This post shows you how to cook salmon with step by step photos in both the oven and in a frying pan. These methods ensure perfect, tender salmon every time!
It's How to Monday and today we're talking salmon! A favorite protein of ours, when cooked correctly, salmon is crispy and brown on the outside, yet tender and flaky on the inside. When cooked incorrectly, it's dry, bitter, and just not good.
Today I'm sharing with you how to cook salmon in the oven and on the stove! These are my two favorite methods by far, although we also love grilling it. I plan on updating this post with grilling directions when it warms up a bit!
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This post covers a lot!
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When it comes to cooking salmon in the oven, you are going to find SO MANY DIFFERENT TEMPERATURES recommended. Seriously, google it!
Some people swear by 350°F, some people swear by 450°F. Me? I'm in the high temperature camp!
I've adapted my cooking method from Cook's Illustrated and it works like a charm!
- Pre-heat oven to 450°F with your baking sheet in the oven <--this is the key step! Get your baking sheet nice and hot!
- Brush (all sides of the) salmon with oil, and season with salt & pepper, or one of these 7 Spice Blends.
- Once the oven is at temperature, carefully remove the pan and transfer to the hot pan skin side down.
- Place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 250°F.
- Cook for 12 minutes (for 5-6 oz fillets; pictured above).
This method really helps seal in the juices by exposing the salmon to high heat right off the bat. It really does produce the JUICIEST and most tender results.
- this method works best for thicker fillets from the middle of the salmon (1-3 inches thick)
- if you have a thin tail portion (1 ½ inches or thinner), I would use the pan-frying method (see below!)
- use a good quality sheet pan like this one that will hold and conduct the heat evenly
- you may wish to also brush a little olive oil on the pan after pre-heating but before adding the salmon, particularly if you have skin-on fillets. This helps prevent it from sticking
Pan frying salmon
This is my FAVORITE way to cook the thinner tail portions of salmon. I find roasting them in the oven is too finicky and because they are so thin, they are more prone to over-cooking.
- Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan (I use this very basic one) over medium heat.
- Season salmon with salt & pepper or one of these 7 Spice Blends.
- Place in the pan skin side down and cook for 3 minutes.
- Carefully flip and cook for another 2-4 minutes, until fish is cooked through and flakes with a fork. Cook time will depend on the size of your fillet. Smaller portions will be done close to 2 minutes, whereas the larger one pictured above took closer to 4 minutes.
How to tell when your salmon is done
To prevent salmon from overcooking, it's important to set a timer and check on your it before your recipe says it will be ready. All ovens and pans cook differently and you do not want to overcook it!
Here are two ways to tell if it's done:
- Use a fork- gently flake the middle part of the portion with a fork. If it flakes away easily, it is ready to come out. If it is wet and doesn't want to flake, it is not ready.
- Use a thermometer- the internal temperature (at the thickest part) should say 145°F.
When in doubt, err on the side of underdone. Your salmon will continue to cook after removed from the heat for a few minutes.
How to freeze it
Fresh salmon needs to be used within 4-5 days, so we often buy a whole salmon side, cut it into portions, and freeze.
- Cut into 5 oz portions (for the thicker part), or larger 15-20 oz portions (for the thin tail sections).
- Gently place it in a freezer bag (we use these reusable silicone bags). Squeeze out as much air as possible and make sure you include the date on the bag.
- Freeze for up to 2 months. I prefer to eat within 2 months because I find the longer it's is stored in the freezer, the more the quality declines. *however salmon stored in foodsaver bags lasts forever...a year or more!
- Thaw overnight in the fridge, or at room temperature for 2-4 or hours before cooking. **due to the thickness of silicone bags, they take longer to defrost than plastic bags.
Salmon MUST be completely thawed before cooking, otherwise the outside will end up dry and the inside will end up raw.
How long do you bake salmon in the oven? This depends completely on the size and thickness of your fillets. For the 6 oz fillets pictured (about 2 inches thick in the middle), I like cooking in the oven for 12 minutes exactly using the 450°F/reduce temp when pan goes in method. For smaller fillets, 4-5 oz, I'd start checking at 8 minutes. Err on the side of underdone because the salmon will keep cooking for a few minutes after removing from the oven.
Which side do you cook first? If your salmon has skin, always place it skin side down (for both the pan and oven methods). Make sure you brush the skin with oil to help it release when you need to flip or remove from the baking sheet.
What temperature do you cook it to? If you are using an internal thermometer, cook to 145°F in the thickest part.
Can you cook salmon from frozen? I don't recommend it as it will cook unevenly and risks overcooking/drying out.
What is the white stuff that comes out of my salmon? It is albumin, a totally harmless substance that can make it look kind of unappetizing. You can leave it there or scrape it off, totally your choice! You can read more about it here.
Level up the flavors
- add a Teriyaki Glaze
- try a Balsamic Marinade
- try a simple Herb Rub
- or a simple Maple Glaze
- use a spice rub/blend such as this Homemade Moroccan Seasoning, this Easy Greek Seasoning, this Homemade Indian Spice Mix or this Brown Sugar Chili Seasoning (which is a personal favorite!)
Serve it with
- one of these 7 Easy Rice Recipes or 7 Cauliflower Rice Recipes
- one of these Broccolini 3 Ways recipes (brown butter is my fave!) or Snap Peas 3 Ways
- with Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower
- or Maple Cinnamon Roasted Butternut Squash
- or Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- with our favorite Staple Kale Salad, or this Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad
Tools & equipment
How to Cook Salmon
- 20 oz salmon fillets (1 ½-2 inches thick, cut into 5-6 oz portions)
- olive oil (for brushing)
- salt & pepper (or a seasoning blend)
- lemon (optional)
- 1 salmon tail cut (under 1 ½ inches thick, varying sizes/weights)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (plus more for brushing)
- salt & pepper (or a seasoning blend)
- lemon (optional)
- Heat oven to 450°F. Place a sheet pan or baking dish in the oven to heat up.
- Brush salmon fillets with olive oil on both sides. Season generously with salt & pepper or a seasoning blend.
- Once oven (and pan) are pre-heated, carefully remove the pan from the oven. Brush the pan with olive oil and place the salmon skin side down on the pan.
- Quickly return to the oven and reduce oven temperature to 250°F.
- Bake the salmon until it is cooked through to an internal temperature of 145°F or it flakes with a fork. Err on the side of slightly undercooked as the fish will continue to cook after removed from the oven. For 6 oz fillets, 12 minutes works well.
- Allow fish to cool for 3-5 minutes, then serve with a squeeze of lemon.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat.
- Brush salmon with more olive oil and season generously with salt & pepper or a seasoning blend.
- Place salmon skin side down in the skillet and cook for 3 minutes.
- Carefully flip the salmon and cook for another 2-4 minutes. For smaller portions, 2 minutes may suffice, whereas larger portions (like the one pictured in this post), 4 minutes may be necessary. Fish is ready when it flakes with a fork or reaches an internal temperature of 145°F.
- Remove from heat and allow salmon to cool for 3-5 minutes, then serve with a squeeze of lemon.