Simple Butter-Fried Salmon

I love a roasted salmon, but even after all these years of cheffing up salmon salad seemingly every week, I still get anxious about doneness. Lately, though, I’ve been into pan-frying my fillets, something I started while I was cooking for Andy’s mom in the days my father-in-law was in hospice. I was usually only cooking enough for her, so a simple pan-fry felt easiest — I didn’t have to wait for an oven to heat to 400°F and all I really needed was a little butter in the pan, some salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of fresh chives or tarragon at the end to make it taste good. 

Best of all, the butter-fry technique reliably yields that gorgeous lacquered top and just lets me have so much more control over the doneness factor. You can look at the side of the fish to see the line of cooked flesh creeping up the side, you can touch the top of the fillet with your finger to determine doneness. (You want it to be firm to the touch but not rock hard, no squishiness whatsover.) I don’t want to write the instructions in recipe format because I feel like that will make it seem like a capital-R Recipe, so here’s the gist of it:

Butter-Fried Salmon Technique: Add 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter to a heavy-bottomed skillet (I like cast iron) set over medium-high heat. Add skin-on salmon fillet (this one in pic was 3/4 pounds) flesh-side down and fry until the line of cooked flesh comes about a third of the way up the side of the fillet. Flip the filet and cook another 2-3 minutes (it will splatter a lot because the skin is fatty), until the top of the flesh feels firm to the touch but not rock hard. Remove to a cutting board. At this point you can sprinkle with fresh tarragon or chives or…

Do what I did last week: I flaked my butter-fried salmon into a version of our favorite Brussels Bowl. (I skipped the teriyaki drizzle and just roasted the Brussels sprouts with a tablespoon of miso paste mixed with 2 tablespoons of olive oil) then served with a spicy mayo on the side (3 tablespoons mayo mixed with 2 teaspoons sriracha.) WINNER.

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Ooh, I’m going to try this. We usually roast the salmon, but for two, it does seem easier to pan fry. Plus it’s hard to go wrong when you start with butter


Just did this with salmon last week, except I used olive oil. We were surprised how delicious it was. We usually use a miso marinade and grill or use a roasting recipe. This was so simple and great. I guess we’d better try butter next time.