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How to Quickly Tell When Salmon is Done

Salmon oven from Popsie Alaskan Fish Company

Salmon requires less time to cook than most meats, so it’s a great choice for a quick dinner. And it’s easy to tell when it’s done.

Is it pink? Is it beginning to flake?

After just 5-7 minutes of cooking, check your salmon for doneness. When it’s raw, it is red-orange and translucent; as it nears doneness, it will turn pink and become opaque. At that point, gently slide a knife into the thickest part of the salmon and peek at it. If it’s beginning to flake and has only a hint of translucency, remove the salmon from the heat. It will continue to cook a bit more, to perfection, because of the residual heat.

Salmon that’s cooked properly should be tender, moist and almost silky. Salmon that’s dry because it’s been overcooked is much less appealing to most palates. Regardless of which method you use to cook it - frying, poaching, baking, roasting, grilling - this easy method of checking for doneness should work for you every time.

What if it has been frozen?

Your method of checking for doneness is the same. But fish that are caught quickly, and are bled, gutted and flash-frozen soon after (as all of Popsie Fish Company’s sockeye salmon are), are sushi-safe to eat even when raw. Therefore, you do not need to cook your salmon to any particular temperature for safety reasons. It is safe even when completely raw. Cooking time and temperature are thus largely a matter of personal preference. 

Most recipes call for thawing your salmon before cooking, but you can cook it frozen, as well. In either case, your method of testing for doneness will be the same.

What do chefs recommend?

Many chefs recommend medium rare for the tenderest salmon, but others prefer salmon that is cooked a bit more. You will find recipes on this site that call for an internal temperature reading of 120 ℉, which is considered medium rare, and other recipes that recommend temperatures up to 140 ℉, which is well done. If you choose to use an instant-read thermometer, put it in the fattest part of your fish and take your reading there. 

Choose your ideal degree of doneness

The thermometer may not be your best guide, however. Just as you know what a juicy steak should look like when it’s “done” (in your opinion - whether that be medium rare or well done), so too you can learn to recognize salmon as it approaches your ideal degree of doneness.  Because the residual heat will continue to cook your salmon even after removing it from the burner or oven, you should take that into consideration. It’s easy to return your salmon to the heat for just a bit more cooking, if necessary, but as we all know, we can’t rewind the time on an overdone piece!

Experience will yield success! Enjoy!