How to Cook Salmon Like a Pro

Publish Date March 9, 2024 10 Minute Read

Full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a tasty and healthy source of key nutrients and lean protein. Despite its many benefits, this versatile fish is often overlooked for at-home cooking, with many seeing it as either a routine weeknight staple or something that can only be done right at a restaurant. Whether you’re looking to refresh your routine or you’re gathering the courage to cook up a masterpiece, you’re in for a treat. Salmon is a light, flavorful fish that’s versatile enough for bold recipes, and rich enough to prep with nothing more than a squeeze of lemon. It’s easy to make and cooks through quickly, making it perfect for a busy weeknight or a special date.

Ready to get cooking? We’ve got you covered with 3 easy ways to cook a fresh salmon fillet, plus recipes, tips and tricks to help you get started.

How to Buy Salmon

For the most delicious results, it’s always best to start with a great cut of fish. When shopping for salmon at your local store, always look for fillets that are moist and vibrant. A light, salty aroma is to be expected, but your salmon should never smell overly fishy. Your neighborhood Kroger is a great place to find a fresh, vibrant fillet. If you’re planning ahead, opt for a fresh-caught, frozen fillet.

While you’re shopping, you’ll likely see salmon divided into 2 groups: wild-caught and farm-raised. While there has been some debate, the truth is that either option, when done sustainably, produces healthy, nutritious fish. At The Kroger Co. Family of Stores, we’re dedicated to sustainability, so you can shop wild-caught and farm-raised options worry-free. Learn more about Kroger’s commitment and contributions to seafood sustainability.

How to Cook Salmon

Learn how to shop for salmon, it’s benefits and how to cook salmon at home.

How to Bake Salmon

This mostly hands-off method might just be the easiest way to cook up a perfectly flaky salmon fillet. Start by preheating your oven to 350°F. Place the salmon on a lined baking sheet with the skin down, then bake for 12-15 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. This is a simple way to produce reliable results every time, and it works for any variety of seasonings or preparations.

Try topping your salmon with lemon slices or minced garlic, or brushing the tops of each fillet with mustard or olive oil and spices. Add vegetables to the same tray for an easy, harmonious one-pan meal, like this Sheet Pan Garlic Salmon and Broccoli. Salmon cooks relatively quickly, so consider the timing elements of your veggies. If you’re pairing your salmon with hearty root vegetables, you may want to precook them, then add the salmon 12-15 minutes before your veggies are fork-tender.

Baked Salmon Recipe

Baking salmon in the oven offers a quick and convenient alternative to grilling or searing, while still leaving room for creativity and experimentation. Try this Honey Garlic Salmon if you’re craving something sweet. Honey and garlic create a delectable glaze that caramelizes during baking. If you want a light and fresh take, try this Lemon Baked Salmon. This recipe brings a burst of citrusy freshness, complementing the light and savory flavor of the fish. If you’re preparing a dish for a special occasion or you’re just feeling indulgent, this Crab-topped Salmon elevates the dish with succulent crab meat, enhancing both texture and taste for a luxurious fillet.

How to Cook Salmon in a Pan

Pan-frying your salmon gives it a nice sear, crisping up the skin. All you need is a little attention and good timing, and you’ll have a restaurant-quality meal that’s ready when you are. The key to a successful pan-fried salmon is a hot pan. This allows the exterior to cook quickly, creating a sear that locks in the moisture of the raw fish while protecting its texture. Starting with a pan that’s warm but not hot will cause your salmon to stick, and all of that delicious flaking will happen on the pan instead of the plate. While you’ll need to add an oil or butter, you’ll want to preheat your pan first, considering the smoke point of your fat. If you’re working with butter, add it just before adding the fish to avoid a bitter or overly browned result. Olive oil offers a little more flexibility, while avocado and coconut oils can withstand a little more heat. Choose a pan with good heat retention properties, like a cast-iron skillet or a stainless steel pan. Test the pan’s temperature with a few drops of water. After it’s evaporated, add your oil or fat. Once the oil is hot, add the fillets with the skin facing up and cook for about 6 minutes. After 6 minutes, the fish should release easily, and you can flip each fillet and cook for another 4-6 minutes until the skin is crispy.

Pan-seared Salmon Recipes

Pan-searing lets you get up close to the action and stay on top of developing flavors. Adding herbs or aromatics like thyme, garlic or shallots to the pan is a great way to use this hands-on method to your advantage. Citrus pairs perfectly with fish, brightening up the natural umami flavors while keeping things light, so lemon or orange wheels are also a welcome addition.

This Pan-seared Salmon with Lemon Butter recipe does a great job of using light and bright flavors to balance a rich, buttery dish. If you’re feeling adventurous, try this recipe for Blueberry Salmon. Fresh berries and garlic are added to the pan after the salmon is cooked to create a bright, tangy sauce. If you want the best of both worlds, try this Asian Salmon. Marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, ginger and garlic, this recipe fuses bright, savory and rich elements to achieve perfect balance.

