It’s easy to see why salmon is such a beloved seafood staple. Aside from having an amazing flavour profile, this popular fatty fish is also a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and vitamins A, C and E. This heart-friendly seafood favourite is also versatile and can be cooked in a myriad of ways. Whether it’s pan-fried, baked, grilled, broiled, smoked, steamed, poached, or whipped into dips—salmon always hits the spot regardless of how it’s prepared—but, we’ll get to that in detail in a bit.
Types of Salmon
Generally, there are two types of salmon—Atlantic and Pacific. Atlantic salmon is farm-raised, while Pacific salmon is caught from the wild. There are different species of salmon sold commercially, but the most common ones that you see in the market are chinook, sockeye, coho, and pink.
Farm-Raised vs. Wild Caught
Wild-caught salmon is leaner and healthier than its farm-raised counterparts. However, salmon raised in a controlled environment isn’t necessarily bad for you. The fact that more than half of the salmon sold worldwide are harvested from aquacultures already says a lot. Whether you should buy farm-raised salmon or not all boils down to where you’re buying it and how strict their sourcing standards are. But of course, if given a choice, it’s still best to choose wild salmon over farmed.
Tips for Buying Salmon
Depending on the size of the fish, salmon can be sold whole, in steaks, and in fillets. When buying salmon or any seafood for that matter, freshness is the most critical factor.
Fresh salmon should never have a strong “fishy” odour. Its flesh should be bright and not discoloured along the edges. Its skin should be firm with no trace of slime, and the eyes should not be cloudy or sunken in.
However, don’t assume that fresh is always better than frozen fish. Majority of frozen salmon sold in the market has been flash-frozen to preserve its freshness. Advancements in vacuum-packing technology have also improved the quality of frozen fish. So, you don’t have to be afraid of the frozen stuff as long as you trust the source.
Ways to Cook Salmon
1. Oven-Baked Salmon
Baking is one of the easiest and crazy-fast ways to cook salmon. This cooking method yields the least mess, and not to mention, won’t make your entire house smell like a fish and chips joint. However, baking salmon tends to dry the fish out, so don’t wander too far from the oven while it’s cooking. Baking it around 4-6 minutes per half-inch of thickness will yield a perfectly moist and flavourful fish. Once the fish starts to flake easily with a fork and the flesh looks a bit opaque, then it’s time to get it out of the oven.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can also bake your salmon en papillote, which is a French term for in a parchment paper packet. This classic cooking technique involves wrapping food in individual packages of parchment paper or aluminum foil and baking them in an oven. As the salmon cooks in its own steam, the flavours inside intensifies and gives you a perfectly cooked dish infused with all the herbs and other flavourings added in the packet. Cooking salmon in a parchment paper is as dummy-proof as it gets. It’s incredibly easy and adds a touch of flair to an otherwise plain dinner.
2. Pan-Fried Salmon
Pan-frying or pan-searing is a terrific way to cook salmon fillets. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s straightforward to do. Perfect pan-fried salmon should have crisp skin and moist and tender flesh. To achieve this, you should cook the salmon with the skin side down to prevent exposing the delicate flesh from the direct heat of the pan. Once it’s about 90% cooked, all it needs is a quick kiss of heat on the other side before taking it out of the pan.
When pan-frying salmon, make sure to pat the salmon dry with a paper towel to prevent its skin from sticking to the pan. It’s also important to start with a hot pan, as moisture left on the surface of the fish can quickly bring the temperature down. If you place a salmon fillet on a pan that is not hot enough, it will be impossible to flip it without tearing up its skin.
Salmon skin also tends to curl, which can make the fish cook unevenly. So as soon as the salmon hits the pan, gently press it for a couple of seconds to retain its shape. Once it’s cooked, transfer the salmon in a plate lined with a paper towel to drain off any excess oil. Rest it for a couple of minutes before serving to allow the juices to redistribute.
3. Grilled Salmon
Grilling is one of the easiest and healthiest ways to cook salmon. It imparts a smoky flavour to your salmon fillets, which can instantly transport your taste buds to a summertime backyard barbecue cookout. The best cuts of salmon for grilling are fillets and steaks with its skin intact. The skin helps hold the fish together and prevents it from sticking on the grill.
When grilling salmon, it’s advisable, although not necessary, to marinate the fish beforehand to help keep it moist as it cooks. Your grill should also be preheated to medium-high before placing the salmon. The salmon will release itself from the grill when it’s ready, so there’s no need to poke and peek on the other side constantly. Doing so will only make the fish stick to the grill even more.
An inch-thick salmon will cook in about 6-10 minutes. By 6 minutes it will still be a little pink in the middle, but after 10 minutes, it will be cooked all the way through. Once white beads start to appear on the surface of the fish, that means you’re overcooking it already. Salmon can be easily overcooked, so it’s important to keep a close eye on the grill and be watchful of your cooking times.
4. Poached Salmon
Poaching is a fat-free method of cooking salmon. It involves simmering salmon fillets in water and acid-base seasoned with a pinch of salt, pepper, and maybe an aromatic vegetable or two. The secret to a perfectly poached salmon is keeping the temperature just below boiling point all throughout the cooking process. Keeping it low and slow is the key to poaching perfection.
Cold-Start Poaching Method
To poach salmon using the cold-start method, add the fish while the water is still cold and gradually crank up the heat to cook it to your desired doneness. High heat can cause the delicate proteins of the salmon to toughen, that’s why slowly introducing heat until the broth reaches 170F ensures a tender and flavourful fish that is not overcooked.
5. Broiled Salmon
Broiling is another foolproof and crazy-fast way to cook salmon. When broiling salmon, the goal is to sear the outside of the fish quickly before the heat can fully penetrate and dry out the inside.
To make a perfectly broiled salmon, crank up your broiler temperature to high and preheat it for about 10 minutes. Once it’s preheated, you can place your seasoned salmon in and wait for another 6-10 minutes or so for it to cook. Keep in mind that all broilers are not created equally, so it’s important to keep a close eye on it to avoid burning your fish.