How to Cook Salmon

Written by Sean Jewett on . Posted in the kitchen hand

how to cook salmon, salmon recipe, how to cook fish fillet

King, Coho, Pink, and Sockeye, among others, are very popular for their health benefits and flavor. Some salmon can be eaten rare, some has to be hot smoked over a long period of time, some is only good for deep frying, but the vast majority is only good for scanning.

So, no matter the type of salmon, the quality, (meaning the firmness of the flesh, the color, the odor) determines whether it hits the plate, fresh, canned, or smoked.

The more firm, rosey, and odorless the fish, the more desirable as a filet. As salmon gets less firm, it lends itself to preservation rather than fresh use. Indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US have been smoking and drying salmon for thousands of years.

fish fillet, high quality fish

Salmon is a very versatile fish. High quality salmon can be eaten as sashimi, grilled, baked, sautéed, or even poached. The important part in cooking salmon is to not over cook it. Salmon must be cooked either on a high heat very quickly, or on a medium heat more gently. Grilling is a very popular way to cook a nice thick steak as the high heat and quick cooking time help preserve the flavor and juiciness.

I like to poach salmon in a little white wine, water or fumet, and lemon juice. This method enhances the fishes’ flavor and helps it stay moist. Pan roasting is another popular method, as it too quickly cooks the filet, preserving the juices.

I have heard of salmon fish and chips, but this seems like a waste of good salmon to me, to each their own. I’ve worked with Asian chefs who puree the flesh of the fish and make a sort of seafood soufflé. This is delicious, but again, I feel that it’s kind of a waste of a good fish.

Preserved salmon has it’s place at the table as well. I live in the area where many Eastern Pacific salmon come to spawn, and a lot of these guys get pulled out of rivers too beat up to eat as filets. Much of this bounty is only good for canning and smoking.

While I would never serve salmon cakes from canned salmon in a restaurant, I make them at home all the time. I’ve also used canned salmon to make salmon mousse for dinner parties. And we can’t forget about smoked salmon. Salmon and bagels are staple at most fine dining restaurants.

Smoked salmon mousse on toast tips is always a party pleaser. In my neck of the woods, fishermen will smoke salmon to give away, as they are very abundant, and the fisherman often has more than he or she can eat.


grilling fish, grilling salmonGrilling salmon can be tricky, but practice makes perfect, right? Your grill needs to be at a moderate heat, not too hot or the outside will char before the inside is warm. This is fine if you like rare salmon, but if you want it cooked through, turn the heat down. Another issue is the size of the grates. If they are to far apart, the salmon can get torn up when flipping.

If your grates are more than ½ an inch apart, I recommend putting some aluminum foil on the grill first. This will help keep the salmon from being broken up. I like to season with just salt and pepper, but the addition of chili powder and smoked paprika are a nice touch. I also like to baste the salmon with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Step 1
Heat grill to a moderately high heat. Make sure the grates are freshly brushed and well seasoned.

Step 2
Season fish with salt and pepper (some cooks don’t like to pepper fish because it creates black specks, I do pepper mine), or use a dry rub of your choice.

Step 3
Place salmon, skin side up, at roughly 45 degrees to the grates. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Step 4
Rotate salmon 90 degrees F. Cook for another 2-3 minutes

Step 5
Flip, cooking for another 2-3 minutes

Step 6
Rotate filet 90 degrees F. Salmon is done when it is firm to the touch.

Pan Roasting

pan roasting fish, seasoning fish

Pan roasting is a very easy method for making great salmon. I like to use a broiler and an ovenproof pan. If this is not possible, set your oven as hot as possible, preheating a pan in the oven to transfer the fish to.

Step 1
Get your pan very, very hot with a small amount of oil.

Step 2
As the pan starts to smoke, carefully add the seasoned salmon.

Step 3
Immediately place the salmon in the oven and broil or bake until the top is pink. Step 4
Remove from the oven and add 2 tablespoons of butter. Flip the salmon and ladle the butter over the top for another minute or two.

Step 5

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Sean Jewett

Sean Jewett

Sean is lucky enough to live, work, and play in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, USA. He has been cooking professionally for 20 years, the last 15 in the best kept secret of American Locavores. With a serious love for cooking, and eating, Sean loves to share knowledge and learn new tricks.

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