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Grilled salmon is great if you want to cook your salmon outside and baked salmon is my favorite hands-off method, but frying salmon on the stovetop makes an irresistible crispy crust on it. And if you’re tired of messing up salmon, this pan seared salmon recipe is just for you! I’ll show you how to pan sear salmon perfectly, so it’s buttery and moist on the inside, has a crust on the outside, and is done in just minutes. Don’t miss all 10 of my top tips for the best pan fried salmon below!
This searing method is my best way to cook salmon lately, but there are many other delicious ways to enjoy it! Easy salmon lox is perfect for cold lunches (yes, you can make this at home!), baked pesto salmon makes a great choice for a one-pan dinner, and stuffed salmon creates an easy-yet-fancy meal.
Why You’ll Love This Pan Seared Salmon Recipe
- Tender, buttery, flaky inside (never dry!)
- Crispy skin on the bottom with perfect top crust
- Irresistible herb lemon butter sauce
- Quick and easy to make — ready in 15 minutes!
- Delicious and healthy dinner
Ingredients & Substitutions
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for pan frying salmon, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
Choosing The Salmon:
The best pan seared salmon recipe doesn’t have to be complicated. But with so few ingredients, the salmon you choose will have a big impact.
- Salmon variety: There are seven species of salmon. This searing method will work with all kinds, but the higher quality your fish, the better the result. This USGS salmon guide covers more about the different varieties. King salmon (also called chinook) is the best salmon and my top choice for searing salmon, but coho salmon (my second favorite), pink salmon (lower in fat but still delicate), sockeye salmon (brighter red and stronger flavor), and Atlantic salmon (always farmed and more mild) would also work.
- Skin on vs. skinless: I highly recommend pan frying salmon with the skin, which protects the salmon flesh from overcooking, makes flipping easier, and results in a more flavorful seared fish. Plus, the crispy skin is delicious! If you’re not a fan, you can remove the skin after cooking. All this being said, the same method will work just fine on salmon without skin as well.
- Farmed vs. wild caught: I recommend wild caught for it’s nutritional value. From a recipe standpoint, either will work and you can decide what is best for you.
- Thickness: Salmon thickness will vary, but 1 inch thick is ideal for frying salmon. Try to choose fillets that are similar in thickness, so that they cook at the same rate.
- Appearance: Look for firm, fresh fish that’s a shade of pink-orange in color. Exact color will vary depending on the variety.
- Whole vs individual fillets: For this easy pan seared salmon, individual salmon fillets work best, as they’ll cook evenly and flip more easily. If you buy a large fillet, simply cut it into 5-6 ounce strips.
- Fresh vs frozen: Most fish will be frozen immediately and then some retailers will thaw at the store. It’s really your preference, but you’ll want to thaw the frozen fish before frying salmon.
Pan Seared Salmon Seasoning:
The seasoning for the salmon itself is super simple, because the lemon butter below will be the star. Other than that, all you’ll need is:
- Sea Salt & Black Pepper
- Olive Oil – Use a light or regular olive oil (not extra virgin) for pan searing salmon at this higher cooking temperature. Avocado oil works as well.
Herb Lemon Butter Sauce:
The lemon butter is what makes this dish, so don’t skip it!
- Salted Butter – I used salted butter here. If yours is unsalted, the conversion from unsalted butter is 1/4 teaspoon salt per stick of unsalted butter. This recipe uses 3/4 stick of butter, so you’d add a bit less than 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
- Lemon Juice – Fresh lemon juice has the best flavor, but the kind from a bottle is fine for convenience.
- Garlic – Like the lemon juice, fresh will give the best flavor, but pre-minced from a jar is also fine (use 2 teaspoons).
- Fresh Herbs – I used fresh dill and parsley, the most common herbs for salmon. Fresh chives would also work nicely.
How To Pan Sear Salmon
This section shows how to make pan seared salmon with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
How To Season Salmon For Frying:
- Mix the herb butter. In a small bowl, mash together butter, lemon juice, garlic, dill, and parsley. Set aside. (Herb butter is not strictly required, but I promise you, it makes the best pan seared salmon! We’ll use it later.)
