The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Salmon
Don't let intimidation stop you from making this healthy and delicious fish for easy weeknight meals. Our guide teaches you exactly how to buy, prep, store and cook this tasty seafood.
Pictured Recipe: Simple Grilled Salmon & Vegetables
Salmon is often reserved for special occasions, like a nice meal at a restaurant or an intimate dinner party at home. But the hearty fish is so healthy and so versatile that it's worth adding to your weekly rotation. Plus, with a few simple tips, it's easy to prepare at home lots of different ways.
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How to Cook Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Grilled Salmon Salad with Raspberry Vinaigrette
How to Prepare Salmon
Cuts of salmon don't need much more preparation than a quick pat dry with a paper towel before cooking, but there is one optional step: removing the bones. Salmon fillets have thin, small bones that can be removed before or after cooking, or simply carefully avoided when eating. To remove before cooking, lay the fillet skin-side down. Run your hand back and forth along the top of the fish and you'll feel the thin, flexible bones. Use good tweezers or small pliers to remove the bones one by one and discard.
When preparing to cook frozen salmon, let the fillet or steak defrost completely in the refrigerator before using.
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How to Roast Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Greek Roasted Fish with Vegetables
All cuts of salmon will cook up beautifully when roasted, but this method is especially good for fillets and sides. Just watch the cook time closely so that your fish doesn't overcook.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Prepare the pan by coating it liberally with cooking spray or lining it with foil. Place the fillets or side on the pan and add just enough oil to coat the fish well on all sides. Place the fish on the sheet pan skin-side down and season with salt and pepper. Flavor with other spices or brush the top with a sauce of your choice if desired.
- Roast in the preheated oven for about 5 minutes per 1/2 inch of thickness, or until the salmon is just cooked through and opaque. The fillet will easily flake apart with a fork. Do not overcook, since salmon fillets can easily become dry. Top with desired sauce or a squeeze of lemon.
How to Grill Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Grilled Salmon with Kale Sauté
Salmon fillets and steaks are both great for grilling, and the added smokiness means no special sauces are required and it can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
- Preheat the grill. Whether you're cooking over charcoal or gas, get the grill nice and hot before cooking.
- Prepare the salmon by brushing all sides with oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Grill, starting with the skin-side down for fillets, for about 5 minutes. If the fish is not pulling away from the grill, then it isn't ready to flip yet. Flip and cook another 5 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of your fish, how hot your grill is and how rare or well done you like your salmon. Rare salmon is still cool in the middle and bright orange, medium is warm in the middle, and well done is opaque and hot throughout. Top with sauce if desired.
How to Pan-Fry Salmon
Pictured Recipe: One-Skillet Salmon with Fennel and Sun-Dried Tomato Couscous
Pan-frying is a more hands-on but still quick way to cook fillets. You'll have more control over the doneness since you'll be standing over the pan and eyeing the fish throughout.
- Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add enough melted butter or olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Add the fish, skin-side up, and cook until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for about 3 more minutes, or until done to taste. Season with salt and pepper and top with sauce, fresh herbs or a squeeze of lemon juice and a glass of white wine, if desired.
How to Steam Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Salmon-Vegetable Bake
Plain steamed salmon can be a bit bland, but cooking the fish in packets with vegetables and aromatics, also known as "en papillote," is healthy and flavorful. The oven temperature is a bit lower for this method than roasting–400 degrees–because the heat from the steam helps cook the fish.
- Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
- Make the packets. Cut one long parchment or aluminum foil sheet per fillet. If using vegetables, thinly slice and layer them on top of one another with the longest-cooking veggies on the bottom (such as potatoes). Place the salmon fillet on top and season with salt and pepper. Add lemon slices on top of the fillet and fresh or dried herbs if desired.
- Seal the packets by folding on all sides, leaving room for steam to build up inside.
- Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the vegetables used, the size of your fillets, and how well done you like your salmon.
- Unwrap the packets immediately to keep the salmon from overcooking.
How to Shop for Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Salmon with Smoky Chickpeas & Greens
When buying fresh salmon, the options can vary based on the specific species and where it came from. Wild-caught salmon is typically from the Pacific and is deeper in color, less fatty and more expensive. Different species are fished depending on the time of year, and common varieties include king and sockeye. Most fresh fish sold in the U.S. is flash frozen for transport before being sold.
Farmed salmon–Atlantic salmon–is frequently faulted for its environmental impact, use of antibiotics and potential contaminants. When buying farm-raised fish, do so sparingly and do your research. When possible, opt for land farms or tank farms.
Read More: How to Buy the Healthiest Salmon
Beyond species and origin, salmon is sold in a few different cuts, and the most common cut is the fillet. Portioned to serve one to two people, and with the skin often left on with the thickest part in the middle, a fillet can be cooked in a variety of ways. Large fillets that aren't individually portioned are called sides and are great for serving a crowd. Sides are best when roasted or broiled since they are too large for a frying pan. Salmon is also sold as steaks, a cross-cut that's a uniform thickness, making it especially good for grilling.
Salmon is also sold frozen and canned and can be an excellent affordable option. The same guidelines for buying fresh salmon apply to buying shelf-stable and frozen fish as well.
How to Store Salmon
Pictured Recipe: Roasted Salmon Rice Bowl with Beets and Brussels
Store fresh, uncooked salmon in the refrigerator for as little time as possible before cooking, with a maximum of two days. Frozen salmon will last in a well-insulated freezer for up to two months. Defrost in the refrigerator–not at room temperature–completely before cooking.
Cooked salmon stored in an airtight container will last in the refrigerator for a maximum of five days.
Salmon Nutrition Facts
Salmon is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids while being low in saturated fat, making it good for heart health and blood pressure regulation.
A 6-ounce sockeye fillet contains about 285 calories, 36 grams of protein, 14 grams of total fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat and 110 milligrams of cholesterol. Exact measurements will vary depending on the cut of salmon.