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Best Pan Seared Salmon Recipe 2021

Grilled salmon is great if you want to cook your salmon outside, but frying salmon is the best way to get a crispy crust on it. And if you’re tired of messing up salmon, this pan seared salmon recipe is just for you! I’ll show you how to pan sear salmon perfectly, so it’s buttery and moist on the inside, has a crust on the outside, and is done in just minutes. 

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This searing method is my best way to cook salmon lately, but there are many other delicious ways to enjoy it! Try my easy salmon lox (yes, you can make this!), the best salmon marinade, or even stuffed salmon for a fancier meal.

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Why You’ll Love This Pan Seared Salmon Recipe

  • Buttery, flaky inside (never dry!)
  • Crispy skin on the bottom + perfect top crust
  • Irresistible herb lemon butter sauce
  • Quick and easy to make – ready in 15 minutes!
  • Delicious & healthy dinner
Pan seared salmon with lemon butter sauce drizzled with a spoon

Pan Fried Salmon Ingredients

Every ingredient in this mouthwatering salmon works together to make a deliciously flaky filet.

Pan seared salmon seasoning:

Herb lemon butter sauce:

  • Salted butter – I used salted butter here. If yours is unsalted, the conversion from unsalted butter is 1/4 teaspoon salt per stick of unsalted butter. This recipe uses 3/4 stick of butter, so you’d add a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  • Lemon juice – Fresh has the best flavor, but the kind from a bottleis fine for convenience.
  • Garlic – Like the lemon juice, fresh will give the best flavor, but pre-minced from a jar is also fine.
  • Fresh herbs – We’re using dill and parsley, the most common herbs for salmon.

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Ingredients to make pan fried salmon

How To Choose Salmon For Pan Frying

The best pan seared salmon recipe doesn’t have to be complicated, so I’m going to break down how to pick out the best salmon for you.

  • Salmon variety: There are seven species of salmon; this searing method will work with all kinds, but the higher quality your fish, the better the result. This USGS salmon guide covers more about the different varieties.
    • King salmon, also called Chinook, is known as the best salmon and has a high fat content. It’s my top choice for searing salmon.
    • Coho salmon, also called silver salmon, has a bright pink-red flesh. This is my second favorite.
    • Pink salmon has — you guessed it — light pink flesh! It’s also lower in fat, but still very delicate.
    • Sockeye salmon is a brighter red flesh and has a stronger flavor.
    • Atlantic salmon is always farmed and has a milder fish flavor.
    • Chum salmon is a smaller fish and usually sold in cans.
  • Skin on vs. skinless: I highly recommend pan frying salmon with the skin, which protects the salmon flesh from overcooking, makes flipping easier, makes flipping easier, and results in a more flavorful seared fish. Plus, the crispy skin is delicious! If you’re not a fan, you can always remove the skin after cooking. All this being said, the same method will work just fine on salmon without skin as well.
  • Descaled vs not: Stores and fish mongers often remove the scales for you, but if they don’t use a knife to gently scrape them off.
  • Farmed vs. wild caught: I recommend wild caught if you can get it, for it’s nutritional value, among other reasons. But from a recipe standpoint, either will work and you can decide what is best for you.
  • Thickness: Salmon thickness will vary, but 1 inch thick is ideal. Try to make sure different fillets you’ll cook together are similar in thickness, so that they cook at the same rate. If you have a choice, look for fillets that are closer in thickness at the thickest part and at the ends, which will help each fillet cook evenly.
  • Appearance: Look for firm, fresh fish that’s a shade of pink-orange in color, though exact color will vary depending on the variety.
  • Whole vs individual fillets: For this easy pan seared salmon, individual fillets work better, as they’ll cook evenly and flip easier. If you buy a large fillet, that’s fine; simply cut it into 5-6 ounce strips.
  • Fresh vs frozen: Most fish will be frozen immediately and then some stores will thaw at the store when they put it out. It’s really your preference, but you’ll want to thaw frozen fish before frying.
4 pan fried salmon fillets on a plate

How To Pan Sear Salmon

This section shows how to make pan seared salmon with step-by-step photos and details about the technique. For full instructions, see the recipe card below.

