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Jul 16, 2013 08:06 PM

How do I pan-cook salmon without it flaking off into bits

I'm new to cooking (recently moved out to college etc) and I tried salmon today. I added it with seasonings to a pan with oil, and trying flipping it etc. But the outer parts cooked really quickly and the inside wouldn't cook at first for a long time, and then the salmon flaked off into bits when I tried to see if the inside was cooked with a fork (gently, I must add).
Are there any tricks to cooking salmon right that I'm missing? I tried google, I swear but it didn't help.

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  1. Salmon is my nemesis. . . but some things I have learned.

    Slow slow slow low low low. You don't get the crispy skin if its a skin on filet, but things cook much more evenly. I tend to put a lid on the pan to help steam the top part.

    My best results have been under the broiler. Which is kinda opposite of what I said above.

    5 Replies
    1. re: autumm

      I tried this today (low and slow, I don't have a broiler) And I'm not a big fan of the skin, so I didn't have to worry. It went a bit better than last time so I'll eventually get there with the perfectly cooked fish.

      PS: Does slow-and-low work for other fishes (sole/trout) as well or are there different tricks to those? Online recipes never seem to mention these things...

      1. re: delancy

        I've never gone wrong with low and slow, except steak, but that's a different column. As long as crispy skin isn't very important to you, life will be good.

        Actually, if we have skin on fillets (IQF from costco) the low and slow lets us remove the not correctly cooked skin with no harm don to the overall meal

        1. re: delancy

          Salmon skin is incredible, if it's cooked right.

          1. re: rasputina

            I sometimes make cracklings with the skin and put them on my salad.

        2. re: autumm

          Hi, Autumn:

          I've only been cooking salmon for 40 years, but IMO very slow, low, and only heating from the bottom is a good way to go. A little woodsmoke and forming a pellicle before cooking helps a lot, too.


        3. I like to put the salmon skin side down in a hot pan and cook it until the skin is super crispy and the meat looks cooked about a third to halfway up the side of the filet. The center will still be pretty rare. Then I flip it over and put the whole pan in an over that has preheated to about 425. Let it stay in the oven for 5-10 minutes depending on thickness and how well or rare you want your fish. Remember, salmon does not need to be cooked to well done.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jpc8015

            I do this also, start out with a nonstick skillet preheated at medium, add EVOO, sear until the underside is browned, then in the oven at 400 for about 6 minutes, then take the pan out and cover off the heat for another 5-6 minutes, comes out perfect every time. I also season the meat instead of the oil. A fish spatula will help with the flipping.

          2. Hope you get more replies, since I cook mine skinless, and like the inside still a bit translucent.

            I start with fish at room temp for a brief bit, then pretty side down in a very hot pan. Usually with olive oil. I think it let's go when it's ready. Maybe 3 or 4 minutes for a one inch filet. Then flip, and I often finish in the boiler,maybe in a broiler pan. A nonstick pan helps, but maybe shouldn't be related this way. And the right spatula.

            I have circa college chefs in my family too, and son is working on his salmon technique!

            1. Your answer really depends on how you like your fish cooked to temperature....or thoroughly cooked through.

              For rare....high heat searing both sides.

              For medium-rare to medium, medium flame flipping when the sides of the filet turn opaque half way up the fillet. Note the minutes and do slightly less for the second side.

              For medium-well to cooked through, medium flame flipping when the sides are completely opaque...for cooked through fish fillet, you could even wait until the top side of the fillet starts to turn opaque.. Again, note the minutes and do slightly less for the second side.

              the same guidelines can be used for one inch fish steaks as well.

              1. I think one of the best investments a new cook can make is to buy a reliable instant read thermometer. I have a Thermapen, which is pricey but you can get a decent one for $15-20. I believe the CDN ProAccurate is good (make sure you calibrate it- directions should be on the pkg.).

                I cook salmon to a temp of 125 in the thickest part and let it rest for about 5 min. before eating. Usually, I'll sear the flesh side just to get some color, flip it to the skin side for the rest of the cooking time. If the skin becomes very crispy, you'll be able to slide the meat off of the skin (you could also do this in reverse order and avoid using oil beyond that produced by the salmon). While the meat's resting, you could turn the skin over to render the rest of the fat and you'll end up with a fish flavored chip.

                2 Replies
                1. re: OldSchool

                  Yes, a probe thermometer takes a lot of the voodoo out of cooking fillets, chops and steaks. I got mine cheap at a restaurant supply store and it's given very good service.

                  A pair of tongs is also indispensable. It makes flipping whole cuts of meat and seafood so much easier.

                  I like to start skin side down on medium heat to render some of the fat, with the pan covered so the steam helps it cook evenly. This way, when you flip it the flesh side is frying in the fish's own oil. After flipping, leave the lid off the pan so the skin doesn't get soggy from steam. Just remember not to flip the fillet until it releases with a gentle shake of the pan. If it's sticking, it's not done browning on that side, so don't try to pry it off with a spatula.

                  1. re: OldSchool

                    Yes I am thinking of getting one soon. Getting a bit tired of not being able to bake chicken/turkey breast either