I thought my mother had taught me all of her best tricks in the kitchen, but no — she had one more for me, which she casually let drop while in the middle of our Costco shopping expedition. It's this: She buys bulk salmon from Costco and cooks it all at once in the slow cooker. And it's darn good.
Not only is the slow cooker fantastic for this kind of batch cooking, it's also an extremely good way to ensure tender, succulent salmon every time, no matter how many fillets you're cooking. Here's what to do.
Cook a Little Salmon, or a Lot!
Using this method, you can cook a few individual fillets in a small slow cooker, or you can cook a few pounds in a large slow cooker. Place up to two layers of salmon in the slow cooker, stacked with parchment in between. If cooking one layer, add enough liquid to come partway up the side of the salmon. If cooking two layers, add enough liquid to come part way up the side of the top-most layer, submerging the layer beneath. (By the way, I don't recommend cooking more than two layers because it throws the cooking time off too much and the bottom layer becomes far too overcooked.)
You can cook the fish with just water, but it adds way more flavor to add things like wine, beer, vegetable broth, or cider. You can also add a few tablespoons of things like soy sauce or miso. Layer the salmon with slices of lemon and some aromatic vegetables, like fennel or onions, for another boost of flavor.
Make a Slow-Cooker Sling
Salmon is really delicate after cooking. To make it easier to lift it out of your deep slow cooker, line it with aluminum foil or parchment paper. When cooked, lift everything up by the foil or parchment, tipping slightly as you lift so the liquid drains back into the pot.
Cook by Feel and Temperature, Not by Time
Cooking time will vary slightly based not only on the number or size of the fillets you're cooking, but also your individual slow cooker. Start checking the salmon after about an hour, and then continue cooking until the top-most layer flakes apart easily with a fork and looks cooked to your liking. If you want to double-check the temperature, the salmon is fully cooked when it registers 145°F in the thickest part.
If you're cooking two layers, the bottom layer will cook slightly faster than the top layer, which means that it will likely be slightly overcooked once the top layer is done. I usually serve the top layer on its own for dinner and save the bottom layer for adding to things like soups and risottos, or for making into fish cakes and burgers — when the salmon gets used in other recipes like this, it's usually OK if it was a bit overcooked!
What to Do with Your Salmon
Salmon cooked this way makes a mighty-fine dinner all on its own. The flavor will be delicate, so top it with fresh herbs, pesto, or another sauce and serve it with salad or some cooked grains on the side.
If you have leftovers — as you surely will if you've bought your salmon in bulk like my mother — they are great in all sorts of ways. Flake the fillets apart with a fork and add them to chowders and salads, or bake them into casseroles and frittatas. You can also swap salmon for tunafish in a tunafish salad or make fish cakes! If you get tired of salmon for all your meals, you can freeze the leftovers for up to three months.
How To Cook Salmon in the Slow Cooker
What You Need
1 to 2 pounds salmon fillets, skin left on
Sliced lemon, optional
Sliced aromatic vegetables, like fennel, onions, or celery, optional
1 to 1 1/2 cups liquid, like water, broth, wine, beer, cider, or a mix
6-quart or larger slow cooker (see Recipe Note for smaller slow cookers)
Parchment paper or aluminum foil
Measuring cups and spoons
- Cut the salmon into pieces: I usually cut the salmon into large pieces roughly the same size of my slow cooker, staking the smaller piece on top of the larger one. You can also cut them into smaller, individual-serving fillets.
- Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper: Be generous! Sprinkle on any other spices you're using and rub them in with your fingers.
- Line the slow cooker: Cut a large square of parchment or aluminum foil and press it into the slow cooker. This makes it easier to lift the delicate salmon out of the slow cooker later.
- Place aromatics over the bottom of the slow cooker: If you're using them, place a layer of lemon slices and sliced aromatics on the bottom of the slow cooker. This adds flavor, but isn't strictly necessary.
- Place one layer of salmon in the slow cooker, skin-side down. Top with more slices of lemon and aromatics, if using.
- Add another layer, if needed: If you're cooking more salmon than fits in a single layer, you can add a second layer. Place a piece of parchment over the first layer, lay the rest of the salmon over, and top with aromatics. (I don't recommend adding a third layer.)
- Choose your cooking liquid: The liquid helps to poach the salmon gently. It can be as simple as plain water, or as complex as a cup of amber beer with soy sauce and fish sauce mixed in. My standby is half water and half white wine. You'll need between 1 and 1 1/2 cups of liquid.
- Pour the liquid over the salmon: If cooking one fillet, add enough water to just barely cover. If cooking two layers, add enough water to come partway up the side of the top fillet.
- Cook on LOW for 1 to 2 hours: The exact cooking time will vary based on your particular slow cooker, the number and thickness of your fillets, and how "done" you like your salmon. Check the salmon after an hour and continue checking every 20 minutes until it's done. If you prefer fully cooked salmon, check it with a thermometer in the thickest part — the fish is done when it reaches 145°F.
- Remove from the slow cooker: Lift the salmon from the slow cooker using the parchment or aluminum foil. Tilt the paper slightly as you lift to drain off the liquid.
- Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate for 3 to 4 days. Store leftover salmon in an airtight container.
- Smaller slow cookers: The process for cooking the salmon is the same, you're just limited in how much you can cook. Smaller slow cookers are ideal for a few individual fillets. You can also cook two layers stacked on top of each other.