How to season salmon for frying:

  • Mix up herb butter. In a small bowl, mash together butter, lemon juice, garlic, dill, and parsley. Set aside. (Herb butter is not strictly required, but I promise you, it makes the best pan seared salmon! We’ll use it later.)
Herb butter for frying salmon
  • Dry salmon. Pat the salmon fillets completely dry so they brown evenly.
Drying salmon fillets with paper towel
  • Heat oil. To get a proper sear, you need the oil to be hot and shimmering, and it’s best to have the pan preheating when you season the fish.
  • Season fish simply. Right before you sear the salmon, season it with sea salt and black pepper. (No fancy seasonings needed!)

How to pan sear salmon with skin

  • Sear salmon. Place skin side of salmon downthe in the pan, in a single layer. Press down lightly with a fish spatula to prevent curling. Sear until salmon is mostly (80-90%) cooked through.
Frying salmon with fish spatula holding fish down
  • Flip. Flip the salmon fillets over and quickly add the herb butter mixture to the pan around the salmon. Cook for another minute in butter, until salmon reaches desired doneness (see cooking temps below!).
Pan seared salmon in skillet
  • Serve. Flip salmon over and spoon lemon butter sauce over it. Remove from the pan immediately, so it doesn’t overcook.
Pan seared salmon recipe in a skillet

How to pan sear salmon without skin

If you’re searing salmon without skin, the cooking time might decrease a bit, but you’ll still cook it longer on one side to ensure the fish doesn’t tear when flipping.

How long to pan sear salmon?

The cooking time for searing salmon will vary on the size of the fillet, but I recommend cooking the salmon for 5-6 minutes skin side down, followed by about 1-2 minutes skin side up, depending on how well done you want it.

When is pan seared salmon done?

Doneness for pan seared salmon is similar to grilled salmon. For best results, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature every 30 seconds or so after flipping:

  • Medium rare – 125 degrees F (51 degrees C)
  • Medium – 130 degrees F (54 degrees C)
  • Medium well – 140 degrees F (60 degrees C)

As long as you use the right method of letting the salmon turn almost opaque before flipping, it should only take a minute or two after flipping to be totally done. You can flake the edge with a fork to confirm.

Plate with pan seared salmon and lemon wedges

Tips For The Best Pan Fried Salmon

Want the best pan seared salmon? Follow these (super simple) tips!

  • Prepare the seared salmon ingredients before you start. Because this pan seared salmon recipe cooks so quickly, you’ll want to have the herb butter ready to go before you place the salmon on the pan.
  • Use a heavy bottomed nonstick pan. Using a heavy pan like this one ensures that the heat distributes evenly and your fish cooks evenly as a result.
  • Heat oil correctly. We want the oil hot to create a nice sear, but if it’s smoking, that’s TOO hot. The oil should shimmer.
  • Dry the salmon very well. Removing excess liquid will ensure that the salmon gets a nice sear. If it’s too wet, it won’t brown properly.
  • Season salmon only right before searing. Seasoning the salmon with salt pulls water out of the fish, so wait until right before cooking so it doesn’t dry out.
  • Place salmon on the pan away from you. This will prevent any oil splatters from hitting you.
  • Sear salmon skin side down for most of the time. The skin provides a protective barrier between the hot pan and the salmon flesh, which helps avoid overcooking and also makes flipping easier.
  • Press on the salmon fillets for 10 seconds to avoid curling. Salmon (and other proteins) will naturally curl up while cooking, which is perfectly safe, but not as pretty. If you press on it lightly for 10 seconds, it can prevent the curl.
  • Don’t move the fish around. This will prevent getting a good sear. Set it in the plan and don’t touch until it’s time to flip!
  • Don’t force it if the salmon resists flipping. If it doesn’t flip easily, it’s not ready to flip! Let it cook a little longer.
Pan fried salmon on a plate with salad

FAQs About Frying Salmon

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How do you fry salmon without drying it out?