- Dry the salmon. Pat the salmon fillets completely dry, which helps them form a nice crust when searing.
- Heat the oil. To get a proper sear, you need the oil to be hot and shimmering, and it’s best to have the pan preheating when you season the fish.
- Season the fish simply. Right before you sear the salmon, season it with sea salt and black pepper. (No fancy seasonings needed!)
How To Pan Sear Salmon With Skin:
- Sear salmon. Place the skin side of salmon down in a large pan or cast iron skillet, in a single layer. Press down lightly with a fish spatula to prevent curling. Pan-fry salmon until it is mostly (80-90%) cooked through.
- Flip and add garlic butter. Flip the salmon fillets over and quickly add the herb butter mixture to the pan around the salmon. Cook for another minute in butter, until salmon reaches desired doneness (see cooking temps below!).
- Serve. Flip salmon over and spoon lemon butter sauce over it. Remove from the pan immediately, so it doesn’t overcook.
How To Pan Sear Salmon Without Skin:
If you’re searing salmon without skin, the cooking time might decrease a bit, but you’ll still cook it longer on one side to ensure the fish doesn’t tear when flipping.
How Long To Pan Sear Salmon?
The cooking time for searing salmon will vary on the size of the fillet, but I recommend cooking the salmon for 5-6 minutes skin side down, followed by about 1-2 minutes skin side up, depending on how well done you want it.
For best results, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature every 30 seconds or so after flipping:
- Medium rare – 125 degrees F (51 degrees C)
- Medium – 130 degrees F (54 degrees C)
- Medium well – 140 degrees F (60 degrees C)
As long as you use the right method of letting the pan seared salmon turn almost opaque before flipping, it should only take a minute or two after flipping to be totally done. You can flake the edge with a fork to confirm.
Tips For Pan Fried Salmon Recipes
Want the best pan seared salmon? Follow these (super simple) tips!
- Prepare the seared salmon ingredients before you start. Because frying salmon cooks so quickly, you’ll want to have the herb butter ready to go before you place the salmon on the pan.
- Use a heavy bottomed nonstick pan. Using a heavy pan like this one ensures that the heat distributes evenly and your fish cooks evenly as a result.
- Heat oil correctly. We want the oil hot to create a nice sear, but if it’s smoking, that’s TOO hot. The oil should shimmer.
- Dry the salmon very well. For crispy pan seared salmon, remove excess liquid. If it’s too wet, it won’t brown properly.
- Season salmon only right before searing. Seasoning the salmon with salt pulls water out of the fish, so wait until right before cooking so it doesn’t dry out.
- Place salmon on the pan away from you. This will prevent any oil splatters from hitting you.
- Sear salmon skin side down (flesh side up) for most of the time. The skin provides a protective barrier between the hot pan and the salmon flesh, which helps avoid overcooking and also makes flipping easier.
- Press on the salmon fillets for 10 seconds to avoid curling. Salmon (and other proteins) will naturally curl up while cooking, which is perfectly safe, but not as pretty. If you press on it lightly for 10 seconds, it can prevent the curl.
- Don’t move the fish around. Moving the pan seared salmon with skin will prevent getting a good sear. Set it in the plan and don’t touch until it’s time to flip!
- Don’t force it if the salmon resists flipping. If it doesn’t flip easily, it’s not ready to flip! Let it cook a little longer.
FAQs About Pan Frying Salmon
- How do you fry salmon without drying it out? You can prevent a dry pan fried salmon fillet in two ways. The most important is to avoid overcooking the salmon — an internal temperature of 130 degrees F (medium doneness) is best, but even if you like yours more done, don’t go above 140 degrees F. The second way is to use a lemon butter sauce to help keep it moist. That’s what we’re doing in this recipe!
- Do you flip salmon when frying? Yes, you do flip salmon when frying, but not halfway through. Flip only toward the end of cooking.
- What side of salmon do you sear first? If your fish has skin on it, cook the skin side down first. Getting a good sear on the skin will make it easier to flip than the flesh, which is much more fragile, plus it will get the skin crispy.
