Salmon is a tasty fish that can be pan-fried, grilled, or broiled for a nutritious dinner.
However, salmon can be tricky to cook perfectly.
Checking the color and texture of the salmon can help you determine whether it’s done, but using a thermometer is the most reliable way to determine if the salmon is cooked.
You can avoid overcooking the salmon by preparing it properly for cooking, so you never end up with dry salmon again.
Here’s how to tell when salmon is cooked to perfection.
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Checking the Color and Texture
The first thing you need to do is check the interior of the salmon to see if it has cooked perfectly.
To see inside the fillets, use the tip of a sharp knife and push into them about halfway down.
You can use a fork, but it will cause more damage to the salmon, which will ruin your presentation.
While the outside of the fish should be a dull white or brown, depending on the cooking method, the center should be a slightly translucent pink.
If the salmon’s center is dull, it’s most likely overcooked. When it is completely transparent, it will most likely need to be cooked further.
In addition, if it flakes, it’s probably been overcooked and dried out.
If the salmon is opaque on the outside and slightly translucent on the inside, and if it gives slightly when poked with the tip of the knife, it’s cooked.
It will continue to cook for several minutes after being removed from the heat, so remove it from the stove, oven, or grill instantly and set aside for about 5 minutes before serving.
Because the salmon continues to cook after being removed from the heat, it’s fine to remove it when it’s slightly undercooked.
Check the Temperature
Checking the temperature of the salmon is best performed with an instant-read thermometer.
Insert the test end into the thickest part of the fish, as that will take the longest to cook.
If the temperature is less than 110°F (43°C), the salmon is raw.
The fish is medium-rare when heated to 110°F to 125°F (43°C to 52°C). The temperature should be between 125°F and 140°F (1).
However, you don’t want it to get above 140°F (60°C) because it will become dried and flaky.
When the fish is done to your liking, remove it from the stove, grill, or oven. Allow it to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Preparing the Salmon
You should never remove the skin.
By removing the skin from the fish, you are removing the barrier that protects it from the heat of the pan.
However, if you’re poaching your salmon fillets, you can leave the skin on.
Adding salt and pepper to fish is obviously important for flavor, but if you add the salt too soon before cooking, you’ll end up drawing out all the moisture, which can lead to overcooking and dryness of the fillets.
Instead, season the salmon just before cooking it with salt and pepper.
Even if you leave the skin on the salmon, you risk overcooking it if you don’t place it in the pan or on a baking sheet correctly.
If you place the fish flesh side down, it will cook much faster.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
When cooking salmon, avoid some common mistakes that may ruin your recipe.
- You forgot to remove the bones. This is easy to overlook, especially if you’re new to cooking fish or if your recipe doesn’t specify it. But you don’t want to cook salmon fillets only to choke on a bone while eating! Many prepackaged fillets will have the bones removed, but if you’re using fresh fish, make sure you remove the pin bones.
- The temperature is far too high. When cooking this fish, you’ll want to make sure your pan is at the proper temperature. If the temperature is too low, the cooking process will produce an undesirable texture. Make sure your pan or oven is heated to the desired temperature before beginning the cooking process, as mentioned above.
- The meat you’re preparing is overly thick. The thickness of your salmon fillets should ideally be fairly uniform so that the meat cooks evenly. When selecting your salmon, make sure that the thickest part of the fish is only an inch thick to ensure proper cooking.
- Using salt too soon. This is a no-no for most foods because salt will leach moisture out of whatever you’re cooking. The result is a rubbery, dry, and unappealing mess. With salmon, apply salt just before you cook your fillets, not a minute before!
The cooking time for salmon is determined by the size of the whole fish or the thickness of the fillet, as well as the cooking method.
However, pan-fried salmon fillets will take about 7–9 minutes, whereas oven-cooked fillets will take about 15 minutes.
Check the cooking progress regularly for the best results, and serve the salmon when it is still slightly pink in the center to get the most out of it.