Lemony Saffron-Honey Salmon

published Mar 17, 2023
Broiled Saffron, Lemon, Honey, and Garlic Salmon Recipe

Crispy-meets-tender salmon marinated in saffron, lemon, garlic, and honey.

Serves4

Makes4 salmon fillets

Prep10 minutes

Cook10 minutes to 20 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Broiled salmon on plate that has been marinated in saffron. lemon, honey and garlic with slice of lemon on side.
Credit: Perry Santanachote

Without fail, this tender, delicately flavored dish of lemony saffron-honey salmon claims a spot on my dining table every spring during Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebrations. Similar to eating turkey at Christmas and lamb at Easter, eating fish with sabzi polo (Persian herbed rice) is synonymous with this festival rooted in Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion.

Traditionally in Iran, sabzi polo is eaten with smoked white fish caught in the Caspian sea. However, many of us in the diaspora have adapted to use the fish that’s available to us. Primarily, we will prepare and serve broiled marinated salmon and/or a crispy battered white fish, such as grey mullet, alongside our famous herbed rice dish.

This recipe is my own family recipe, which I’ve adapted to include some honey. I find that the honey complements the saffron, lemon, and garlic in the marinade and balances the flavors perfectly. Other than marinating the salmon overnight, the preparation and cooking time take less than 25 minutes.

Outside of Nowruz, this broiled salmon can be eaten anytime during the year and is equally delicious served with roasted vegetables or a hearty herby salad like orzo tabbouleh. And, as an alternative to broiling, you can bake, air-fry, or grill the salmon.

What Is Saffron and Why Is It Expensive? 

For those who might not be familiar with this spice, consider this a little crash course. Saffron is a delicate, bright-red spice that is derived from the stigmas of the crocus flower. It has a musty and floral flavor profile. 

Saffron is the most expensive spice per gram in the world, and has rightfully earned its nickname of “red gold.” This is because each crocus flower yields only three stigmas, which are picked by hand and then dried to create saffron strands. Reportedly, it takes up to 200,000 individual stigmas to yield about one pound of saffron! The labor-intensive harvesting process, combined with the low crop yield, makes this spice more expensive.

Credit: Perry Santanachote

How to Buy Saffron

Saffron is graded based on its aroma, color, and flavor. It is further graded according to the amount of red stigma and yellow styles (aka strands) it contains. When buying saffron, do not buy pre-ground saffron; instead shoot for threads to ensure it contains red stigma tips only, with no orange or yellow styles.

Iran and Spain are considered to be the two main players in the production of high-grade saffron, so I recommend buying saffron produced by these two countries. More specifically, Iranian sargol and Spanish coupé are both excellent high-grade saffron.

Is There a Substitute for Saffron?

There is no substitute for saffron in this recipe. And don’t be tempted to use turmeric; while it has a similar golden color, it has a completely different flavor profile.

Broiled Saffron, Lemon, Honey, and Garlic Salmon Recipe

Crispy-meets-tender salmon marinated in saffron, lemon, garlic, and honey.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes to 20 minutes

Makes 4 salmon fillets

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    crumbled saffron threads

  • 2 tablespoons

    water

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1

    medium lemon

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil, plus more for brushing

  • 1 tablespoon

    honey

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound)

    skin-on salmon fillet, preferable center cut

  • 1 tablespoon

    finely chopped fresh parsley leaves (optional)

  • Lemon or lime wedges, for serving (optional)

Instructions

  1. Grind 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, or crumble with your fingers until finely ground. Transfer to a small bowl, add 2 tablespoons water, and let sit for 2 minutes to let the saffron bloom.

  2. Mince or finely grate 3 garlic cloves and add to the saffron. Juice 1 medium lemon into the bowl (about 3 tablespoons). Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and stir to combine.

  3. Place 1 (1 1/2-pound) salmon fillet skin-side down in a bowl or container just large enough to fit it. Pour the marinade evenly over salmon. Flip the salmon over to be skin-side up. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 or up to 48 hours.

  4. Arrange an oven rack 6 to 7 inches below the broiler element, then set the oven to broil on high. Meanwhile, let the salmon sit at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before cooking. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

  5. Remove the salmon from the marinade and place skin-side down on the baking sheet; discard the remaining marinade. Brush a little olive oil onto the salmon and season lightly with kosher salt.

  6. Broil until the salmon is just cooked through and flakes easily, 8 to 18 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 120°F to 130°F for medium-rare, or 135°F to 145°F for well-done (if it starts to char too much before it is ready, tent loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil). Garnish with 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves and serve with lemon or lime wedges if desired.

Recipe Notes

Baking option: The salmon can be baked in a 350ºF oven for about 25 minutes.

Air fryer option: The salmon can be air fried at 350°F for 10 to 15 minutes. You may need to cut the salmon into 2 to 4 pieces to fit it in the tray of most air fryers.

Grilling option: The salmon can be cooked on an outdoor grill over medium-high heat. Make sure the grill grates are hot and well-oiled. Place the salmon skin side down on the grill grates and grill uncovered until the fish is opaque, 4 to 6 minutes. Carefully slide a thin spatula under the salmon and flip. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes more.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. It’s delicious flaked into a salad.