How to Cook Salmon: 4 Simple Methods

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Salmon is one of those everyday ingredients that somehow sneaks to the top of every healthy foods list. What makes it so super? It’s a great source of protein, and it’s exceptionally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to promote heart health and reduce inflammation. Whether you’re a competitive athlete or at risk for diabetes, it’s worth getting more on your plate. Plus, all of those healthy fats make it distinctively textured and fork tender. Especially in the spring, salmon is a delicious partner for bright green herbs and tender-crisp veggies.

Why You Should Heart Fatty Fish

Salmon isn’t the only fatty swimmer in the sea. Other cold-water fish, like mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna offer similar benefits. Worried about mercury? The benefits outweigh the risks. Salmon is lower on the food chain than tuna, which means it collects fewer toxins, but it’s worth munching almost all types of fish in moderation (exceptions: shark and swordfish are worth avoiding). The American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week.

Making salmon for dinner tonight is a delicious way to start. Whether you sear, roast, or simmer, there’s more than one way to flip a fillet.

How to Cook Salmon on the Stove

Seared Salmon with Capers & Dill: A quick stint in a hot pan creates the crispiest edges. Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C). In a large ovenproof sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle a salmon fillet with salt, pepper, and paprika. When the oil is hot, add the salmon, flesh side down. It should sizzle on impact. Cook, without moving, until the salmon is golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the salmon, transfer the pan to the oven, and cook until the salmon is nearly firm to the touch and flakes easily when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes longer, depending on the size and thickness of the fillet. Serve warm, with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of chopped capers and fresh dill.

How to Cook Salmon in the Oven

Roast Salmon with Mustard & Brown Sugar: Popping salmon in the oven is ultra easy, and what you lose in crispy sear, you can make up for with a sticky-sweet glaze. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Line a baking sheet with foil, and add a salmon fillet, skin side down. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, mix together a high-quality spicy mustard (Dijon or country style) and brown sugar, and brush over the top of the salmon. Roast in the top third of the oven until the salmon is nearly firm to the touch and flakes easily when pierced with a fork, about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the fillet. You can crank up the broiler for the last minute or two of cooking, if you like, but watch to make sure the glaze doesn’t burn.

How to Cook Salmon in a Slow Cooker

Slow Cooker Salmon with Yogurt & Parsley: If slow cookers make you think of meaty stews, you haven’t experienced succulent, long-simmered salmon. Line the slow cooker with foil or parchment paper (to make it easier to pull out tender fish at the end). Place a salmon fillet on top of the foil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour in stock and dry white wine to almost cover the salmon. Add aromatic vegetables, if you like, such as onion, celery, and carrot, and a bay leaf or a few sprigs of thyme. Cook on low until the salmon is nearly firm to the touch and flakes easily when pierced with a fork, about an hour, depending on the size and thickness of the fillet. Discard the aromatics and herbs. Serve the salmon warm or at room temperature, with a dollop of Greek yogurt, laced with a small clove of crushed garlic and a big handful of chopped fresh parsley.

How to Cook Salmon on the Grill

Grilled Salmon with Miso & Ginger: For big flavor, sizzle salmon over fire and smoke. In a small bowl, mix together equal parts sake and mirin, a couple of spoonfuls of miso paste, and a spoonful of grated fresh ginger. You can use a salmon fillet, or cut into pieces to thread onto skewers. Place the salmon in a zippered plastic bag, pour the miso mixture over, tightly seal, and massage to coat. Return to the fridge and let marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour or two. While the salmon is marinating, preheat a grill to medium-high heat and generously oil the grill rack. When the grill is hot, add the salmon, flesh side down. It should sizzle on impact. Cook, without moving, until the salmon has dark grill marks, about 5 minutes. Turn the salmon and cook until until it’s nearly firm to the touch and flakes easily when pierced with a fork, about 5 to 10 minutes longer, depending on the size and thickness of the fillet. Serve warm, sprinkled with sliced green onions and sesame seeds.

Before you buy: When you step up to the fish counter, keep in mind that not all salmon is the same. Fish is a natural product, and it varies by breed, region, and how it was raised. If you have room in your grocery budget, wild salmon is generally more nutritious and flavorful. Farmed isn’t all bad, it just depends on practices. To make the best choice, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. If you live in California, sadly, you can expect to see more out-of-state salmon this fall due to the drought.

Which Type of Salmon Is King?

Chinook or king salmon lives up to its name, with big, thick, lusciously marbled fillets. Wild costs a little more, but there are many farmed options, both good and bad.

Sockeye or red, the iconic wild salmon of Alaska, has the darkest color and most distinctive flavor.

Coho or silver is the leanest and meanest, with slim, firm fillets. If you’re shopping for wild, it’s an affordable option.

Humpback (or pink) and chum (or dog) are lesser varieties, used for smoking and canning.

Atlantic salmon is an endangered species. What you see at the grocery store is usually farmed. The worst is pale and bland, has high impact on the environment, and is often inhumanely raised.     

Steelhead and Arctic char aren’t salmon at all, but they’re similar, and too delicious to miss. Steelhead has pale pink flesh and a clean trout flavor. Arctic char comes from icy waters, so it’s extra fatty—in a good way!

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