Pan-Seared Salmon

Pan-Seared Salmon

Pan-seared salmon is an excellent option for a weeknight meal. It cooks quickly, and you can use this basic cooking technique for other types of fish or give it your own spin with extra flavors and ingredients.

How to Make Pan-Seared Salmon

For this essential salmon recipe, the fish is left relatively unadorned. A high-heat oil is added to the pan, and the fillets are seasoned with salt and pepper to let the fish’s natural flavor shine. For the best results, set the salmon out for about 30 minutes before cooking so it comes to room temperature. This will help the fish cook evenly.

To sear salmon, you want a hot pan (a heavy stainless steel or carbon steel skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron pan is best), so turn on the stove a few minutes before you're ready to cook. The process takes just a few minutes per side. Start with the skin down then flip the fillets and cook until the flesh is flaky. An instant-read thermometer is helpful for determining doneness; remove the fillets from the heat at around 125 F and they'll continue to cook as they rest. Avoid overcooking because that results in dry salmon.

What Temperature Should You Cook Salmon To?

The USDA recommends that salmon be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 F. This, however, results in rather dry fish. Pulling it from the pan earlier, when the internal temperature reaches 125 F, and letting it rest is a better option. The temperature will rise a few degrees in the process and your fish will be perfectly moist.

If you need to cook the salmon to 145 F because you are cooking for someone with a compromised immune system, try to find Chinook (King) salmon. It has a higher fat content and will not dry out as readily as other salmon varieties during cooking.

Using Frozen Salmon

If you're starting with frozen salmon, thaw it on a rimmed plate on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator overnight, or in the sink in a plastic zip-top bag under cool running water. Make sure to thoroughly pat it dry before seasoning and searing.

Tips for Making Pan-Seared Salmon

  • Nonstick skillets need not apply—Do not use a nonstick skillet for this recipe. Teflon-coated pans are not designed to be used at very high temperatures. Whats more, the salmon skin will not crisp up as well in a nonstick pan.
  • Use moderate heat—This recipe cooks salmon at medium heat, which is a little lower other recipes (which often use medium-high heat). This is because fish is delicate and less prone to overcooking at more moderate temperatures. The key is to make sure the pan and oil are very hot before adding the salmon. Give it a few minutes to heat up. The oil should visibly shimmer in the pan.
  • Get a fish spatula—If you have one, use a fish spatula as it allows you to easily flip salmon without tearing the flesh. Otherwise, use a wide metal spatula.
  • Skin-side goes first—Cooking the salmon skin-side down first not only results in delicious crispy skin, but it also helps prevent overcooking. The skin acts as a barrier to the heat, allowing the flesh to cook at a lower temperature. By the time you flip the salmon, it should be almost cooked and only need a minute or two on the other side.
  • Be patient—When you go to flip the salmon, if the skin is sticking to the pan, give it another minute or so. When it is ready to be flipped the skin should release from the skillet fairly easily.
  • Enjoy the crispy skin—If you are a member of the crispy salmon skin club, serve the salmon fillets skin-side up to preserve the crispiness.

What to Serve with Pan-Seared Salmon

Serve your salmon with a green salad, a light pasta side such as pesto with linguine or a spiced rice dish, and toasted bread for a complete meal. Pan-seared salmon is also excellent served with a simple herb sauce such as mojo de cilantro, chimichurri, or schug.

“The pan-seared salmon fillets were perfectly cooked and delicious. Searing the salmon is an excellent technique if you like crispy skin, and it’s fast. Cooked to 125 F, the skin was crispy and the center of the salmon was still moist.” —Diana Rattray

Four browned salmon fillets on a serving platter with lemon wedges A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

  • Four (approximately 7-ounce) salmon fillets, skin on

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

  • 4 lemon wedges, for serving

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients to make pan-seared salmon

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels. If you have time, let the salmon sit out at room temperature for up to 30 minutes.

    A hand patting salmon with a paper towel

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Season the salmon fillets on both sides with salt and pepper.

    Pieces of salmon on a plate seasoned with salt and pepper

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. Set a large heavy skillet or cast-iron pan over medium heat and add the oil. Allow it to preheat for a few minutes until the oil starts to shimmer.

    A skillet with hot oil

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Add the salmon skin-side down, and sear for 4 to 5 minutes or until the skin is nicely browned and releases easily from the pan.

    A skillet with four pieces of salmon, skin-side down

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Flip the salmon fillets and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes or until they reach an internal temperature of 125 F.

    A pan of seared, skin-side up salmon

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  7. Transfer the salmon fillets to a serving plate and let them rest for 5 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the fillets.

    A plate of pan-seared salmon served with lemon slices

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

How to Store

Leftover salmon should be placed in an airtight container and refrigerated as soon as it cools to room temperature. You can reheat it gently in a pan or use it cold in a salad within three days.

Is salmon better baked or pan-seared?

As with any food, whether baked or pan-seared salmon is better is a matter of personal taste. Baked salmon doesn't get the crispiness and browning of the seared fish, though it does allow for extra ingredients and flavors. It's best to try a few recipes to decide which cooking method you enjoy most.

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