Here’s how to make pan seared salmon! It’s an easy way to cook it up in a flash, and the pan fried salmon flavor is unbeatable.
Here’s a method every cook should know: how to make basic Pan Seared Salmon! This is one of the best ways to cook salmon in a flash because it’s fast, it’s easy, and it results in incredible flavor. In fact, we’re embarrassed to admit we’re just now learning this trick! Usually we make baked salmon, but it’s even faster pan fried: plus you get the perfect crispy crust on the salmon. For us, that’s a deal breaker! It also leaves the oven free for roasting up some veggies as a side. Ready to get started?
How to make pan seared salmon: basic steps
You can skip right to the recipe if you’re ready to get going. But let’s chat briefly about the method, because knowing why you’re doing something in the kitchen is just as important as doing it. Here’s how to make pan fried salmon:
- Brine the salmon. The first step is optional if you’re running low on time. But it makes the best crispy on the outside, moist on the inside piece of salmon without white stuff (see below). Simply place the salmon in a salt water solution for 15 minutes; this also allows the salmon to come to room temperature.
- Sear the salmon skin side up for 2 to 3 minutes. Cook it over medium high heat until it’s cooked about halfway.
- Flip and cook 2 to 5 more minutes. The timing depends on the thickness of the piece of salmon, so use your best judgement. It should be just tender and pink at the center (about 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
Best tool for pan seared salmon: a fish spatula!
A helpful tool to use for pan seared salmon is a fish spatula! We’re recent converts to this useful tool and it makes pan frying a breeze. A fish spatula is a wide slotted metal spatula that’s used to gently slide underneath fish when you’re searing it. Because it’s so wide, it’s actually useful for many more tasks outside of seafood! We love using it to flip and lift all sorts of foods, like eggplant pizzas or fries.
If you don’t have one, you can easily use any large, wide spatula. Metal is nice so that it can easily slide under the fish skin. Want to grab one for yourself? Here’s a link to our fish spatula.
How to season salmon: 4 variations
There are a few main ways we like to season pan seared salmon: though of course there are many more ideas! We generally do the basic method, but the blackened is another favorite. Here are all our favorite ways to season salmon:
- Basic pan fried salmon: Season with salt and pepper, then finish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice.
- Blackened seasoning: Make up a batch of our Blackened Seasoning, a Cajun style blend with a mild level of heat. It’s full of savory flavor and a family favorite. Go to Blackened Salmon.
- Cajun seasoning: Same idea, but with Cajun seasoning: a spicy variation! Go to Cajun Salmon.
- Magic salmon seasoning: This Salmon Seasoning really is magical: the spices are just right for the juicy, flaky salmon.
3 best sauces for pan seared salmon
You can also use a sauce to flavor pan fried salmon. It’s not necessary, but it can take this healthy fish to new heights. Here are a few ideas for sauces for salmon:
- Lemon dill sauce: Make the basic salmon and add Lemon Dill Sauce for a tangy, creamy counterpoint.
- Teriyaki glaze: Make up a batch of Homemade Teriyaki and paint it on to make teriyaki salmon.
- Bourbon glaze: This sweet and boozy Bourbon Glaze is ideal with salmon.
- Pesto: Make up this beautifully bright Pesto Salmon.
- Caper Sauce: Spoon over this lemon caper sauce to make salmon with capers.
Why to brine salmon and the “white stuff”
The brining step for salmon takes 15 minutes: so if you’re running behind, you could skip it if desired. However, it does a few things that are helpful for this fish:
- It helps the salmon come to room temperature. This helps the salmon cook through evenly. If it’s too cold, the inside might still be cold when the outside is fully cooked.
- It seasons the salmon. Brining also helps to bring flavor to the entire piece of fish.
- Best of all, it reduces the “white stuff”. Ever have white stuff rise to the surface of salmon when you cook it? It’s coagulated protein that seeps to the surface called albumin. The amount of albumin varies greatly depending on the fish, so it’s not something you can control. (Read more here.) But brining the salmon helps!
Sides to serve with pan seared salmon
Pan seared salmon is quick to whip it up, so it’s a great fast and easy dinner idea! Here are a few ideas of side dishes that are quick to cook; make them while the salmon is brining:
- Perfectly Seasoned Quinoa This quinoa is seasoned o it tastes irresistible! This recipe will convince even quinoa haters take another bite.
- Celery Salad with Apples This elegant salad is quick to put together and unique.
- Roasted Bell Peppers, Roasted Peppers and Onions, Sauteed Peppers or Sauteed Peppers & Onions The tender, sweet flavor of bell peppers is a great pairing.
- Crispy Brussels Sprouts or Brussels Sprouts with Maple Glaze These crispy and sweet sprouts would make a stunning meal.
- Best Ever Sauteed Kale Takes just a few minutes to make and is a beautiful healthy side!
- Best Ever Sauteed Mushrooms These mushrooms are stunning and have beautiful meaty flavor.
- Baked Asparagus with Parmesan Bake up a pan of asparagus while you sear the salmon: it’s very quick!
This pan seared salmon recipe is…
Pescatarian, gluten free and dairy free (using only olive oil).Print
Here’s how to make pan seared salmon! It’s an easy way to cook it up in a flash, and the pan fried flavor is unbeatable.
- 1 pound salmon fillets, skin on (wild caught if possible)
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for brining
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil for dairy free)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus one drizzle
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus a few lemon wedges
- Optional seasonings: Blackened Seasoning or Magic Salmon Seasoning
- Brine the salmon* (optional): In a large shallow dish, whisk together 4 cups room temperature water and 3 tablespoons kosher salt until dissolved. Place the salmon in the water and wait for 15 minutes.
- Pat the salmon dry with a clean towel. Rub it generously with oil and sprinkle it with the kosher salt and generous grinds of fresh ground pepper. (Optional: Use 1/2 kosher salt and season with 2 tablespoons Blackened Seasoning or Magic Salmon Seasoning.)
- Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the butter and olive oil. When butter is melted, add the salmon skin side up and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until cooked about 1/2 way to center of thick part of salmon.
- Flip the salmon (a fish spatula makes easy work of it). Tilt the pan down slightly and quickly spoon the pan juices over the top of the fish a few times. Drizzle with the lemon juice and spoon the pan juices a few times again. Cook for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness, until just tender and pink at the center (the internal temperature should be between 125 to 130 Fahrenheit in the center when removed). Remove from the heat. Spritz with juice from a few lemon wedges and serve.
*Brining is optional: it’s most important for lower quality salmon. Either way, you’ll need to bring your salmon to room temperature before cooking, so it’s just as easy to do the brining step (it helps with seasoning and moistness).
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Seafood
Keywords: Pan seared salmon, how to sear salmon, how to pan sear salmon
Last updated: January 2021
About the Authors
Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.
Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.