8 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Cooking Salmon
Salmon is a beautiful pink fatty fish that is incredibly versatile. It tastes amazing when grilled, made into a burger patty, enjoyed raw in sushi, or baked to warm and flaky perfection. Salmon is also a super healthy food, as it's high in omega-3 fatty acids to boost satiety, lower inflammation, and keep your heart and brain healthy.
While salmon is a great choice for healthy weeknight meals, it's possible to mess up that fillet by making a few errors when cooking it. Watch out for these common mishaps you might be making when you're whipping up a delicious salmon dish for your family.
Removing the Skin
Keep that black skin on! "There are good reasons salmon is often sold with the skin still on — it helps with even cooking, it prevents the fish from falling apart, and adds loads of flavor," says Sofia Norton, RD. Because no one likes soggy salmon skin or skin sticking to the pan, a lot of people still choose to remove it, but they're sacrificing flavor and texture. "The only time you'd really want to do that is when poaching salmon. Otherwise, with any other cooking method, be it baking, frying, searing, or grilling, leave the skin on as it will serve as a barrier that helps with even cooking and will add extra flavor to your salmon dish," says Norton.
Cooking Fillets Skin-Side Up
Salmon fillets are best cooked starting with the skin-side down. This prevents over-browning the meat, which can make it dry and pretty unappealing to look at on the plate. "When pan-frying or grilling, cook salmon fillets skin-side down for 5-7 minutes, flip and cook for another 2-3 minutes," says Norton. "You should also cook it skin-side down with other cooking methods, including baking."
Leaving salmon on the heat for too long will make it overdone, and it won't be very appetizing. "Overcooking salmon will leave you with a meal that's dry, overly fishy tasting, and with an unpleasant liquid oozing out," says Norton.
The ideal cooking time for salmon varies depending on the size of the cut and cooking method. What you should aim for is medium-rare doneness, advises Norton. One way to check if your cut of salmon is done is by checking the internal temperature, which should be 145 F. The center should be a bit firmer than when the salmon is raw and it should be a dark orange hue inside. As a general rule, salmon takes 10-15 minutes to fully cook on average.
Picking the Wrong Salmon
The wrong salmon can lead to a smelly kitchen and poor flavor, so make sure you are choosing top quality. "Your best option is to choose organic, responsibly raised fish—that could be fresh or frozen, fillet or steak, or from the belly of the fish," says Alex Lewis, RDN. Make sure they are relatively the same size (so they cook evenly), don't have a sour or overly fishy smell to them, and are vibrantly bright in color. Norton advises going with fresh whenever possible. "A fresh cut of salmon should be stored in ice, shiny, and smell like the sea (not fishy)," she says.
If using frozen salmon due to convenience or availability, do not thaw it. Rinse the frozen fillet under cold water, remove any ice crystals, pat it dry, and cook as you normally would. "Another option is to cook it breaded since the breading helps it retain more moisture," Norton says. And if you accidentally bought an older, sub-par cut, marinate it with lots of spices and serve it with a sauce to make it tastier.
Not Removing Bones
Frozen fillets and even salmon fillets sold at the fish market are often deboned, but sometimes they're not. "It's always a good idea to check before cooking. And when it comes to salmon steak, you'll always need to debone those at home," says Norton. Pin bones are thin bones found in the lateral lines of salmon fillets. Remove them with tweezers or the tip of a sharp knife. Better yet, ask the fishmonger to remove them for you!
Picking the Wrong Pan
Fish skin is sticky, but a crucial element for flavor. So, it's important to pick a pan that will allow the skin to transfer to your plate rather than get stuck on the pan — a non-stick pan will serve you best here, says Lewis. This will make it easier to cook, flip, and maintain the texture of the fish.
Have you ever had a coworker microwave salmon at work? If so then you know why you should avoid this, it can get pretty smelly. "Instead, enjoy leftover salmon cold on top of a salad or sandwiches," says Lewis. This will still taste great, since salmon can be equally delicious when chilled.