You can prevent a fried salmon fillet from drying out in two ways. The most important is to avoid overcooking the salmon — I recommend an internal temperature of 130 degrees F, which is medium doneness, but even if you like yours more done, don’t go above 140 degrees F. The secondary way is to use a sauce to help keep it moist, which is what we’re doing with the butter in this seared salmon recipe.

Do you flip salmon when frying?

Yes, you do flip salmon when frying, but not halfway through. Flip only toward the end of cooking.

What side of salmon do you sear first?

If your fish has skin on it, cook the skin side down first. Getting a good sear on the skin will make it easier to flip than the flesh, which is much more fragile, plus it will get the skin crispy.

Do you serve skin on seared salmon skin side up or down?

It’s up to you. I like the look of serving fried salmon skin side down, and that’s how it ends up after searing it skin side down first and then flipping it. However, if you want a super crispy skin, you may want to serve your seared salmon skin side up, which will prevent the skin from softening from the sauce.

Can you fry salmon fillets?

Yes, and the best way to pan fry salmon is to use individual fillets instead of a whole large fillet. A large fillet can be incredibly difficult to flip and the outer edges will be overcooked by the time the inside is done.

Can you pan fry frozen salmon?

You can sear frozen salmon, but not right from frozen — thaw it first before pan frying. It will thaw quickly in cold water.

Storage Instructions

Store any leftover seared salmon in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

If you are meal prepping the salmon ahead, store the herb butter in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.

Can you freeze fried salmon recipes?

Yes, you can freeze fried salmon. Wrap each filet in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and freeze for up to 3-4 months.

How to reheat pan seared salmon?

Searing it in a hot pan on both sides until warm will work well, or place in a baking dish covered tightly with foil and reheat in the oven at 300 degrees F. It’s also delicious chilled or at room temperature. I don’t recommend microwaving salmon, as it will be overcooked and dry.

Piece of pan fried salmon on a plate

Pan Seared Salmon Recipe

Learn how to pan sear salmon perfectly every time! This 15-minute pan seared salmon recipe (pan fried salmon) is flaky and buttery inside, with a crust on the outside, crispy skin, and herb lemon butter sauce.

Prep Time 9 minutes

Cook Time 6 minutes

Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

Click underlined ingredients to see where to get them. Please turn Safari reader mode OFF to view ingredients.

Instructions

Click on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.

  1. If your salmon fillets are not descaled, use a knife to gently scrape off the scales.

  2. In a small bowl, mash together the butter, lemon juice, garlic, dill, and parsley. Set aside.

  3. Use paper towels to pat the salmon fillets completely dry – this will ensure even browning.

  4. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, until shimmering and hot. (You can test that it’s hot enough by adding a drop of water to the pan; if it sizzles, the pan is ready.)

  5. Once the pan is hot, right before you are ready to sear the salmon, season both sides with sea salt and black pepper.

  6. Add the fish fillets to the pan in a single layer, skin side down. Use a fish spatula to press down on top of each fillet for the first 10 seconds immediately after adding it to the pan, to prevent curling. Sear, without moving, for 5-6 minutes, until the salmon is 80-90% opaque; only the top will be not quite done.

  7. Use the fish spatula to flip the salmon fillets. Working quickly, immediately add the herb butter mixture to the pan near (but not on top of) the salmon. Cook the salmon for about 1 minute, stirring the butter around the salmon as it melts, but without moving the salmon, until the seared salmon internal temperature reaches your desired doneness: 125 degrees F (51 degrees C) for medium rare, 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) for medium, or 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for well done.

  8. Flip salmon over and spoon the lemon butter sauce over it. Remove from the pan immediately to avoid overcooking.

Recipe Notes

Serving size: 1 salmon fillet with lemon butter sauce

Nutrition Facts

Amount per serving. Serving size in recipe notes above.

Calories 542

Fat 42.6g

Protein 34.4g

Total Carbs 1.6g

Net Carbs 1.4g

Fiber 0.2g

Sugar 0.4g

Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.

© Copyright Maya Krampf for Wholesome Yum. Please DO NOT SCREENSHOT OR COPY/PASTE recipes to social media or websites. We’d LOVE for you to share a link with photo instead. 🙂

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