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I'm trying to prepare a fillet red salmon which comes frozen.

Many times after I bake the salmon, it becomes really dry.

I once heard that you need to pan-fry a meat before cooking it so that the liquids it contains won't "leak" during cooking time.

Will that trick work for salmon?

I once ate a salmon in a restaurant, and it was very juicy. How can I achieve that at home?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, searing doesn't actually lock in juices; in fact it's been shown to take out slightly more juice than just baking, most likely because the meat is exposed to a higher heat during the sear which causes more evaporation. You can read slightly more about it on the wiki for Searing and a lot more about it in this previous thread. In fact, when you hear the constant sizzle in the pan as you pan fry, that's juices coming out and onto the pan. You can verify this by searing one side, searing the other, then flipping it again - you'll see juices seeping out through the seared side.

However, you do still want to sear meats whenever possible. Through the Maillard reaction you'll get a much more complex flavor that can't be matched through baking alone.

Most likely, my guess is that you're baking the salmon too long which is causing it to dry out. Are you wrapping it in a pouch with some liquids when you cook it? That can help a lot if you're baking but isn't absolutely necessary by any means. With or without a pouch, make sure that you're serving it pretty much right after pulling it from the oven - it will continue to cook after you remove it, whether you use a pouch or not.

You can also try reducing the time and increasing the heat a little bit and see if that helps at all. You want to be sure to keep the skin on if possible - this contains a lot of fat, which will help keep from drying out. I generally bake with the skin-side up so the fat can render down through the fish as it bakes.

You can find a great Good Eats episode about pouch cooking on YouTube, the first part of the episode can be found here. I generally don't follow recipes for pouch cooking - once you get a feel for it you can eyeball it with what you have around - but a good start might be this recipe.

Poaching the fish after searing is another good technique, and very easy, but be careful - although it's not common sense, you can still dry things out by poaching. Some people think poaching is error-proof and will just throw food in water and leave it until they're ready to eat it - this will result in dry meat.

The best way to cook salmon is to grill it over a high heat. even better if you can get a cedar plank to put it on. Oil the fish (or the grill, your choice) lightly and cook it for a few minutes (4-6) on each side, depending on how thick the fish is. You can tell when it's done because it will be fully opaque and flake easily with a fork. Keep a watchful eye - once salmon is close to being done, it will become overdone fast, so you want to pull it from the heat as early as you can without undercooking it.

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I've baked salmon dozens of times and the most common mistake people make with it (even in restaurants!) is baking it for far too long.

It dries out because it continues to cook after you remove it from the oven. Of course, people bake it until they think it's thoroughly cooked - so by the time it's cool enough to eat, it's completely dried out. This happens with meat too, but it's a lot more noticeable with salmon and other fish because the baking time is so much shorter.

For a typical fillet (about 1"), you'll want to thaw it completely first, then bake it at 450° F for no more than 10 minutes. If it's thinner, dial it down to 8 minutes or so. You can also wrap it in foil and bake it for about 13-15 minutes; I don't do this because I find it unnecessary, but it can help to mitigate some of the drying-out if you're still having problems.

Oh, and don't leave it in the baking dish after you take it out of the oven! Transfer it immediately to a serving platter (preferably warmed, but not hot).

As long as you don't over-bake salmon, it will not dry out.

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Thanks. I eaten a few dry salmons in restaurants, that's really explains it. BTW, does it make a different if the fillet comes frozen, or if it's fresh? If it does, is there a way to compensate the fact it's frozen? –  Elazar Leibovich Aug 7 '10 at 18:12
    
@Elazar: As long as you thaw it properly (in the fridge), you shouldn't have a problem with frozen salmon. –  Aaronut Aug 8 '10 at 4:56

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