How to Grill Salmon

Now we’re cooking with fire. Grilling is a great way to showcase the natural flavors of a fresh catch, with the smoky flavor of the grill adding a unique rustic element. To cook salmon right on the grates of the grill, you’ll want to start by cutting your filet into easy-to-maneuver portions. Season your fish with a dry rub to lock in its moisture, or marinate it for a flavorful caramelization. Oil the grill grates, then set the grill to medium-high heat. Place the salmon skin side-down and cook for about 6 minutes, then flip and cook for another 4-6 minutes. The salmon should release easily from the grill grates. If it doesn’t, let it cook for another 1-2 minutes before trying again. You don’t necessarily need a recipe to grill up some salmon, but we love this one for Grilled Salmon and Couscous.

Another option when grilling salmon is to create steamer packets out of foil. Foil packets enclose each portion of salmon with aromatics and vegetables, creating an easy, pre-portioned meal. Start by measuring out a piece of aluminum foil big enough to fold over a portion of salmon and your other ingredients. Place the salmon in the center of 1 side and surround it with your chosen additions. Dill and lemon slices are great for adding flavor, and sliced zucchini or bell pepper are both vegetables that will cook quickly at the same pace as the salmon. It’s also helpful to add a pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil. Once you’ve arranged and seasoned everything, fold the aluminum foil over the food and crimp the edges together securely. Place each packet on the grill and cook over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes.

Grilled Salmon Recipes

Grilling salmon enhances its natural flavors, adding a smoky and rustic element that elevates the unique flavors of your marinade. This Sesame Ginger Salmon uses sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger and garlic to infuse the fish with rich, Asian-inspired flavor, and it caramelizes beautifully on the grill, creating a flavorful crust. Similarly, this Miso-glazed Salmon uses a miso-based glaze that imparts a sweet and savory umami depth to the fish, elevated by the smokiness of the grill. For more sweet and smoky flavor, try this Brown Sugar Grilled Salmon recipe, which uses a brown sugar rub to create a sweet and crispy crust. To really level up your grilling game, serve this Spicy Peach Salmon recipe. Sweet, spicy and fruity, this marinade layers a ton of flavor for a fun, fresh take on fish.

More Salmon Recipes

Salmon Marinade Ideas

A well-crafted salmon marinade incorporates 3 key elements: fat, acid and seasonings. Fat adds richness and moisture to carry developing flavors, while acid tenderizes the fish and cuts through richness to enhance texture and flavor. Seasonings and aromatics build on the natural flavor of the fish to create a word of culinary possibilities. Ready to get cooking? Here are some of our favorite marinade ideas:

  • Classic Lemon Garlic: Whisk together your fat, acid elements, olive oil and fresh lemon juice in a large bowl, adding fresh garlic and herbs to impart a zesty and bright flavor to the salmon. Place the salmon in a large, zip-top bag and pour the marinade to cover. Let the flavors develop in the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook. Keep in mind that when adding citrus, using too much could cause your fish to “cook” while marinating, compromising the final texture. To avoid this, go easy on the squeezing and reserve some of your lemon for later. This will impart subtle citrus flavor and allow you to brighten the final dish just before serving. Be sure to use a non-reactive container, like a glass bowl or plastic zip-top bag, and avoid metal bowls.
  • Tangy Honey Mustard: Dijon mustard acts as your fat in this classic sweet and tangy recipe. And while it’s not a true fat, honey acts as a humectant – an ingredient that retains moisture – further locking in the flavor of the salmon. Whisk these ingredients together in a large, non-reactive bowl and add apple cider vinegar to brighten the flavor. Add your salmon and cover, or transfer to a zip-top bag, and marinate in the fridge. Like lemon, the acid in the apple cider vinegar can affect the texture if left for too long, so add this ingredient just a few hours before cooking.
  • Italian Herb: Combine olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a medley of Italian herbs for a classic infusion of Mediterranean flavors. Whisk together in a large bowl, add your fish and marinate in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before cooking. If you want to impart even more flavor, you can use a balsamic glaze in place of the vinegar, leaving the salmon to marinate overnight. This will add the bright and tangy flavor of the balsamic without compromising the texture of the final dish. Add the vinegar 30 minutes to 1 hour before cooking.
  • Sweet Sriracha: To make this Asian-inspired marinade, whisk together vegetable oil with soy sauce, honey and Sriracha to create a delightful fusion of sweet, savory and spicy flavors. Add your salmon and cover or transfer to a zip-top bag. Marinate the salmon in the refrigerator for a few hours.

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Feeling Inspired?

Put your new salmon skills to the test or try your hand at even more creative cooking challenges. Browse our recipe collections for inspiration and click through to easily add ingredients to your shopping cart. Visit our blog for even more meal ideas and healthy living inspiration.