6.14.17

We counted and there are approximately a million reasons to love wild salmon. But according to the queen of clean, craveable cooking, Pamela Salzman, how to cook wild salmon can be narrowed down to just seven simple, drool-worthy techniques. 

Wild salmon is a super-powered source of protein full of healthy fats and essential nutrients, and is also an amazingly versatile ingredient to work with. We learn so much every time we’re in the kitchen with Pamela, but this guide on how to cook wild salmon is one of our favorite resources from the healthy pro! This collection of salmon-cooking tips and recipes comes straight from the pages of Pamela’s new book, a treasure trove of simple, healthful recipes, called Kitchen Matters that shows exactly why Salzman’s Hollywood cooking classes are so popular. 

Wild salmon is the ultimate anti-inflammatory food with its substantial stores of omega-3 fats. I am not as big a fan of farm-raised salmon though. This is a controversial topic since many experts believe that some salmon is better than no salmon. Farmed salmon is higher in contaminants than wild and when the fish are raised in pens and fed soy and food coloring, their nutritional benefits decrease. In addition, genetically modified salmon are out there, too. I would opt for wild as much as possible. Keep in mind, “Atlantic” salmon always implies farm-raised and “Alaskan” is always wild.

Wild salmon has a season, which is usually from about May to October. (If you see “fresh” wild Alaskan salmon being sold in the winter months, it is probably farm-raised). However, there is no reason to avoid eating fish if you can only find frozen/defrosted varieties available.

Here are seven different basic techniques for how to cook wild salmon. Note that wild salmon is often thinner than farm raised and will cook more quickly, so if you are using the following recipes with farm raised, you may have to add some extra time.

Slow Roasted Wild Salmon
Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

24-oz fillet of wild salmon (I normally use skin-on)
unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 250°F. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the salmon on the baking sheet and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the top of the fish lightly. You can use your hands to oil the fish. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until center of salmon is rare and starting to flake when you poke it with a paring knife. The amount of time it takes to cook the salmon perfectly depends on the temperature of the fish when you place it in the oven and the thickness of the fish.

Serve salmon warm, room temperature or cold. If you use individual fillets, adjust cook time accordingly. Six-ounce fillets will take approximately 20 minutes.

Broiled Wild Salmon

Ingredients:

24-oz fillet of wild salmon (I normally use skin-on)
unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Place oven rack 6 inches from heat source. This is usually the second level. Preheat broiler to high.

Grease a large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil. You can use a full sheet pan or two small ones if you don’t have one that will accommodate the whole side of salmon.

Arrange fish on baking sheet and brush with oil and season with salt and pepper.

Broil for 4 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of salmon, until it flakes easily when poked with a paring knife and is rare in the center.

Poached Wild Salmon
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups dry white wine
3 cups water
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 orange
1/2 lemon, sliced
1/2 orange, sliced
few sprigs of parsley
few sprigs of dill
four 5- to 6-oz fillets of wild salmon
sea salt to taste

Directions:

Place all the ingredients except salmon and salt in a deep skillet, preferably one with straight sides and a lid. (I use a 10-inch.) Bring to a simmer.

Season salmon with sea salt. Gently transfer the salmon pieces to the pan, skin side down, beginning with the thickest pieces and ending with the thinnest. Cover the skillet and simmer over low heat until the salmon is just cooked through, about 5 to 6 minutes, longer for thicker fillets. Do not boil.

Transfer the salmon by removing the thinnest piece first and the thickest piece last. Allow to cool slightly and serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate until cold.

Wild Salmon in Parchment
Serves 4

Ingredients:

four 12-inch squares of unbleached parchment paper
2 cups baby spinach leaves
four 5- to 6-oz fillets of wild salmon
4 tsp unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
8 tsp dry white wine
a few sprigs fresh thyme

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place 1/2 cup spinach leaves in the center of each piece of parchment paper. Arrange each piece of salmon on top of the spinach and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.

Top each filet with 1 teaspoon of oil, 2 teaspoons wine, and a sprig of thyme.

