How to Pan-Sear Salmon

The best way to ensure restaurant-worthy crispy skin and creamy flesh.

Pan-seared salmon with crispy skin is one of my favorite treats. It's fancy enough to feel like you're eating at a high-end restaurant, but quick enough to prepare after a busy day of work. The creamy flesh and crispy skin are truly indulgent and once you see how easy it is to make, you may just become addicted. I speak from experience.

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1 Pick your salmon

The quality of your salmon is priority number one. If you begin with sub-par fish, you'll end up with a sub-par dish. Choose fresh—not pre-frozen—salmon, which has clear, slightly translucent flesh with a bit of a sheen. Steer clear of fish that is dull or dry with brown edges, or which smells fishy. The color of salmon varies from species to species, so deep color is not always an indicator of quality.


2 Remove the scales

Skin-on salmon is the best for pan-frying. The skin not only turns into a deliciously crispy crust, but the thin layer of fat between the skin and flesh acts as insulation that prevents the salmon from over-cooking and drying out. Some fish counters will remove the scales from the skin before sale, but if your fish still has them, a quick scrape against the grain with the blade of a chef's knife will make them pop right off.

3 Dry and season

After removing the scales, give the salmon a quick rinse to remove any leftover scales. Dry the salmon very well with a paper towel. Wet fish won't crisp or hold seasoning, so it's very important to dry well. Cut the filet into three- to four-ounce portions and season with salt and pepper.

4 Fry the skin-side

Choose a skillet with a thick, heavy construction to prevent uneven heating. Cast iron is my skillet of choice for this job because it not only heats evenly, but offers a naturally non-stick metal surface that is excellent for searing. You'll get a great crispy crunch without fear of the skin getting stuck behind.

Add a couple tablespoons of a high-smoke point oil—like vegetable or canola—to the skillet and heat over a medium-high flame until it glistens. Add the fish, skin side down, then turn the heat down to medium low. The initial high heat will sear the skin, while the lower temperature will allow the fish to cook through without drying out. Allow the fish to cook undisturbed on the skin side for about five minutes, or until the fish is about 75% cooked through (cooking time will depend on the thickness of your filet).


5 Kiss the flesh side

Once the fish has cooked most of the way through, flip it over to quickly sear the flesh side. The flesh side has no skin or fat to insulate it from the hot skillet, so you want to just give it a quick kiss from the heat to cook the remaining 25% without giving it the chance to dry out (about 30 seconds to one minute).

6 Serve and enjoy

The result? A perfectly moist filet of salmon with gorgeously crispy and crunchy skin. The inside of the filet should appear soft, moist, and may be ever so slightly translucent in the center. If the fish appears dry, chalky, or it is separating along the grain, the salmon has been over-cooked. If you over-cooked the first time, keep trying! Once you get the timing down it's effortless.

About Budget Bytes

Beth from Budget Bytes is a food lover and a number cruncher who dishes up  healthy recipes on her blog that won't put a huge dent in your wallet. She is the author of the cookbook, Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half, and she also works as a microbiologist in a hospital laboratory. Follow her on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.