This, my friends, is how to cook salmon
The first time I ever cooked fish, I made a “baked salmon” recipe that got 5 stars on some cooking website, and… even though the recipe involved a maple syrup and bourbon marinade, it tasted so bad that I vowed to never cook salmon again!
Last year, I finally recovered from the salmon bake experience and experimented until I found this simple preparation. This is my favorite and most reliable method of cooking salmon (baked salmon is usually dry, and poached is not flavorful); barbecuing is also a good method, but I sadly do not have a barbecue… any donations towards buying a grill will be happily accepted.
Before we start, a few words on picking your salmon:
- Rule #1: In general, avoid farmed salmon! The main reason is because it doesn’t taste as good. But salmon experts (yes, there are people who study salmon for a living) also say that traditionally farmed salmon could eventually cause wild salmon to go extinct. Why? Farmed fish are generally raised in enclosed pens in coastal waters, where genetically similar fish are quickly raised in close quarters (and often pumped full of antibiotics to prevent disease). It turns out that millions of these farmed fish escape into wild waters, spreading parasites and damaging the spawning patterns of wild salmon. Environmentally friendly “land-based” farmed salmon DOES exist, but it is nearly as expensive as wild salmon and flown in from Scotland or Norway.
- Rule #2: Pretty much all Atlantic salmon is farmed salmon. You’ll notice the color of Atlantic salmon is usually more of a pale pink than a brilliant red. That’s because farmed Atlantic salmon naturally has a grey-ish color due to their unexciting farm diet… pink color is added so it looks more “salmon-y.”
- Rule #3: If you live in the US, wild Alaskan (Pacific) salmon is the best. It is in season from about June – late September, but since it is often frozen and shipped from Alaska you can buy it in other months as well… even if it is previously frozen, it still tastes great.
- Rule #4: King salmon (Chinook) is the best but most expensive, followed by Coho (Silver) and Sockeye (Red): King salmon can be obscenely expensive, but it is definitely the best. Coho and Sockeye are great for everyday eating, but King is like filet mignon… for special occasions but totally worth it every once in a while.
- Rule #5: Cook salmon the day you buy it. Duh.
- Rule #6: Buy salmon on sale! Ha OK you don’t have to, but since I have recommended you buy the most expensive salmon (Wild Alaskan is usually 2-3x the price of Atlantic salmon), I usually buy salmon either at CostCo or on sale at Whole Foods. CostCo is super cheap and they have wild Pacific salmon, but usually the portions are large so it’s hard to cook it all unless you are entertaining guests. Whole Foods is criminally expensive, but prices are reasonable when they have sales – I usually get Coho / Sockeye for $10 / pound and King for $17 / pound.
Without further ado, here is the recipe – you may never order salmon at a restaurant ever again!
Seared salmon with salt and pepper
- 2 pieces of wild Alaskan King, Coho, or Sockeye salmon with skin, 1/3 pound each (the picture shows King Salmon, which is very long and about 1.5 inches thick). Also, ask your fishmonger to cut the fish into 1/3 pound pieces – I find it hard to cut the skin cleanly with a kitchen knife
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea Salt
- Pepper grinder – use fresh ground black pepper, NOT pre-ground
1. Remove salmon from refrigerator. If you rinse the fish (I personally don’t but some people like to), make sure you pat it dry with paper towels.
2. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil onto a dinner plate. Place the fish on top of the olive oil, and flip over so all sides of the fish is thinly covered in olive oil.
3. Put a layer of sea salt on both sides of the fish – for the fish above, I put 1.5 generous pinches (the amount I can hold between my thumb and 2nd finger) on each side of the fish. Don’t be shy with the salt.
4.Use the pepper grinder to put a LOT of pepper on each side of the fish… more than you think you’ll like – it won’t be too much, I promise.
5. NOTE: The fish should be about room temperature before you start cooking – that means at least 20 minutes out of the fridge.
6. Heat a medium size pan over medium heat. Once pan is warm, add some olive oil and let the oil get HOT (but don’t let it smoke / burn) – I put my hand a few inches from the pan to judge the heat. If you use a stainless steel pan, you can also see the oil “climbing” up the sides of the pan when it gets hot.
7. Place salmon fillets skin down on the oil. It should sizzle – otherwise the pan isn’t hot enough so remove immediately and wait until pan is hot.
8. Let the fish cook undisturbed for about 4 – 5 minutes (assuming similar 1.5 inch thickness, which is quite thick – thinner pieces will cook more quality so adjust accordingly!) Then flip it over – the fish should easily slide off the pan.
9. Cook on the other side for about 2 – 3 minutes depending on how well done you like it. I like mine a little raw in the center – do NOT overcook! High quality salmon is safe to eat raw, so 7 – 8 minutes is the absolute most you want to cook it.
10. Remove from pan and enjoy immediately!