You can make this restaurant-quality tender pan seared salmon with crispy skin in about 15 minutes! It's easier than most people think. A few tips make all the difference, so be sure to read on.
Aside from the fact that salmon is a great Mediterranean diet ingredient, it is one of my personal favorites--delicious, packed with nutrients, and makes the perfect "fancy" dinner in a snap!
That's why, I'm always looking for new ways to make salmon, including lemon garlic baked salmon, salmon fish sticks and today's easy seared salmon recipe, which makes the perfect light dinner served on a bed of arugula or a simple lettuce salad!
What I love about pan seared salmon
In this crispy salmon recipe, it's really the simple technique of pan-frying that provides the biggest return on flavor and texture. Golden, crispy skin that is deep and delicious, and an interior that is perfectly tender and moist. So good!
Does pan searing salmon sound intimidating?
It's actually super simple! You probably sear chicken and other meats in a skillet all the time, and it’s not too much different than that. Once you learn a couple of things, crispy seared salmon is a breeze to make.
What side of salmon do you sear first?
We're essentially talking about pan fried salmon in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil.
Always place salmon in your heated skillet skin-side down first.
Once in the pan, take your spatula and press the salmon gently into the pan. This will ensure the fillet and skin do not curl up and ensure you are getting an even crispy skin. Press for about 10 seconds for each fillet, and do one at a time.
You'll actually cook your salmon skin side down about 90 percent of the way, then you'll turn it over to cook on the flesh side very briefly.
How should I season salmon?
With seared salmon, you can keep the seasoning simple relying more on pan frying to create great flavor as the skin crisps up and turns golden brown.
I used a bit of kosher salt and black pepper and a little bit of dry oregano paprika, and garlic powder (in this case I only avoided using fresh garlic because it can easily burn while frying in the hot oil).
Once the salmon is cooked, what really brings it together is a big splash of fresh lemon juice.
How to Pan Sear Salmon: Important Tips
1. Dry The Salmon Very Well
If you want super crispy, browned salmon, you must make sure you dry both sides very well with paper towels. Excess moisture will make your salmon steam instead of sear, leaving you with a soggy piece of fish.
2. Salt the fish and season RIGHT before cooking
Don’t salt the salmon and let it sit. The salt will draw out excess moisture and your salmon will no longer be dry. Instead, let your pan heat up and add kosher salt and spices to the salmon in the meantime.
3. Make Sure Skillet & Oil is Heated (you'll lower the heat later)
Managing the heat is the name of the game here. To get that extra crunch skin, first warm the olive oil in the pan until shimmering, then lower the heat just before you add the salmon. The burst of high heat will crisp the skin and render the fat, but lowering the heat helps to avoid smoking the oil and totally burning the skin.
4. Gently Add Salmon to the Heated Skillet with a Spatula Away From You
Remember, your oil is hot, so gently lay the salmon in the pan with a spatula away from you (not towards you) so you don’t get burned with hot oil.
5. Add Salmon Skin Side Down First and Press Gently
Always place salmon in your heated skillet skin-side down. Use your fish spatula and press the salmon fillets down gently for 10 seconds or so. Like I said earlier, this will help keep the skin from curling up.
6. Cook Salmon Skin side down for 90% of the Cooking Time
Cooking the salmon skin side down for most of the cooking process is key. Ensures extra crunch and the top of your salmon with the spices don’t burn.
7- Be Patient. Do not Flip the Salmon Until Skin Can Easily Release and Flesh Flakes
If you go to flip the fish and it is resisting, or the skin is sticking, don't force it. Leave for another minute or so and check again. You will know salmon is ready to turn when it releases with ease. To help you flip, use your spatula at bottom and fork at the top.
8. How Long to Cook Salmon on Each Side in Your Pan?
You will cook the salmon for about 4 minutes on the skin side down first until it is cooked most of the way through and skin releases easily. Flip it over and cook on flesh side for only another 15 seconds or so.
9. One last safety tip. Use a Splatter Screen
While salmon is cooking in your pan, keep safe and also keep your stove-top clean by using a splatter screen like this one (affiliate.)
What is the best pan for cooking fish?
In my opinion, the absolutely best pan for cooking fish, including salmon, is a cast-iron skillet. They are heavy, sturdy, and heat evenly so your fish cooks perfectly.