- Do you serve skin on seared salmon skin side up or down? Some people like the look of serving fried salmon skin side down, and that’s how it ends up after searing it skin side down first and then flipping it. However, if you want a super crispy skin, you may want to serve your pan seared salmon skin side up, which will prevent the skin from softening from the sauce.
- Can you pan fry frozen salmon? You can sear frozen salmon, but not right from frozen — thaw first before pan frying salmon. It will thaw quickly in cold water.
- Store: Keep any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. If you are meal prepping the salmon ahead, store the herb butter in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
- Freeze: Ater cooling to room temperature, wrap each seared salmon fillet in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and freeze for up to 3-4 months. Before reheating, thaw in a bag submerged in cold water or overnight in the fridge.
- Reheat: Sear the salmon over medium heat on the stovetop, or place in a baking dish covered tightly with foil and reheat in the oven at 300 degrees F. It’s also delicious chilled or at room temperature. I don’t recommend microwaving salmon, as it will be overcooked and dry.
What To Serve With Pan Seared Salmon
All this pan fried salmon recipe needs a simple side dish, such as:
- Vegetables – Try frying salmon with sauteed zucchini, simple roasted broccoli, or roasted asparagus. For a comforting side, try baked ratatouille.
- Potatoes – Baked sweet potatoes and easy Instant Pot baked potatoes make classic pairings. For lighter options, try roasted rutabaga or creamy mashed cauliflower.
- Rice – Compliment pan seared salmon with a side of brown rice or white rice. For a lighter option, try cauliflower rice.
- Salad – I like to pair this seared salmon with creamy cucumber salad, but it would be delicious with kale salad or a sweet pear salad.
More Easy Seafood Recipes
Once you learn how to sear salmon, try some of these other easy fish and seafood recipes:
Tools For Pan Seared Salmon Recipes
- Heavy Bottomed Nonstick Skillet – This has the perfect weight to heat evenly and brown the salmon nicely, while the coating prevents sticking and is durable enough to last.
- Fish Spatula – A fish spatula is larger than a regular one and has a thin edge, so that you can easily flip your fish.
- Instant Read Thermometer – My favorite to ensure your pan seared salmon is cooked perfectly every time.
The Best Pan Seared Salmon Recipe
Pan Seared Salmon (15 Minutes!)
Learn how to pan fry salmon in 15 minutes! This flaky, buttery pan seared salmon has a crispy crust and irresistible herb lemon butter sauce.
Recipe VideoTap on the image below to watch the video.
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Tap underlined ingredients to see where to get them. Please turn Safari reader mode OFF to view ingredients.
Pan seared salmon:
Herb lemon butter:
Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
If your salmon fillets are not descaled, use a knife to gently scrape off the scales.
In a small bowl, mash together the butter, lemon juice, garlic, dill, and parsley. Set aside.
Use paper towels to pat the salmon fillets completely dry – this will ensure even browning.
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes, until shimmering and hot. (You can test that it’s hot enough by adding a drop of water to the pan; if it sizzles, the pan is ready.)
Once the pan is hot, right before you are ready to sear the salmon, season both sides with sea salt and black pepper.
Add the fish fillets to the pan in a single layer, skin side down. Use a fish spatula to press down on top of each fillet for the first 10 seconds immediately after adding it to the pan, to prevent curling. Sear, without moving, for 5-6 minutes, until the salmon is 80-90% opaque; only the top will be not quite done.
Use the fish spatula to flip the salmon fillets. Working quickly, immediately add the herb butter mixture to the pan near (but not on top of) the salmon. Cook the salmon for about 1 minute, stirring the butter around the salmon as it melts, but without moving the salmon, until the seared salmon internal temperature reaches your desired doneness: 125 degrees F (51 degrees C) for medium rare, 130 degrees F (54 degrees C) for medium, or 140 degrees F (60 degrees C) for well done.
Flip salmon over and spoon the lemon butter sauce over it. Remove from the pan immediately to avoid overcooking.
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Serving size: 1 salmon fillet with lemon butter sauce
Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.
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