How to cook perfect salmon 9 different ways

Delicate white fish can be difficult to prepare. Luckily, salmon does not fall into this category. Even though salmon isn’t as temperamental to cook as tilapia, it still requires some techniques to cook properly.

Most of the salmon eaten in the U.S. is farmed, so the best way to know what kind of fish you’re eating is to go directly to your fishmonger. There are several species of salmon and the most common cut that’s used is the fillet. But even if you get a quality piece of fish, you could ruin it if you don’t know the right way to cook it. If the only salmon you’ve experienced has been the over-poached junk that’s served on buffet lines, you need to try making your own. Should you leave the skin on? How should you season it? These are questions we can help you with. Here are the best ways to cook a beautiful cut of salmon.

Poached

Never poach your salmon in plain water. You’re missing out on an opportunity to season the fish! Try adding in some garlic cloves, lemon slices, and a sprig of thyme to the water. This elevates the flavor of the fish from the inside out. Heat the seasoned water on high in a skillet for about five minutes. Gently slide the salmon fillets into the poaching liquid, after dotting the flesh with pats of butter. Sprinkle the fish with salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Bring this to a rolling boil, reduce to a simmer, and poach until the flesh is firm to touch. This should take anywhere from 10-15 minutes. You can change the seasoning of the fish to suit your own tastes, but we highly recommend adding lemon or any other acidity to brighten up the finished dish.

Grilled

Grilling fish can be tricky—after all it’s not as sturdy as meat. This makes a certain amount of finesse necessary when grilling any type of fish, not just salmon. Some say the skin must be removed for you to enjoy the finished product. We’re here to say that those people are wrong. When grilling the fish, the skin crisps into the most delicious part of the meal. Marinate the fillet before grilling, reserving some marinade to coat the top of the fish when cooking. This will keep the salmon from drying out when placed over the direct heat of the barbecue. Place the salmon directly over the charcoal grill, roughly medium heat. Grill uncovered, flip after three minutes, and continue to cook for an additional three minutes.

Pan seared

While pan searing may seem like the simplest method of cooking fish, it is alarmingly easy for the fish to get overcooked. People tend to walk away from the stove and allow the fish to go unmonitored for too long. Make sure you pay close attention to the cooking process, or you’ll end up with a dry, cracked fillet of fish.

To pan sear salmon correctly, first heat a large skillet over medium heat for about four minutes. Massage the fillet with olive oil, then place it in the hot skillet. Raise the temperature to high heat and cook for three minutes. Raising the temperature of the pan creates a crispy sear on the outside of the fish, while keeping the inside delicately tender. While the fish is cooking, season with salt and pepper. Flip the fillet and cook for an additional three minutes, then remove it from the pan and serve with a fresh lemon wedge.

Baked

Being able to successfully bake a side of fish can make your weeknight dinner routines easier than ever. Stop by your local fish market and pick up a beautiful side of salmon, a bag of rice, and a head of broccoli.

First make sure your fish has been properly marinated; we suggest rubbing the fillets with honey, garlic, and soy sauce. To pack the most flavor into the salmon, leave the fish to marinate overnight. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a nonstick baking sheet. If you prefer to remove the skin, make sure you do so before baking.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the salmon for about 15 minutes. The salmon should look orange throughout when fully cooked. While the fish is cooking, boil your rice and steam the broccoli. You now have a protein-packed, low-carb meal to serve on a busy night.

Curing

Curing salmon may seem like a cooking technique out of your comfort zone, but it’s actually quite simple. Yes, it’s a time-consuming activity, but the delicious result (yummy strips of salted fish) is worth the effort. You’ll need, brown sugar, kosher salt, and pepper. Mix all of these ingredients together and completely cover at least a pound of salmon. (Be sure to remove any bones from the fillet before you start.) Wrap the fish in plastic wrap, but don’t wrap it too tightly! You’ll want the plastic to be loose enough so the moisture can escape as the curing mixture works its magic.

