|Pan-seared salmon with a wedge of lemon|
This recipe is really simple. And really tasty. All you need is a cast iron skillet and some salmon, salt, and pepper. I like skin-on filets, but you can use skinless salmon filets, or salmon steaks.
Pan searing salmon with the skin on helps hold in the flavor. Also, right next to the salmon skin is gray flesh, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and tends to keep the salmon filet more tender.
The key to just about any salmon recipe is to not overcook your salmon. Salmon filets that are an inch and a half thick (3.8 cm) can go from "almost perfect" to "dry and tough" in about two minutes at stove-top skillet temperatures. Also, unless your guests are seated and all side dishes served, your salmon filets may sit around for 5-10 minutes prior to being consumed (this is where a lot of otherwise perfectly-cooked filets cook through to over-doneness).
For these reasons, while I provide rough times as guidelines, you must check your salmon filets for doneness about every 30 seconds right at the end. And if you can't drop your filets right onto plates in front of seated guests, you need to compensate by under-cooking the salmon just a little bit.
No one wants their pan-seared salmon quivering and cold, but you can always put an under-cooked salmon filet back on the heat. Once it's over-cooked, you're hosed. Remember: salmon (or sake) is one of the most popular sushi choices in the United States.
Any recipe that promises time-based doneness guidance is full of you-know-what. There are just too many factors that affect the speed with which salmons filet cook through. While some factors are obvious... like cooking temperature and filet thickness, things like burner heat distribution, initial filet temperature, and timing-to-flip play a huge role.
BOTTOM LINE: If you want perfectly-cooked salmon, you have to peer inside your filets as they cook in order judge doneness.
You'll do your doneness-checking with a sharp knife. Ideally you'll slice right between two "flakes" of flesh, and hardly make a noticeable mark. And in any case, your guests will always prefer a slightly-marred-but-perfectly-cooked salmon filet to one that's immaculate looking but overcooked. I promise.
Of course, you can always cover your slightly-marred-but-perfectly-cooked salmon filets with a sauce. Or just strategically add butter, lemon juice, or herbs on top after cooking.
Note: Not sure what type of salmon to buy? Check out my discussion (rant) on salmon varieties.
|Generously salt and pepper your filets|
- Salmon filets (1 per person)
- Olive Oil
Heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat.
While the skillet is heating up, salt and pepper the flesh (non-skin) side of the salmon filets generously. You want a good teaspoon of kosker salt (half that with table salt) on each salmon filet. About a half teaspoon of cracked black pepper (or 1/8 teaspoon of ground) should do it.
If you're using skinless filets or steaks, season both sides generously.
When your cast iron skillet is just starting to smoke (after perhaps 5-7 minutes), add a tablespoon or two of oil, and spread it around to cover the entire cooking surface. Immediately add the salmon filets skin side up.
Cover the skillet and continue cooking. Check the interior salmon flesh for doneness every 30 seconds or so once you've made the flip and 3 minutes have elapsed.
If you're using skinless filets or steaks, the cooking at this stage happens even more quickly.
The fish will keep cooking once removed from heat, and ideally the filet is just starting to cook through in the middle as it is being eaten.
Remember, you can always put it back in the skillet for a minute if it isn't quite done enough. Once it is over-cooked, you're hosed.