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Your guide to a quick and easy pan-seared salmon
May 29, 2016, 11:03 am

When it comes to simple, quick-cooking weeknight meals, pan-seared salmon could be your savior. This foolproof technique delivers a perfect medium-cooked fillet that is tender and flaky with deliciously crispy skin. Read the given instructions carefully to make sure you get your delicious salmon right.

Buying the Salmon

When cooking salmon in the oven or grill, one large piece of fish works well. But when pan-searing on the stovetop, opt for individual fillets. If you are buying multiple fillets, ask your fishmonger to portion them for you.

The best pan for the job

A large stainless steel or cast iron skillet when cooking pan-seared salmon should be your best option. Make sure it is a pan that is large and wide enough to accommodate the fillets without overcrowding. And because the best results happen when the fish is cooked on a hot surface, it is best to skip the nonstick cookware this time around.

The three rules for crispy skin

The best part of a pan-seared salmon is the skin. When cooked any other way, fish skin can be unappetizing to many. But when a fillet is perfectly pan-seared, it is a guaranteed success. Follow these three rules and you will be rewarded with perfectly crispy skin.

Always start with room-temperature fillets: Cold salmon fillets pulled straight from the fridge are not a friend of a screaming hot pan. When cold fish is added to a hot pan, the fillets will immediately seize up and are more likely to cook unevenly. Instead, remove the fish from the refrigerator about 15 to 20 minutes before you are ready to start cooking, in order to bring them up to room temperature.

Make sure the fillets are dry: 

Before adding the salmon fillets to the pan, use a paper towel or a clean dish towel to pat each one dry. Moist fillets are more likely to stick to the pan.  

  • Season the salmon: Just before adding the salmon to the skillet, season with salt.
  • Use a really hot pan: Keep the flame around medium to medium-high. Pour one table spoon vegetable oil to the pan and wait for it to heat up.  

  • Always start with skin side down: Start your process by adding the fish to the pan skin-side down. The skin is tough and durable, and can withstand more time on the hot surface of the pan without overcooking.

Trust and wait

This is the hardest part of cooking pan-seared salmon. Once the fish hits the pan, step away and wait. You might be tempted to lift the fish or move it around the pan to see how it is coming along, but avoid touching or poking.

Trust what you see

When pan-searing, the bulk of the cooking takes place while the salmon is skin-side down. After a few minutes, you will start to notice the color of the fillet slowly begin to change. Starting from the bottom, where the skin touches the pan, and working its way upward along the sides, you will see the flesh lighten from deep, dark pink to a much more pale color.

This change in the color of the flesh will act as your indicator for how the cooking process is progressing. Once the color change has moved up about three-quarters of the way from the bottom, it is time to flip. Since the bulk of cooking has already happened, the salmon will cook for a few more minutes after flipping it flesh-side down.

Remove from the pan: Use a fish spatula to remove the fillets from the pan, and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate, placing the salmon skin-side down.

Serving: Rest the fillets for about three minutes before serving.

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