Pan Seared Salmon
Pan Seared Salmon is the ultimate way to enjoy salmon just like they make it at the restaurant, with a golden crispy skin and a moist interior. It’s very easy to make at home!
A moist, juicy piece of salmon with a robustly crispy skin is like icing on a cake. It’s truly the perfect contrast to a big fat piece of tender salmon.
The first time I tried salmon like this was at a restaurant many years ago, and I remember thinking, is it okay to eat the skin? I grew up eating salmon, but we always scraped the fish from the skin, then threw the skin in the trash.
But the moment I dug in and crunched down on the most wonderfully crispy shard of savoriness, I became hooked forever.
I’m going to show you how to get super crispy skin with perfectly cooked salmon in your own kitchen, and it’s really so much easier than you could imagine. The skin is robustly crunchy, even crispier than a potato chip!
My quickest and easiest salmon recipe is this Baked Salmon, but this crispy salmon only takes a little bit more effort and you get to enjoy the skin.
How to Make Pan Seared Salmon:
First we need to make sure the skin is ready for searing and remove the scales.
Oftentimes the fishmonger will de-scale the fish before filleting (mine does), but they often miss spots.
We eat salmon every week, so I bought a dedicated fish scaler, but you can also use a sharp chef’s knife to scrape off the scales…just beware that they will fly all over the place, so wear an apron.
After a few scrapes, voila, no more scales. You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:
If needed, give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales, or just brush them off.
Regardless of whether or not you rinse the fish, dry the salmon very well with paper towels. Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear.
Now is when you want to start preheating a skillet for searing the salmon.
What kind of skillet should you use for searing salmon?
For the best sear, I recommend an uncoated pan. Some people like to use nonstick pans for searing fish, but I don’t. You just don’t get the same sear.
If the pan is hot enough, the fish won’t stick anyway. Literally I can pick the fish filet up with a pair of tongs because it’s so un-stuck to the pan.
Also, pick a pan that’s fairly close in size to the piece of fish, then preheat for about 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).
Once the pan is heated and you’re ready to cook, dab one last time for any excess moisture on the skin:
Then, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn):
You want to do this right before searing, otherwise the salt will pull moisture out of the fish skin and it’ll be wet again.
Add oil to coat the bottom of the skillet, and note that it should be shimmering, but not smoking violently. If it’s smoking like crazy, turn the heat down slightly.
Take your piece of fish and test it by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes that hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is sufficiently hot.
Go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan on the skin side, always away from you so the oil doesn’t splash.
(And if the fish doesn’t sizzle, your pan isn’t hot enough, so heat longer).
Here’s the secret: Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side.
This thoroughly crisps the skin, and also results in a gentler cooking for the flesh of the salmon.
How Long to Sear Salmon: The salmon I get is usually about an inch thick, so I cook it for 5 minutes on the skin side, until it’s golden brown and crispy. Time will vary depending on thickness, so use a thermometer.
Once the salmon is cooked most of the way, I flip it over to give it a brief “kiss” on the other side, cooking for about 15-30 seconds:
If the pan was hot enough when adding the fish, you should have no issue getting the salmon off the skillet, but I like to use this turner to get under it and keep the salmon held together in a nice piece.
When removing the salmon from the skillet, plate it with the skin side up, so the skin retains its crispiness and keeps from getting soggy:
I wanted to show you the inside, which is moist and glistening:
I like salmon at medium, so about 125F, but if you want it fully cooked, 140F is sufficient.
Seared Scallops are another one of my favorite seafoods to make at home, as it’s crazy easy and much cheaper than the restaurant.
How to reheat leftover salmon: The best way to reheat is to crisp the skin in the skillet much like how you cooked it, skin-side down, then give it a flip at the end to warm the top.
Can you pan fry salmon from frozen? No, always thaw first. You can thaw quickly in cold water, which takes about 15 minutes.
Pan Seared Salmon with Crispy Skin
- 2 salmon fillets skin-on and descaled
- avocado oil* for searing
- Preheat a skillet over medium heat for 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).
- Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan, about 1-2 tbsp. The oil should shimmer.
- Season the skin of the fish generously with salt, then test your piece of fish by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes a hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is sufficiently hot. Go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan, always away from you so the oil doesn't splash.
- Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side. The salmon I get is usually about an inch thick, so I cook it for 5 minutes on the skin side.
- Season the top of the fish with salt, then flip it over to cook for 15-30 seconds on the other side.
- Serve and enjoy!
Post updated with new photos, writing, and more tips in August 2018. Originally published August 2012. This post contains an affiliate link.