaning it has the most Omega-3 fatty acids and a dreamy, silk, semi-soft texture that practically melts in your mouth.
Many people consider sockeye salmon one of the tastiest varieties of salmon. It's the firmest type of wild salmon and has a deep, vibrant orange color that’s very eye catching. Because of its firm texture, it holds up particularly well to grilling. After king salmon, sockeye salmon has the second highest amount of fat of all the types of wild salmon.
This type of salmon has very silver skin, medium levels of fattiness and mediumly pink flesh. It’s considered a very balanced variety of salmon.
This type of salmon is the most common type of wild salmon. It has light pink skin and a low fat content. During fishing, this salmon’s delicate fish can tear easily, and therefore you’ll often see it sold as canned salmon – but if you happen to find it fresh or frozen, it’s tasty.
You’ll often see this variety of salmon smoked or dried. It has low fat content and is much less expensive than king salmon and sockeye salmon. This variety of salmon spawns roe that’s cured and brined in Japan and sold as a product known as ikura.
How to Cook Salmon
1: Bring the Salmon to Room Temperature
Pull the salmon from the refrigerator about ten minutes before you plan on cooking, so it comes to room temperature and cooks evenly. Place it skin-side down on a plate lined with two layers of paper towels to soak up moisture. Eliminating moisture makes for super crispy skin.
2: Brush Both Sides with Olive Oil and Season with Salt and Pepper
When it’s cooked well, salmon is so tasty that you need not add flavorings other than salt, pepper and olive oil (although of course if you’d like to get creative, full steam ahead). Brush the salmon in olive oil and generously season both sides with salt and pepper.
3: How to Pan-Fry Salmon
Pan-frying salmon is one of the fastest and easiest methods to cook it. It makes for super crispy skin and tender flesh. Here’s how you do it. Start with a large nonstick skillet, which will ensure the delicate salmon skin doesn’t stick and tear in the pan. Heat it over medium-high, then place the salmon skin-side up in the pan. Cook until golden brown on one side (about four minutes for five ounce filets). Flip the salmon with a large thin flexible spatula (slotted fish spatulas are quite useful if you plan on cooking salmon often) and cook until it feels firm to the touch and the skin is crisp (about three more minutes).
This Pan-Fried Salmon recipe from Food Network Kitchen is all about the method: Start with a hot skillet for crispy skin and to prevent sticking.
4: How to Bake Salmon In the Oven
Baking salmon is convenient because it’s hands-off and there’s very little mess or smell. This technique is not only great for fillets, but also larger pieces of salmon. Here’s what you do. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and line a baking sheet with foil. Place the salmon skin-side down on the baking sheet and crimp all four sides of the foil to create a border around the salmon: this will help collect the juices so they don’t spread and burn. If you’d like, you can place lemon slices on the salmon, brush the surface with Dijon mustard or season the flesh with your favorite spices at this point. Bake until the outside is opaque and slightly firm to the touch and the inside flakes easily. Insert a small paring knife between layers to check; the color will vary from bright pink (rare) to pale pink to orange (well-done ).
The Best Baked Salmon
This simple baked salmon really hits all the right notes: tangy, sweet, savory, a little spicy and crunchy. Cooking a larger piece makes for a nice presentation. Topped with buttery golden breadcrumbs and parsley, it's perfect for a weeknight dinner yet fancy enough to serve to guests.
5: How to Grill Salmon
Best for smoky flavor and super crisp skin, the grill is a great way to cook salmon when the weather’s fair. Just make sure you clean the grates of your grill and oil them before starting to cook, otherwise your salmon can easily stick. Preheat the grill to medium high, place the sinless side of salmon down on the grates and let the salmon cook. Don’t touch it — it’ll release itself from the grill when it’s ready. When it does, use a flat spatula to flip the salmon over. Need some inspiration? Check out Food Network Kitchen's Sweet and Spicy Grilled Salmon, Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon and Indoor-Grilled Salmon. Alternatively, if you value smoky flavor but not the stress of your salmon potentially sticking to the grates, you can wrap up a side of salmon in tinfoil and place the foil pack straight on the grill. For a full recipe, see Food Network Kitchen's Grilled Salmon in a Foil Pack.
Grilled Cedar Plank Salmon
Using a cedar plank to grill salmon is an effortless way to add enormous flavor to your dish. The fish takes on a lovely smokiness, stays wonderfully moist and the skin doesn't stick to the grates. We spiced ours up with a maple-ginger marinade and whipped up a quick side salad for a tasty, incredibly easy weeknight meal.
How to Know When Salmon’s Done Cooking
Much like tuna, salmon can be cooked depending on your preference: rare, medium-rare or cooked through. Color is a great indicator of how well done your salmon is. As it cooks, the flesh turns lighter pink. A paring knife is your best friend when checking for doneness; slide the tip into the center of the fish to look at the color between the layers. When you remove it, feel the side of the knife. If it’s cool to the touch, the fish is rare; if it feels warm, the fish is medium-rare; and hot means the fish is cooked through.
Another surefire way to tell when salmon is done cooking? Gently insert an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon. For medium salmon, the temperature should read 125 to 130 degrees F; for rare, it should read 120 degrees F. As a general rule of thumb, wild salmon firms up and dries up more quickly than farm-raised salmon, so you should take this into consideration when measuring temperature.
Chef Name: Food Network KitchenFull Recipe Name: Simple Lemon-Herb Roasted SalmonTalent Recipe: FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchenâs Simple Lemon-Herb Roasted Salmon, as seen on Foodnetwork.comProject: Foodnetwork.com, FN Essentials/Weeknights/Fall/HolidaysShow Name: Food Network / Cooking Channel: Food Network,Chef Name: Food Network Kitchen Full Recipe Name: Simple Lemon-Herb Roasted Salmon Talent Recipe: FNK Recipe: Food Networks Kitchen’s Simple Lemon-Herb Roasted Salmon, as seen on Foodnetwork.com Project: Foodnetwork.com, FN Essentials/Weeknights/Fall/Holidays Show Name: Food Network / Cooking Channel: Food Network
Renee Comet, 2013, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved
Here, fast salmon with minimal cleanup: roasting at a high temperature lightly browns the fillets on foil so you don’t have to use a skillet on the stovetop (or scrub a sheet pan). Butter, herbs and lemon finish everything off.
Slow roasting salmon ensures silky, moist results. This large fillet is finished off with a sauce that’s similar to pesto, but made without nuts or cheese.
A sweet-spicy Buffalo glaze caramelizes on the top of the salmon as it cooks on the grill. The perfect pairing? A crisp and refreshing celery slaw.
This recipe has hundreds of great reviews, and for good reason: the salmon bakes up all juicy in just about 12 minutes, and then gets served with a quick but interested toasted almond parsley salad.
This quick dinner version of a favorite breakfast has all the flavors of an everything bagel with lox: fillets of salmon are coated in a bagel chip-crust, scallion mashed potatoes have a cream cheese boost and a side of tomatoes and onion completes the dish.