Bring 2 opposite sides of the parchment together and fold. Continue to fold all the way down until you reach the fish. Twist both ends of the parchment so that it looks like a hard candy wrapper. Repeat for each piece of fish. Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes based on the thickness of the salmon.

Transfer each packet to a plate and use caution when opening; the steam will be very hot! Do not cook the salmon until you are ready to eat it. When the salmon is removed from the oven but left in the parchment, it will continue to cook.

Pan-Seared Wild Salmon
Serves 4

Ingredients:

four 5- to 6-oz fillets of wild salmon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp ghee, unrefined virgin coconut oil, or unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Season the salmon with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add the ghee or oil to the pan and allow to heat up for 1 minute, until very warm, but not smoking.

Lay the salmon in the pan, seasoned side down, and cook 3 to 4 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn the fish over, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook a few minutes more, until it is almost cooked through. Do your best not to overcook the salmon. When it is done, the fish will begin to flake and separate a little, and the center will be slightly rare. The salmon will continue to cook a bit more while it sits.

If you are using a salmon that is thicker than wild sockeye, you may need to finish it off in a 350°F oven for about 6 minutes. You want the fish to get to the point where it starts to flake when prodded with the tip of a knife, but is still slightly rare in the center – it will keep cooking off the heat.

Baked Wild Salmon
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp pure grade A maple syrup
2 Tbsp shoyu, gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 garlic cloves, smashed
24-oz fillet of wild salmon

Directions:

To make marinade, mix all ingredients except salmon together in a small bowl. Place salmon in a glass or non-reactive dish just large enough to hold the fish and marinade. Pour the marinade over the fish and allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper.

Place the salmon on the baking sheet, skin side down and transfer to oven with rack positioned in the center.

Roast for 4 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of salmon, until the salmon flakes when you poke it with a pairing knife.

Grilled Wild Salmon

Ingredients:

four 5- to 6-oz fillets of wild salmon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Preheat grill until hot. Make sure grill grates are as clean as possible and then brush them with oil. This will help prevent the salmon from sticking. Drizzle each fillet with enough olive oil to coat the top of the fish lightly. You can use your hands to oil the fish. Season with sea salt and pepper.

Place the salmon on the grill skin side down and grill about 3 to 5 minutes per side depending on thickness, using a metal spatula to flip the salmon (rather than tongs). Cook until fish starts to flake but is still rare inside.

When prepared properly, salmon needs very few supporting flavors; it really shines on it’s own in the simplicity of a little bit of oil, salt and pepper. However, nothing can really strip salmon of it’s delicious flavor, texture, and nutrition faster than overcooking it.

A good rule of thumb to go by when cooking salmon is to cook it 4 to 6 minutes for every 1/2-inch of thickness. If you are using a high-heat method, such as broiling, grilled or pan-searing, you will use the less time. For moderate-heat methods, such as baking, poaching and slow-roasting, you will use the greater time.

Usually Coho and sockeye salmon won’t be any thicker than an inch at their thickest part. Alaskan king salmon, however, can be up to 2 to 3 inches thick in the center, so be conscious of the type of salmon you are using when determining cooking time.

When purchasing salmon, try to ask for a center-cut portion to ensure even thickness throughout the fillet; this will ensure that the salmon cooks evenly throughout and you won’t be left with overcooked, dried ends of thin salmon.

Another way to protect your salmon is by leaving the skin on, even if you are going to serve the salmon skinless. The skin will protect the salmon from drying out and give you a little cushion if you do overcook it for a minute or two.

Also, use your meat thermometer! If you’re really not sure if your salmon is done, you can check the internal temperature. You want the thickest part of the salmon to register at 125°F. It is also important to remember that your salmon will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat, so you need to pull it from the heat before it is completely cooked to your liking.

The salmon should also flake easily when you poke it with a pairing knife, and become opaque on the outside but still slightly translucent and rare in the center.

Due to their less active lifestyle, farm-raised salmon have much more fat and softer flesh than wild. Because of this, it is ideal to cook farm-raised fish slightly longer than wild.


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