Pan Seared Salmon used to scare the pants off of me. Surely only a restaurant with its special equipment and professional staff could pull off that crispy outside and flakey inside I adored.
Hence my surprise when an old roommate (who from my every memory could barely microwave her way out of a popcorn bag) invited me over for dinner and served pan fried salmon.
I lifted my fork, steadied my face to disguise any negative reaction, took a bite, and oh my goodness what is this delicious fish?
As with many dishes that intimated me in the past—namely anything stuffed (Stuffed Salmon, Stuffed Chicken Breast), grilled (Grilled Salmon in Foil), or involving proteins I *thought* were fancy (Red Wine Braised Short Ribs)—pan seared salmon is shockingly straightforward to make and the results are superb.
My friend (who to her credit had clearly upped her kitchen game since we lived together) walked me through how to sear salmon, and it’s been one of my favorite quick and easy meals to cook for weeknight dinner—and to impress guests of my own ever since.
With a few easy pointers, all of which I have included for you below, you will wow with this pan seared salmon recipe!
How to Make The Best Pan Seared Salmon
Making pan fried salmon that you can proudly declare better than a restaurant comes down to a few rules.
Use the Right Equipment
- The best pan for salmon is one with a heavy bottom that you can heat to a high temperature and that conducts heat evenly. I have the best luck with stainless steel (this pan is the holy grail) and cast iron. Nonstick can work too, but it’s not my favorite for searing or pan frying, as it doesn’t get the surface of the fish *as* crisp.
- GET A FISH SPATULA. This long, flexible spatula is the one I use more than any other, and it is useful for so much more than fish. From turning roasted vegetables, to flipping eggs and pancakes, to getting that perfect flip on your fillet, a fish spatula with its wide surface area is indispensable.
Use Salmon WITH the Skin On
- Keeping the skin on salmon makes it easier to flip, as the salmon is less likely to fall apart.
- The skin insulates the salmon and makes it more difficult to overcook.
- You can eat salmon skin. It’s not my thing, but if you are a fan of crispy salmon skin, or just want the nutritional benefits (which are similar to the flesh of the salmon), you do you.
Let the Salmon Come to Room Temperature
- This rule applies to just about any seared protein. Letting the salmon come to room temperature ensures that the insides finish cooking at the same time the outside is crisp so that you do not overcook the fish waiting for its center to come to temperature.
- A minimum of 10 minutes before you’d like to cook the salmon, remove it from the refrigerator.
Pat It Dry
- Water is the enemy of well-seared salmon. Be sure to pat the fillets dry with paper towels before adding them to the pan.
Season the Fish Immediately Before Cooking
- Salt will draw moisture out of the fish. To help it stay dry (per the tip above), wait to season it until just before you add it to the pan.
Wait to Add the Salmon Until the Pan is HOT
- If you add the salmon when the pan is too cool, you won’t achieve a good sear.
- We are going for medium-high heat. Depending upon your stove, it can take several minutes for your pan to heat up. You know your pan is ready for searing when a drop of water dances and sizzles on the surface. Be sure to give the oil time to heat up too.
Lower the salmon down into the pan AWAY from you. This will keep the oil from splattering on you.
Sear the Flesh Side First
- Which side of salmon to sear first is a topic of debate. Lovers of crispy salmon skin swear the skin-side should be seared first. When cooked this way, the salmon is served with the crispy skin on top.
- Personally, I prefer to sear the flesh side of the salmon first and serve the salmon with the skin on the bottom. It makes the fillet deliciously crisp on top and gives the salmon a beautiful presentation.
Add a Bit of Butter
- Just 1 tablespoon gives the salmon unmistakable richness that’s reminiscent of a restaurant. It’s worth it!
- For the best sear, do not disturb the salmon while it cooks on each side. It’s tempting to peek, but you won’t get that crispy exterior.
- When the salmon is done cooking, it will release easily from the pan. If it’s sticking, chances are it needs another minute or so.
