Salmon is a weeknight dinner staple for a reason — when done right, it's quick, versatile, and deliciously tender. But we'd be hard-pressed to find someone with a perfect track record for flaky, succulent salmon every time. All too often, salmon turns out dry and tough.
Here's the reason your salmon turned out dry, and the best ways to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Overcooked Salmon Is Dry
Salmon goes from moist and silky to tough and dry when it's overcooked, even by just a minute or two. This can happen whether you're grilling it, baking it, broiling it, or cooking it on the stovetop, although some methods of preparation are better suited for salmon than others. Luckily, there a few things you can do to ensure you never end up with dry salmon fillets again.
The 3 Best Ways to Avoid Dry Salmon
1. Salmon success starts at the market.
Wild salmon has less fat than farmed salmon, and therefore needs less time to cook. Farmed salmon, for that matter, can contain up to twice as much fat as wild, which keeps it moist as it cooks and makes it less likely to dry out. Whichever you choose, remember to check for doneness by sight and touch (more on that below), because the exact cook time will vary based on the type and size of the salmon fillets.
2. Slow-roasting is the most foolproof method.
Cooking salmon with gentle heat, either in a low oven (225°F to 250°F) or in the slow cooker, results in succulent fillets each and every time. Check for doneness by inserting the tines of a fork into the thickest part of the fillets and gently pulling (if you don't want to break into the fillets, you can also poke at them with your finger). If the fillet begins to flake, it's time to eat. Poaching salmon in olive oil also provides moisture-reinforcement.
What about the crispy skin?
If you're a crispy skin lover, don't worry — slow-roasting isn't the only way to avoid dry salmon. In fact, the skin provides a barrier between the heat source and the flesh, protecting the fish from overcooking. Just remember: Carryover cooking applies to fish, too. If you're tempted to cook your salmon one extra minute, pull it off the heat instead — it will continue cooking as it rests.
3. Brining works like insurance.
Lastly, consider brining your salmon in salt water. Not only does it help the fish retain moisture, but it also seasons it and eliminates that "white stuff" (coagulated protein) that often seeps out of salmon.
Oh, and if it's too late — you're reading this with a piece of dry salmon in front of you — break it up and stir into soups, add to grain bowls, or form into patties!