You invested in a beautiful, sustainable piece of seafood. Don’t let it go to waste.

By Stacey Ballis
March 19, 2020
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Let’s face it: Salmon is king in America when it comes to seafood preferences. It’s easy to source, easy to cook, a healthy protein, and most people (even seafood-averse kids) love it. And salmon is so versatile, from super-basic Tuesday night supper to fancy Saturday night dinner party. You can flake it into eggs for breakfast, shingle it over a salad for lunch, or sear it medium rare for dinner. Salmon appears somewhere in nearly every issue of any food magazine, cookbooks are filled with pictures of its pale coral flesh, and you can’t shake a stick at the Food Network without seeing a salmon dish.

So, why is there so much bad baked salmon being put on tables? One reason: Temperature.

Nearly every home cook I know either under- or overcooks salmon. The medium-rare crowd barely sears it and ends up serving what feels like a weirdly warmed sushi, while the cooked-through crowd tends to hammer it into dry oblivion. Neither of these is a good look for such a fine fish. Let’s stop it right now. Bake your salmon to perfection with these 5 crucial tips.

1. Don’t start baking salmon when it’s still cold.

Letting your fish rest at room temp for 30-40 minutes before cooking will take the chill off and help you to cook your salmon evenly. Separate the filets or steaks out onto a plate or sheet pan so that they are not all stacked up, and cover with a sheet of plastic wrap and just let them hang out at room temp.

2. Set your oven to the right temperature.

My go-to oven temperature for salmon is 400 degrees. This temp is hot enough to cook the fish quickly enough to keep it from drying out, while not so hot that it creates a weird, hard-dry skin over the flesh.

3. Bake in the right vessel.

Good airflow leads to optimal cooking for salmon, so you want a shallow dish or a shallow oven-proof skillet. In a high-sided pan, the heat reflects from the sides onto the salmon and you can get uneven cooking and weird overcooked parts. I love a rack over a sheet pan to elevate it more; just remember to spray your rack with nonstick cooking spray so that the salmon doesn’t stick.

4. Cook to the right temperature.

You may think that meat thermometers are just for meat, but they are your pal for fish as well. If you like a medium-rare salmon, pull it when the thickest part of the fish reads 120 degrees; for more medium-well, go to 140.

5. Rest it.

Just like a great steak, fish needs to rest before eating. With salmon, it will finish carry-over cooking for another 5-8 degrees, but won’t risk drying out as it gets there. Rest your baked fish for 10-20 minutes (depending on size) tented with foil, and you’ll be rewarded with a baked salmon that is perfectly moist and tender.