It’s hard to believe that the first time I ate salmon wasn’t until high school. I was having dinner at a friend’s house and her mom made it for dinner. Until then my seafood had been limited to shrimp and crab.
And then I discovered I loved salmon! While it has what some describe as a “fishy” taste, that is actually what draws me to it. Plain, thin white fish that have no flavor at all require more work, but salmon is simple and requires quite little. It doesn’t require marinating, only a good rub, sauce or even just a spritz of citrus and you are ready to go.
There are 5 main ways to prepare salmon, but first let’s answer a few burning salmon questions.
Farm Raised vs Wild Caught
What is the difference between farm raised and wild caught salmon?
Wild caught salmon is generally lower in fat and calories because it is leaner from doing all that swimming upstream. The color is a deep, almost neon reddish-pink and it is usually thinner. It is higher in iodine and other contaminants are unknown because the fisher has no idea what it has come in contact with. It is also more expensive.
Farm raised is a little less expensive, more of a light pink color, thicker and more fatty. These fish are generally given antibiotics to prevent disease in their pens and fed a diet of grains and corn since they aren’t finding food in their natural habitat.
There are pros and cons to both farm raised and wild caught salmon.
What is the difference between steaks and fillets?
Steaks are cut across the body and they resemble horseshoes with the silvery skin along the outer edge. You might also see rib bones and backbones even it claims to be deboned.
Fillets are thinner and cut lengthwise along the body and are long and thin. Fillets can come with or without skin and generally don’t contain bones.
Can I eat salmon skin?
Don’t dis the skin! Most people leave it behind and if prepared in some ways, like just roasted in white wine sauce, it might not be that great. But let me tell you… a nice fried, crispy piece of salmon skin will known your socks off!
Frozen vs. Fresh
Even if you see “fresh” salmon in the seafood case, chances are it was previously frozen. Ask the seafood monger to check.
Fresh salmon should be used within 2 days of purchasing and stored in the coldest part of the fridge. It should be a pretty color, not slimy and not smell overly fishy (it is fish- it will have a slight fish smell).
Frozen salmon is perfectly acceptable and great to keep around. It thaws quickly and is in an airtight package, good for up to 6 months.
Ways to Cook Salmon
More below on each technique, but in summary.
How to Cook Salmon on the Grill
Salmon is excellent on the grill. I like to use a cedar plank, salt block or fish basket. Cedar planks or salt blocks make it easy to not stick and add flavor. Salmon doesn’t require flipping, so you are good there. But if you want that precious crispy skin, a basket or directly on the grates is the way to go.
Heat grill to medium-high heat, around 350-400 degrees. If using a plank, soak it prior to cooking. If grilling directly on the grates, oil well to prevent sticking. Also oil a fish basket to prevent sticking.
Apply and desired rubs or seasonings. Salt and pepper are plenty if you plan to use a sauce or citrus after.
Cooking times will vary based on the thickness of the filet or steak, but generally, any piece of salmon takes between 15-20 minutes on indirect heat. You’ll know it is ready when the fibers starts to turn a darker pink and separate. Salmon is best cooked medium, so the center will be a little light pink and rare.
How to Poach Salmon
Poached salmon is a great alternative and perfect for charcuterie platters and breakfast. The meat will be more well cooked, but still creamy and rich. The best bets are for skinless fillets.
Poaching is essentially boiling (but not really), so make sure the liquid has a lot of flavor to infuse into your fish. White wine, beer, citrus and aromatic herbs and spices are all good choices. Salt is also important.
Use a thermometer and heat water to between 160-180 degrees. It will not be bubbling, just FYI. Add your fish directly to the cooking liquid, cover and cook for 15- 25 minutes, depending on the size of your fish. It should be opaque and flakey. You can also use a sous vide machine.
How to Roast Salmon
There are two ways to cook salmon in the oven: roasting and broiling. Let’s tackle roasting first.
Since salmon is fairly fatty, it can withstand high temperatures. Pair that with the optimal doneness being medium and you’ve got a pretty short cook time.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment to prevent sticking. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Season fish with desired spice rubs or just salt and pepper.
Bake for 12-15 minutes for 1 inch thickness, more or less accordingly. Meat will be opaque and flaky. Remove and top with any sauces or citrus you desire.
Some people like to bake it in foil pouches, which is fine, but not totally necessary for any reasons other than quick clean up. You can slow roast salmon too, however it doesn’t require it because the fibers to not need to break down and tenderize like it would with other meat.
How to Cook Salmon on the Stove
If crispy skin is what you desire, this (or the grill) are your preferred methods. Skin will sear on the hot pan which means that cast iron is your best bet and you’ll need very HOT temperatures to prevent sticking.
First, pat the salmon very dry, especially the skin side and then season with salt. Start will fillets skin side down in just a wee bit of oil (enough to coat, but not enough to pool) in a very hot cast iron pan.
Cook, skin down, for 5-6 minutes. Turn salmon and cook on the other side for just 30 seconds to 1 minute for medium.
Remove and serve!
How to Broil Salmon
Like roasting, salmon is good a high temps, so broiling is another option. Place it on a broiler pan, season and broil for 7-8 minutes about 5 inches away from the heat source.
Salmon in a Can
Canned salmon is already cooked, so it can be drained (no need to rinse) and added the recipe. It can be heated or eaten at room temperature, depending on the recipe.
Salmon can also be smoked, cured and eaten raw, but these methods are more time intensive and complex.