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The 6 Biggest Mistakes People Make When Cooking Salmon

One day, when we were hanging out in the test kitchen, we realized: Salmon is actually pretty hard to cook well.
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by Danielle Walsh


One day, when we were hanging out in the test kitchen, we realized: Salmon is actually pretty hard to cook well. While we've been a huge proponent of the slow-roasting method lately, lots of people prefer to grill, pan sear, or poach their fish. So we asked the test kitchen -- manager Brad Leone, assistant food editor Claire Saffitz, and senior food editor Dawn Perry -- for their thoughts on why people often get this healthy fish so wrong.


Yes, you should remove the pin bones -- but carefully. Pulling them up and out of the salmon will rip up its flesh, which is not a good look. Take tweezers and carefully pull out the pin bones in the same direction the bones are oriented in the salmon's flesh.


First of all -- skin is tasty! So when you're cooking salmon, keep that skin on: It provides a safety layer between your fish's flesh and a hot pan or grill. Start with the skin-side down, and let it crisp up. It's much easier to slide a fish spatula under the salmon's skin than under its delicate flesh. The only exception? You should remove the skin when you're poaching filets.


Speaking of poaching, don't poach your salmon in plain water. It's a missed opportunity to add flavor! At the very least, spike the water with lemon or a half head of garlic. Better yet, go all out and poach the salmon in dry white wine. If you don't involve beautiful aromatics -- like these ones -- in the poaching process, the salmon might stink up your kitchen. Yuck.


When at the fish counter or fishmonger, consider your salmon options carefully. First off, don't turn your nose up at the belly -- it's fatty, rich, and full of flavor. Plus, it tends to be cheaper than filets. If you're going for a more traditional cut -- like a steak or a filet -- make sure you get pieces that are all the same size. The best bet is to ask for a center cut for uniform thickness. Finally, don't just get whatever salmon is on sale. Organic, responsibly raised salmon always tastes better (and is less likely to stink up your house).


This is the most common mistake -- and often results in overcooking, meaning your fish will turn into cat food instead of the elegant dinner you were envisioning. If using a grill or a pan, sear salmon skin-side down on high heat until the skin is crispy, then, whether you flip your fish or not, finish cooking it on low heat. The fish's sections should give and pull apart easily -- not flake into dry pieces.


Our assistant food editor, Claire Saffitz, firmly believes that cold, day-old salmon is better than its formerly piping-hot self. We definitely agree that you should give your leftovers some love: flake it into a salad, turn it into a sandwich, or just eat it straight from the fridge. We won't judge.

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