Seared salmon is one of the easiest ways I know to cook fish. I know there are people out there who have a bit of fear when it comes to cooking fish. If that describes you then this is a good technique to master because it is very straightforward and even a bit intuitive if you pay attention.
Start with the salmon – choose salmon fillets with the skin on then wash and dry each one with a paper towel then
Choose a pan that is large enough to give each fillet plenty of room. I like cast iron. It gets good and hot, which means the seared salmon won’t stick to the pan. You really don’t need a non-stick pan. I don’t even own one. When properly cooked this fish will release itself at the right time. I promise.
To begin: Once your fish is dry and chilled, season both sides with kosher salt. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Once it gets very, very hot, almost smoking; swirl in a tablespoon or two of canola oil and place the salmon, skin side down into the pan. Cook it until the skin is very crisp, dark brown and releases easily. This should take 3 to 4 minutes. Do not be tempted to check or move the fish around in the pan during this time. You will only succeed in making it stick to the pan or worse ruin your beautifully crisp skin.
Another thing about seared salmon is the noticeable changes it goes through as it cooks. Fatty fish like salmon will visibly shrink as soon as it hits the pan. Watch for this. It is key in indicating that your pan is properly heated.
Also pay close attention to the fish as it cooks. Not only will it release itself and flip very easily. But you can also literally watch it cook. The change is dramatic and easy to see. You will notice that the fish gets lighter and more opaque. Do not let it cook more than about 1/4 of the way through at this point. You might be worried that the rest of the fish seems quite raw, but honestly this is a good thing.
Once the skin has crisped flip the fish, and cook it an additional two minutes more or so depending on thickness and how much you like the fish to be cooked. Do not let it cook all the way through. The fish will continue to cook after it leaves the pan. Your goal is a succulent flesh graduating from a rare center outwards to a crispy crackly skin. If you are unsure, please err on the side of less cooked. There is no reason to be squeamish about fish. You really are
I am serving this seared salmon very simply with a “salsa” of green olives, capers, currants, celery, and saffron from Yotam Ottolenghi. GREG