We’ll bet that you’ve eaten overcooked fish. Hell, we’ll narrow the field. We’ll put money on that fact that, in your lifetime, you have eaten overcooked salmon. Because most people don’t know how to pan-sear salmon properly.
But you’re not most people. You’re here to learn, so you can go out into the world and enlighten the masses, serving them perfectly-cooked salmon every single time you make it.
This method is good for cooking salmon or any fish with skin and a higher fat content. It cooks the interior to perfection, while getting that skin super crispy (an essential for all fish-eating endeavors, in our book). Once you learn how to pan-sear salmon using this technique, you'll never go back. One note: You don't actually want your salmon to be cooked all the way through — you want a bit of translucent pink going on in the middle, like a medium to medium-rare steak. Yes, it's safe, and yes, this will make sure it's juicy and delicious rather than dry and chalky. Now let's do this!
To start, get your fish to room temperature. This ensures a more even doneness throughout the entire fillet. Heat a skillet until very hot before adding some vegetable oil and salt. Place the fish skin-side down in the pan, pressing down firmly with a fish spatula. (You can use a regular spatula, too, or even the back of you hand if you're fearless like that.) The pressure ensures that the ends of the fish won’t curl up, another reason for uneven cooking. The skin also acts as a barrier, preventing the delicate flesh of the fish from getting blasted with direct heat.
You want to cook the salmon 90 percent of the way on the skin side. This should take about three-ish minutes, since room temperature salmon cooks more quickly. You shouldn’t take your eyes off of the fish, watching for the change in color. Once the flesh turns from translucent to opaque all the way up the sides and starts to creep onto the top, turn off the heat.
Now’s the time to flip your fish. The residual heat in the pan will cook the rest of the fish. This is the part where most people overcook the fish, blasting it with heat when it’s already more than 75 percent cooked. Letting the fish finish, off of the burner, to the side of your stove, will keep it tender.
Want a super-casual way to know if the fish is cooked through? Give the sides a squeeze. If it’s finished, the flakes will begin to separate, since the fat between them is rendered. It’s kind of like you’re hugging your salmon. It’s kind of like you love it. And to be honest, you should.
You just cooked it perfectly.