When it’s wild-caught, salmon is one of the healthiest foods on the planet! On top of the exquisite taste and simplicity of preparation, this fish is also highly nutritious. Salmon is extremely versatile – it can be baked, fried, smoked, or poached; it can be shaped into salmon patties and cakes or added to salads and combined with a variety of sauces… Salmon is truly a multi-talented fish.
This post covers everything from quick weeknight salmon recipes to more lavish special occasion varieties. We will talk about which types and cuts of salmon are the best to buy, the basic kitchenware you need, as well as different methods of preparation. But first, let’s talk about salmon’s nutritive values.
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With its high content of omega-3, vitamins, and minerals, this fish helps in preventing a number of diseases and conditions.
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to various diseases like cancer. Due to the high content of vitamin D, salmon is credited for keeping the entire body in good health. However, the real star of the nutritive show are the omega-3 fatty acids.
The omega-3 fats are known for their anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems like hypertension and stroke.
Omega-3s, in conjunction with vitamins A, D, and selenium also found in salmon, are also credited with increased cognitive functions (memory and focus), and prevention of age-related nervous system damage like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In addition, these nutrients also help maintain strong bones.
Omega-3 fats are also believed to decrease the risk of eye problems such as glaucoma and are also important for eye development in small children.
These healthy fats, in combination with the antioxidants found in salmon, reduce oxidative damage which may lead to premature aging, making the skin healthy and glowing.
Finally, omega-3s have been shown to prevent and even kill various types of tumors, making salmon a real superfood!
Choosing the Best Salmon
Before we get into the secrets for cooking delicious salmon, we should first make sure we’ve selected high-quality meat. As mentioned before, only wild-caught salmon can be considered good for you. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, can be highly toxic and contaminated with dioxins and mercury among other things. That is why it should be avoided at all times.
Our research has shown that the best salmon on the market is the true Alaskan wild-caught salmon. It is one of the least contaminated species, along with Southeast Alaskan chum, coho, sockeye, Kodiak, and chinook.
How to choose the best salmon? To make sure you always get a fresh fish, shop at the fishmonger’s instead of in the supermarkets. The fish should have even coloring, without any dark spots, firm flesh, and clear eyes. It should also smell fresh (let’s say not too fishy) and contain no slime in the gills.
It is best to eat fresh salmon immediately but if you don’t, it can safely stay in the fridge provided it is properly stored. Wrap the fish tightly in plastic wrap and keep it in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
Salmon can keep for six months in the freezer. When ready to use, take it out and leave it in the fridge overnight. Do not leave it at room temperature because bacteria can easily develop.
If you are in a rush, immerse the salmon in water (cool, not hot) and leave it for 1-2 hours.
Different Cuts of Salmon
Different cuts mean different manners of preparation, but also different purposes. You can choose from fillets, steaks, and sides.
The most widely used cuts of salmon are the fillets. This is mainly due to the fact that fillets can be cooked using almost all cooking techniques. In addition, the it is very easy to remove the pin bone from fillets.
When buying fillets, you can choose ones with or without skin. Generally, skin-on filets are great for frying because they get a crispy surface, whereas skinless filets are perfect for poaching.
Steaks are ideal for pan-searing, grilling, broiling, and baking. Choose thicker steaks as they remain juicy after cooking. Serve them with the bones and skin removed.
A side of salmon is actually the piece from which fillets are cut. This one is perfect for feeding a crowd. It can be roasted, grilled, poached, or broiled.
As far as purpose is concerned, the general rule is: fillets and steaks are great for quick family meals, while a whole side of salmon is suitable for special-occasion meals which involve a larger number of people.
Essential Kitchenware for Cooking Salmon
Cooking salmon is not difficult, especially if you have the right tools in the kitchen. Here is what you need:
Small pliers for removing pin bones.
A cast iron pan for searing fillets but also for cooking them in the oven. If you are buying a nonstick pan, make sure it is also suitable to use in the oven as well. For broiling and roasting, the best choice is a reinforced sheet pan.