Cast iron is great because when it is seasoned properly and used a lot, it creates a natural non-stick surface that food won’t stick to. A seasoned cast-iron skillet develops a non-stick polymerized surface from a thin layer of oil that adheres to the pan – all the non-stick you love minus the nasty chemicals!
How can you tell when salmon is done cooking?
The best way to tell if salmon is cooked properly is to squeeze the sides on the fish. If the salmon begins to flake easily, you have just created a perfectly cooked salmon fillet! Do a little celebratory dance.
I like to eliminate any guesswork by using an instant read thermometer. Salmon is ready when it registers a minimum of 110°F (43°C) in the very center for rare, 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare, or 130°F (54°C) for medium, 5 to 7 minutes total.
Do you eat the skin on salmon?
YES! When it is delicious and crispy, you can definitely eat that skin. Most people don’t think you can or don’t want to because many cooking methods can leave skin soggy and flabby. But you will get none of that here! Crunchy skin on salmon is like eating the crunchy skin of turkey and chicken. Sinful and delicious!
Serve it with
So many ways to serve this simple pan seared salmon. To keep things light, you can just toss some arugula with a bit of citrus and extra virgin olive oil (or for something more of a step up, make this lemony arugula salad). Add a dollop of romesco sauce or tzatziki sauce on top. But here are some more ideas:
- Mediterranean orzo salad
- Mediterranean Power Lentil Salad with Spinach
- BEST Mediterranean Couscous Salad
- Moroccan Carrot Salad
Just remember, if you go for a more complex salad or side dish, make those first since the salmon is going to cook so fast. You don’t want your salmon skin to get soggy as you are finishing up your side(s).
If you have leftover cooked salmon, store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Leftover salmon is ideal for flaking cold and adding to salads the next day!
If you want to reheat, heat a pan over medium heat, put salmon in skin side down for a few minutes, flip to flesh side for 30-60 seconds, and enjoy!
Crispy Pan Seared Salmon
- Pat salmon dry on both sides and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper.
- Make seasoning mix & season salmon. In small bowl, mix together the dry oregano, garlic powder and paprika. Season the flesh side of the fish with this spice mixture.
- Sear the Salmon. In a large cast iron skillet, heat 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add one salmon fillet, skin-side down, and press the top with the back of a fish spatula for about 10 seconds (this prevents the skin from curling up.) Add the remaining salmon fillets, one at a time, pressing each with the spatula for 10 seconds. Cook for about 4 minutes. If skin resists lifting (or if it’s sticking to the pan), allow the fish to cook for a little bit longer until you are able to lift up easily (no more than 6 minutes in total). Using the spatula and a fork to assist in flipping, flip the fish to the flesh side to cook for about 15 seconds or so. ( Salmon is ready when it registers 110°F (43°C) in the very center for rare, 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare, or 130°F (54°C) for medium, 5 to 7 minutes total.)
- Remove salmon from heat and immediately add lemon juice and lemon zest.
- Make arugula salad. In a bowl, add the baby arugula. Season with salt and add juice of ½ lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine.
- Serve salmon with arugula salad (or any of the sides or salads suggested in the post). Enjoy!
- Cook's Tip #1: Remember to place salmon in the pan skin side down first, and be sure to hold spatula on top for the first 10 seconds to avoid having the fish and skin curl up.
- Cook's Tip #2: Cook the fish 90 percent of the way on skin-side, then turn over and cook for just a brief 15 seconds or so on flesh side. Salmon is ready when flesh easily flakes and its internal temperature registers 110°F (43°C) in the very center for rare, 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare, or 130°F (54°C) for medium, 5 to 7 minutes total.
- What to Serve Along? Add a dollop of Greek Tzatziki sauce. And if you want something more than arugula next to it, try Moroccan Carrot Salad or Batata Harra (spicy potatoes). More ideas in the post above this recipe card.
- Leftovers? If you have leftover cooked salmon, store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Leftover salmon is ideal for flaking cold and adding to salads the next day! If you want to reheat, heat a pan over medium heat, put salmon in skin side down for a few minutes, flip to flesh side for 30-60 seconds, and enjoy!
- Visit our Online Shop to browse our quality extra virgin olive oils and all-natural spices
*This post originally appeared on The Mediterranean Dish in 2016 and has recently been updated with new information and media for readers' benefit. Enjoy!