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The key to perfect pan-seared salmon is doing less, not more

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Pan-searing salmon sounds straightforward: Just add a little oil to a nonstick pan, get it good and hot, season a couple of fillets, and cook them until they’re cooked through and nicely browned on the exterior but still pink on the inside, right? There are two issues with this technique: The fish cooks unevenly and the exteriors of the fillets end up more tough than crisp.

We knew we could do better, so we set out to create a simple recipe that took advantage of the intense heat of the skillet to produce a golden-brown, ultra-crisp crust on salmon fillets while keeping their interiors moist.

The solution to the dryness problem was relatively easy: salt. We salt and brine meat all the time, and both techniques apply just as well to fish. Beyond seasoning the flesh, the salt also helps keep it moist. A 15-minute brine did both, and as long as we patted the fillets dry with paper towels before cooking, we found that the treatment didn’t significantly inhibit browning.

To make sure the fish browned nicely and cooked evenly, we started skin-on fillets in a cold pan and then turned on the heat. This allowed the fish to cook through gently as the pan slowly came up to temperature. We then flipped the fillets over after the skillet was good and hot so they could form a crust and finish cooking through. And the skin shed enough fat as it cooked that were able to cook the fish without needing to add a single drop of oil to the pan.

This salmon was excellent with just a squirt of lemon, but we also whipped up a mango-mint salsa to go along with it. The salsa’s bright flavors balanced the salmon’s richness, and it added mere minutes to this quick, weeknight meal.

Pan-Seared Salmon with Mango-Mint Salsa

 

Serves 4

For the salmon:

Kosher salt

Pepper

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