No dinner has an equal chance of either making you look like a master chef or a culinary newbie quite like salmon. When it comes out right, you willingly take all the cooking cred that comes your way, and when it comes out, er, not so right, you’re left falling back to your emergency Seamless order. Luckily, we’ve done the work for you and rounded up the rookie mistakes to avoid when you bring home your next fillet.
① Don’t Use Your Fingers to Pick Out the Bones
As tempting as it is, using your digits to pluck out those pesky bones will mangle your salmon’s delicate flesh. Instead, use your fingers to feel out any remaining pin bones and use a clean pair of tweezers or pliers to debone your fillet.
② Don’t Buy the Wrong Cut of Fish
Most of the time, you’ll see salmon fillets cut crosswise into steaks reminiscent of the college bell curve that haunted your late-night study sessions. However, this particular shape leads to uneven cooking—the flatter end will dry out and overcook before the rest of the fish is finished.
Next time, buy a whole side and portion it yourself: Divide the salmon lengthwise along the line that runs down the middle before portioning each long piece into an individual steak. You’ll end up with rectangular blocks of fish that cook more evenly and are less fragile to work with.
③ Don’t Remove the Skin
Even if the idea of a crispy, crackly layer of skin doesn’t jive with you, it’s still a good idea to leave it on—that layer of fat will help insulate the flesh, ensuring everything cooks through more evenly. (This protection also helps minimize the amount of white albumin that leaks out.) And if you really must, you can always peel off the skin after your fillet is cooked and toss it over to our plate.
④ Don’t Overcook Your Fish
Just like a prime piece of beef, it’s totally fine—and preferred—to eat salmon before it’s crossed into the well-done category. (Though it varies depending on the thickness of your cut, six to eight minutes on the skin side before flashing the other side for 20 to 30 seconds is a decent rule of thumb.) Trust us when we say your guests definitely won’t mind juicy, slightly pinker fish as opposed to a dried-out choking hazard.
⑤ Don’t Nuke Leftovers
Stick leftovers in the microwave, and you’ll end up with a chalky pile not even suited for Whiskers. Luckily, cooked salmon is equally versatile (and delicious) cold as it is straight from the hot pan. Flake your leftovers into a salad, sandwich them between two slices of bread or (preferably) eat them while standing in front of the fridge, the way all leftovers should be consumed.