This pan seared salmon is easy to make for two or four. If you’d like to serve a larger crowd, I recommend cooking a full side of salmon. Try this Baked Salmon in Foil for an easy technique.
- Salmon. Rich in omega-3s, lean protein, and vitamins, salmon is a delicious and highly nutritious fish. It’s beloved in our kitchen for its mild flavor and versatility.
- Salt + Pepper. A seared fish necessity.
- Butter + Oil. Butter makes everything better, and the oil is key for helping create the crispy exterior. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke-point like canola, grapeseed, or avocado oil.
- Lemon. A finishing squeeze of lemon juice adds freshness and brightness.
- Let the salmon come to room temperature. Pat dry the fillets.
- Melt the butter and oil in a skillet.
- Season the flesh side of the salmon fillets, then lay them skin-side up in the skillet. Sprinkle a little salt on the skin side.
- Cook over medium-high heat for 5 to 6 minutes.
- Flip the salmon. Cook for 2 to 4 more minutes over medium heat.
- Let rest, then finish with a squeeze of lemon juice. ENJOY!
Pair this pan seared salmon with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé, or Pinot Noir.
- To Store. Refrigerate salmon in an airtight storage container for up to 2 days.
- To Reheat. Very gently rewarm leftovers in a skillet over medium-low heat. Personally, I prefer to serve the salmon slightly chilled or at room temperature over a salad or on toast, rather than reheat it.
What to Serve with Pan Seared Salmon
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
The Best Cast Iron Skillet
Cast iron skillets are wonderful for recipes that require high heat. They can also transfer seamlessly from stovetop to oven.
Let’s all make pan seared salmon for dinner tonight! It’s easy and has the power to improve any evening. Promise!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you need to make this pan seared salmon recipe without dairy, you can omit the butter. Use an additional tablespoon of the oil instead.
While these pan seared salmon fillets are delicious on their own, you can add a sauce or salsa for extra flavor. Try a garlic butter sauce, the avocado salsa from this Whole30 Salmon, or the teriyaki sauce from this Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry.
Good substitutes for salmon are another firm, meaty fish, such as halibut, cod, or hake. Note that you may need to adjust the cooking times.
(If you’re hoping to make a cod recipe, don’t miss my Grilled Cod, Pan Fried Cod, Baked Cod, or Fish En Papillote.)
- 4 (6- to 8-ounce) salmon fillets skin on
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus a few extra pinches
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 tablespoon canola, grapeseed, avocado, or another high smoke-point cooking oil
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- Chopped fresh parsley or basil, or dill, optional for serving
Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for at least 10 minutes. With a paper towel, pat the fillets very dry on both sides.
Heat the butter and oil in a 12-inch cast iron or heavy stainless steel skillet over medium-high heat until the butter foams and the foam subsides, about 3 minutes. It’s important the pan is VERY hot before you add the salmon, or it won’t crisp properly.
Just before adding it to the pan, season the flesh side of the salmon with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.
Carefully place the fillets in the skillet, skin-side up, lowering them down away from you to protect yourself from splatters. Sprinkle the skin side of the salmon with a pinch of kosher salt.
Let the salmon cook on the first side completely undisturbed until the flesh appears cooked about 3/4 of the way up the fillet, about 5 to 6 minutes.
With a fish spatula or similar long, wide, flexible spatula, carefully flip the fillets. They should release easily from the pan; if they are sticking, the salmon most likely isn’t ready yet. Let cook another 30 seconds or so, then try again.
Reduce the pan heat to medium. Cook the salmon on the other side for 2 to 4 minutes more, until it is done to your liking (I remove the salmon at 130 degrees for medium). Remove to a plate and let rest 5 minutes. Squeeze lemon over the top and sprinkle with herbs. Serve hot or at room temperature.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate salmon in an airtight storage container for up to 2 days.
- TO REHEAT: Very gently rewarm leftovers in a skillet over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 290kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 34gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 5gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 101mgPotassium: 873mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 162IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 29mgIron: 2mg
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