Take a glass bowl and flip it upside down, then place the wrapped salmon over the bowl to allow the water to run off. You can put a plate on top of the fillet to speed up the process and help squeeze the juices out. Now the wait begins. It will take about five days for the fish to completely cure. Make sure to flip the fish daily to ensure that the excess water leaves the fillet. Applying a little pressure can also help to speed the process along. After five days, rinse the salmon thoroughly. The fish is now ready to slice. Grab some fresh bagels, add a shmear of herb cream cheese, and top with your home-cured fish.

En papillote

En papillote, or “in paper,” is a simple and elegant French technique of baking protein, such as fish, wrapped in parchment. For this ingenious method, the food is cooked by the steam trapped inside the paper. Since most types of fish, including salmon, are sensitive to overcooking, this method allows you to cook the fish delicately using the gentle steam while aromatics of choice infuse it with just the right amount of flavor.

To cook the salmon en papillote, simply fold a large piece of parchment in half, then reopen to lay flat. Place the cleaned piece of fish on one side. Add lemon slices, grated ginger, garlic cloves, or other seasonings you prefer. Fold the parchment over to cover the fish and using your fingertips, fold over the edges securely to create a sealed pouch. Place the pouch on a baking sheet and transfer to the oven to roast until the salmon is cooked through to your liking and flakes easily with a fork.

Ready to wrap your salmon in parchment? Try this recipe from A Couple Cooks for perfectly cooked salmon. Here, salmon is wrapped up with carrots, lemon slices, garlic, and fragrant herbs in paper like a pretty little package. Depending on how thick your salmon is, you can find yourself enjoying this light, nourishing dinner in 10-15 minutes. Weeknight magic.

Broiled

Broiling salmon is an easy and fast way to enjoy a piece of fish. Using direct overhead heat from the oven, broiling is an ideal method for cooking a thin to moderate piece of salmon. As it involves cooking at high heat for a short period, broiling is particularly well-suited to fish. The result is beautifully caramelized salmon that’s cooked just right on the inside.

To broil salmon, simply place the fish on a lightly oiled foil-lined baking sheet or broiler pan, skin-side down. Run a bit of olive oil on top, then season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer the pan to the broiler or directly to the oven if your broiler setting does not have a separate compartment. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily with a fork. You’re working with extremely high heat here, so be sure to check on it frequently!

Check out this recipe from Food Network for herb and mustard-glazed salmon. Salmon fillets are briefly broiled, then glazed with a ridiculously aromatic, unabashedly mustard-forward mixture loaded with fresh rosemary and thyme. By the time you pull the salmon from the broiler, your kitchen will smell like a five-star restaurant.

Roasted

As with vegetables, meat, or poultry, roasting salmon is undeniably easy and foolproof. Its straightforward nature makes this method ideal for those harried weeknights. Place the piece of fish on a baking sheet and with simple seasoning and not much else, you can pop it in the oven and be rewarded with a gourmet dinner in fewer than 15 minutes.

Set your oven to 475 degrees. Add some olive oil or butter to the roasting pan and place the salmon on the bottom, skin side up. After about 5 minutes of roasting, remove the skin, season with salt and pepper, and return to the oven to finish cooking. You can serve your cooked salmon with lemon wedges, pesto, or a gremolata if you like.

For such a streamlined technique, I share with you this recipe for the The New York Times by the master of simplicity, Mark Bittman. Here, salmon is roasted in butter and seasoned with the fresh herb of your choice. The best part? This recipe is infinitely customizable, so feel emboldened to play around with aromatics and seasonings.

Braised

Braising is one of the unsung heroes of the culinary world. It produces such on point results and requires almost no work at all. This technique involves cooking the salmon in a flavorful liquid in the oven. By doing so, you end up with tender fish infused with robust flavor — plus you have a built-in serving sauce.

How simple? A quick sear of the salmon to lock in flavor, followed by an effortless saute of aromatics, and lastly a hasty deglazing job using water, stock, or broth. The fish finishes cooking in the oven, bathing in this braising liquid you’ve created. When it’s done, you can even reduce the liquid to sauce consistency and serve it with the salmon. I mean!

Give braising a go with this recipe for salmon and veggies from Food Network. Salmon fillets are braised in seafood stock along with hearty potatoes, carrots, celery, fennel, and onions for a warming dish that consistently turns out beautifully, and so complete, too!