Parchment paper or aluminum foil are indispensable when baking the salmon. They can be used for wrapping fillets or lining the pans to prevent sticking and make cleaning much easier.
For grilling, consider investing in a grill basket for the fish. It will allow you to cook several pieces of fish at the same time, thus simplifying the whole process.
Large spatula for lifting, turning and transferring the fish.
Salmon Cooking Techniques
There are several ways to cook salmon but no matter which one you decide to go with, first you need to remove the pin bones found in fillets and steaks. This is optional but certainly makes the cut look better and, what’s more important, easier to eat.
Pin bones are flexible bones (about an inch long) positioned vertically in the center of the filet. To remove the pin bone, lay the salmon fillet on a board skin side down. Locate the ridge of bones with your fingers. Using the pliers, grab the bone’s tip and pull it out.
#1 Grilled Salmon
We choose to begin with grilling for two reasons:
- First, it is summer and grilled salmon is perfect for hot days (although, not exclusively J);
- Secondly, grilling is very quick and simple, with minimum mess, which allows for easy cleanup.
Not to mention the amazing earthy & smoky flavor!
You can grill fillets, steaks, and even a whole salmon (if you have a big enough grill). If you decide to grill fillets, make sure they have the skin on and cook the skin side first. We find the steaks to be the best for grilling because they are easiest to turn.
Charcoal grills are a perfect choice. Make sure the coals are hot before placing the fish (slightly oiled) on the grill. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn with a spatula (if the meat is sticking to the grate, leave it for another minute or so). Cook the other side for another 5 minutes.
Grilled salmon recipes:
#2 Oven Cooked Salmon
We bet your first thought was ‘baked salmon’. But your oven can do so much more than baked salmon. Here is why we love cooking salmon in the oven:
– Oven-cooking works for all salmon cuts;
– Requires minimum attention, allowing you to prepare the rest of the meal. All you need to do is watch the time.
To make baked salmon, all you need to do is season the fish with some salt and pepper, then place it skin-side down in a lightly greased sheet pan or baking dish. Bake for about 10-15 minutes at 400 degrees F without turning it over!
If you have more time and patience, you can further improve the salmon’s flavor by pan-searing it first. Start by sizzling the fish in some butter or olive oil, skin-side down, in an oven-proof skillet for about 3 minutes. Then, transfer the skillet together with the fish in an oven heated to medium-low heat and cook for about 20 minutes. Finally, return it to the stovetop for another three minutes at high heat to make it crispy!
Baked salmon recipes:
Salmon En Papillote
En papillote means wrapped in aluminum foil or parchment paper. Just place the fillet, followed by a layer of seasoning and lemon slices (alternatively, you can add lemon juice or vegetables). Fold, place on a sheet pan, and bake at 400 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes. The fish is done when the packages are puffed.
Place the seasoned salmon on a sheet pan and set the oven to a broil. Position the fish onto the top rack of the oven under the broiler and cook for about three minutes. If you like your salmon well done, turn the oven off at this point and leave it inside for 3-4 minutes more.
Broiled salmon recipes:
#3 Stovetop Cooked Salmon
Cooking on the stovetop requires more of your attention but it sure produces a super-tasty meal.
Pan-frying the salmon produces the crispiest skin you can imagine! All you need to do is season the fish with some salt and pepper and cook in some olive oil or butter over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Use a spatula to flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Add some lemon juice and serve!
Pan-fried salmon recipes:
If you’re looking for a healthier, low-fat option, poaching is the best choice for you. This method of preparation is best when you plan to combine salmon with sauces or make salmon patties and salads.
Fill a sauté pan with water (just enough to cover the fillets) and place the salmon. Add some salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf (if you wish, you can also add onion slices and other herbs to taste). Bring the water to a simmer, then lower the heat. Cover the pan and cook for about half an hour.
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When is the Salmon Done?
The best way to check if your salmon is done is to insert a knife into the thickest part and check the color. If the meat is reddish-orange, the fish is rare, whereas pale pink means the meat is medium.