This is Technique #26 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master. We’ve organized them from basic to bucket list so you can choose the ones that match your interests and skill level.
Among the many reasons salmon enjoys such huge popularity are its firm, meaty texture and rich flavor. Oven roasting is a fast, easy, hands-off way to prepare it, but many recipes result in overcooked fish with a muted flavor.
For silky, rich succulence, use our high-low roasting technique.
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Cook Salmon to (and at) a Lower Temperature
Salmon has two qualities that cause it to react to heat differently than other white-flesh fish.
- Unlike most white-flesh fish, which store fat in the liver, salmon has fat marbled throughout its flesh, which makes it rich-tasting and silky when cooked properly.
- The fish’s thick muscle fibers can also hold more water than those of white fish, giving it the potential to cook up particularly moist.
Because of these qualities, we prefer to cook it to a lower temperature than white fish.
The Science of Gray Matter
The gray tissue just below the salmon skin is a fatty deposit rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in the pink pigments found in the rest of the fish. Our tasters could barely detect a flavor difference between fillets with the gray tissue attached and those without it. If you choose to remove it, peel the skin off the cooked fillet and scrape it away with the back of a knife.
Blast the Heat, Then Turn It Down
Preheating the oven to a whopping 500 degrees with the baking sheet in the oven ensures the skin immediately starts to crisp and brown when you lay the fish on it. Scoring the skin allows the fat to render. Starting the oven off at this high heat also jump-starts the browning of the salmon flesh.
But then, no matter the size of the fish, we reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees as soon as we place the fish on the baking sheet to ensure the salmon cooks through gently and uniformly.
This low temperature also helps prevent the appearance of albumin, that white protein that sometimes gets pushed to the surface when you cook salmon using high heat. Albumin not only looks unattractive, but its appearance indicates loss of moisture in the fish.
Cook Farm-Raised and Wild Salmon to Different Temperatures
The overwhelming majority of salmon sold in the United States is farm raised, so you’re more likely to find that at your fish counter. We cook farmed salmon to 125 degrees.
But we’ve learned that wild varieties are overcooked at this temperature. In our tests, tasters unanimously preferred all varieties of wild salmon cooked to 120 degrees. Wild salmon has naturally firmer flesh because its connective tissue (collagen) has more chemical cross-links, and it has less fat than farm-raised salmon because it gets more exercise. (Read more about the differences between farmed and wild salmon or watch the video below.)
Step by Step: How to Roast Salmon Using a High-Low Roasting Technique
Now that you know the science behind the technique, follow these steps to achieve the silkiest texture on your salmon.
Step 1: Preheat the Oven
Place rimmed baking sheet on lowest oven rack and heat oven to 500 degrees.
Step 2A: If Roasting Fillets, Prep and Slash
If roasting fillets, cut salmon into 4 pieces. Cut 4 or 5 diagonal slashes 1 inch apart on skin side of each piece of salmon, being careful not to cut into flesh.
Step 2B: If Using Side of Salmon, Prep and Slash
If roasting side of salmon, make 8 shallow slashes 3 inches long and 1 inch apart on skin side.
Step 3: Season the Salmon
Pat salmon dry, rub with oil, and season. Lay skin side down on heated baking sheet, using foil sling if roasting side of salmon.
Step 4: Lower the Temp and Roast
Lower temperature to 275 degrees and roast until center of salmon registers correct doneness.
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Recipes That Use This Technique
Want to test out your newfound knowledge of roasting salmon? Try it with these recipes.
Oven-Roasted SalmonMost recipes for salmon create either a nicely browned exterior or a silky, moist interior. Why shouldn't we have our salmon both ways?
Roasted Whole Side of SalmonWhen it comes to serving a crowd, most cooks turn to a large roast or bird. But wouldn't it be nice to serve fish?
Pomegranate Roasted Salmon with Lentils and ChardSweet-tart pomegranate brightens the flavors of salmon and earthy lentils; add Swiss chard and you have a satisfying meal with a varied nutritional profile.
Let your moist and perfectly cooked salmon shine with these bright and flavorful recipes.