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How to sear salmon before cooking in oven? (smoke points, etc.)

I heated a stainless steel pan, added coconut oil (virgin/unrefined) and immediately my kitchen filled with smoke.

I suppose my pan was too hot or the oil had too low of a smoke point.

Since I'm on the paleo diet, I strictly avoid refined & omega 6 polyunsaturated oils.

If I need a higher smoke point oil, I suppose I could try refined coconut oil, or olive oil shouldn't be too bad.

I have a gas range.

How hot should the pan be? (High, Medium/high, Medium)?

My objective was to sear the outside of the salmon before putting it in the oven to cook the rest of the way.

Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Caveman Mike

PS: Please confirm I'm supposed to add oil to the already hot pan and not add oil to the cold pan and then heat.

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  1. I've found a list of oils and their respective smoking points here:
    It's interesting to know that coconut oil has a lower smoking point than olive oil. So yea, I'd pick another oil to start.

    I test the pan to see if it's hot enough by putting drops of water in it. Like this:

    I don't move my salmon into the oven as I don't think it saves any time or energy. I first sear the skin side over medium for 5mins until crisp, then flip it over and cook for another 3-5 mins depending on thickness.

    Hope it helps.

    2 Replies
    1. re: cutipie721

      OMG! OMG! OMG!

      I love the water ball youtube video!

      I was on the verge of buying an infrared thermometer but I will use this method instead!

      THANK YOU!!!

      So easy, a caveman can do it !!!

      Caveman Mike

      1. re: cutipie721

        BTW, I showed that video to several peeps at work today and they all thought that was very cool !!!

      2. Hi, Mike:

        Unless you have a very thick piece of a very large king salmon you're cooking, you should need neither particularly high heat NOR the oven. If you get a little crispness on the skin side, flip for maybe a minute tops, then let the whole thing rest--it should be cooked through.

        Thinner fillets and chunks can be cooked the same way, but without even flipping.

        The only scenario I can think of where salmon should be cooked over high heat is Cajun-style blackened fish--which I consider a waste of good salmon.


        2 Replies
        1. re: kaleokahu

          Are you able to get a little crisp on the non-skin side?

          1. re: mike2401

            Hi, mike:

            Well, you can, but an issue with salmon--like most fish--is that the fillet is never flat on the flesh side, so the sear there ends up butt ugly. And it's prone to stick and/or fall apart.

            When I'm after a drier, scale-ier/seared texture and flavor, I'll do perfectly-cubed crocquets, or fritters.

            Have Fun,

        2. You need to learn about your equipment through some experience. The traditional test for a hot pan with no oil in it is to add a drop of water (or if you're that way, even a bit of spit) and observe: instant evaporation means too hot, "dancing" around in a bead means just right, little or no activity means too cool.

          Use olive oil for a somewhat higher smoke point. I usually cook salmon in a non-stick pan with a small amount of oil, searing for about 5 minutes, then flip the salmon and give it another 5 minutes or so in a 375 oven. But you do have to get the hang of your equipment, salmon size, etc. Good luck.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Bada Bing

            Olive oil doesn't have a very high smoke point relative to other oils, I'd recommend either canola or grapeseed or coconut oil

            1. re: fldhkybnva

              Well, the OP was using virgin coconut oil, which is lower in smoke point than any olive oil. Olive oil itself ranges from 375 up into the 400s depending on processing or lack thereof.

              I tend not to like the flavor of canola oil in high heat applications. Grapeseed oil is awesome for its neutrality and smoke point, but pricey.

              The really crucial thing, I think, is experience and knowing your equipment.

              1. re: Bada Bing

                Yea, I agree with everything you said and I too find canola oil fishy but just mentioned as it has a higher smoke point. I use grapeseed oil for high heat cooking and love it.

            1. You should consider broiling your salmon. Broil skin side down, then flip up the last couple minutes to get crispiness on the skin.

              If you want to sear your salmon, you can use canola oil which has a healthy omega 3 / 6 ratio (if your diet allows it). If you preheat the skillet, sear skin side down on medium high for a couple minutes, then finish in a 425 degree oven, you should be fine.

              4 Replies
              1. re: calumin

                What's the advantage of crispy skin if you don't eat it?

                Is it easier to remove?

                1. re: mike2401

                  One reason not to eat the skin is that it contains a significant portion of contaminants and toxins. But it also does have a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids.

                2. re: calumin

                  Do you broil just 5 minutes or so per inch?

                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                    That's probably about right. If I get a salmon steak I usually halve it and take out the bone. Then for each piece I usually do 4-5 minutes on one side then 2 minutes on the other side. The second side should take less time than the first side.

                3. Use a hot cast iron skillet & no oil -- salmon has more than enough fat & you get a better sear. Heat the pan, gently drop in your filet(s) and don't mess with them until they release from the pan on their own, which means a crust has formed. Flip and finish for a few minutes on the other side -- no oven needed.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: rjbh20

                    Any estimate on how long it usually takes? Do you do skin side first?

                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                      Time depends totally on how thick the filet is and how hot the pan is. Probably about 2 min on the first side & 1 or less on ths second for a center cut portion that's 1 1/2 in. at the thickest part. Also, a little coarse salt in the pan (before adding the fish) is a good idea

                      I do skinless, but if i kept the skin on i'd do it second.

                      1. re: rjbh20

                        Good idea doing the skin second. I always do it first, but it makes sense to cook it "presentation-side-down" until it looks good and then flip it over until it's done (since it doesn't matter what the skin side looks like).

                        My kids like to eat the skin if it's nice and crispy... (not me - no way!!)

                        I definitely salt as well and sometimes throw some dill on or something. But...simple is best I think!

                      2. re: fldhkybnva

                        This is what it should look like

                        Edit: the last one is actually smoke roasted, not seared -- apologies.

                      3. When doing salmon, I either cook the entire thing in the skillet (non-stick with no oil) or else broil it in the oven. Both of these approaches work great - cooks all the way through and the outside has nice colorization. Quick...easy...yum!

                        1. I've had good luck following Ina Garten's technique, as set forth here:

                          I use olive oil for this.

                          1. Add oil to a cold pan. Easy.

                            Without a thermometer, and no oil in it, it is pretty much impossible to know how hot your pan is unless it is smoking.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: jaykayen

                              Not hard at all -- lick your finger and quickly touch the pan a la the old flat iron technique. Or sprinkle a few drops of water & see if they dance .

                              1. re: rjbh20

                                That's outdated info. Current practice recommends using someone else's finger. At least around here...ahem...

                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                  Obviously I didn't get the memo...

                                2. re: jaykayen

                                  Don't add oil to a cold pan.

                                  Extended heating of oil breaks it down and makes it taste gnarly, and it's totally unnecessary.