Salmon with Lemon Cream Sauce
It’s always hard to plan for a fish meal around here, because it all depends on what the market has fresh. You can show up at the store with the best intentions of securing a thick halibut steak only to be disappointed with what clearly looks like it’s been sitting under the glass for a few days.
Fish is best fresh, there’s no way around it. The fresher the better! So, the best attitude to approach the fish section is, what looks best?
With whole fish, you can usually tell just by looking at the eyes—they should be clear, not foggy and sunken. With fillets, if the surface is dried out and tired looking, that’s not a good sign. The fillet should glisten, like it was just cut, and should smell fresh, not fishy.
The day we cooked this salmon, it was the best looking fish at the counter, and it did not disappoint. In fact, it was so good I called my dad over and told him to stop eating his lunch, wrap it up, and get over here to eat this salmon. Which of course he did, because when fish is good, it must be eaten immediately.
The recipe is simple! It’s just salmon fillets fried on the stovetop in a high smoke point oil (we like to use rice bran oil) and served with a sauce made with lemon juice, stock, and cream.
We like to sauté skin-on salmon, because when the skin is crispy fried, there’s nothing better. It’s like salmon bacon.
In this recipe we are pan-frying the salmon. If you prefer, you could just as easily bake or poach the salmon, and serve it with the same sauce.
Recipe and photos updated, first published 2012.
We used skin-on salmon for this recipe, but you can use skinless fillets if you want. The skin tastes great when it is fried and crispy (salmon bacon!).
When buying skin-on fish, make certain the fish has been scaled. Ask your fishmonger to do this at the store.
Make sure you use "heavy" whipping cream for the sauce or it will curdle.
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup chicken broth, fish stock, clam juice, white wine, or water
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tbsp canola or rice bran oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
- Parsley for garnish
1 Cook the lemon cream sauce: Pour the lemon juice, broth and cream into a small pot and bring to a simmer. Immediately lower the heat to low, cover the pot and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. The last minute or two, uncover the pot and increase the heat to high to reduce the sauce a bit.
2 Prep the salmon: While the sauce is cooking, rinse the salmon in cold water and check for any stray scales (if skin-on). Use needle nose pliers to remove any pin bones. Pat the fish dry with paper towels.
3 Cook the salmon fillets: Add the oil to a sauté pan large enough to fit the fillets in one layer. Heat the pan on high and let the pan heat up for 90 seconds.
You can either lay the fillets in the pan skin-side down or skin-side up. If you lay the fillets down skin-side down, this will help crisp up the skin which is great to eat (try it, if you haven't, it tastes like salmon bacon!).
If you lay the fillets down skin-side up first, the fillets will be easier to turn over without falling apart, because the raw skin helps hold the fillet together. Your choice.
Lay the fillets in the hot pan and lower the heat to medium.
Let the fillets sizzle steadily for 3-5 minutes, depending on how thick the fish is. A 1-inch-thick fillet will take about 5 minutes.
With a metal spatula, gently turn the fillets over. Cook for another 1-5 minutes, depending on how well-done you like your fish.
We like our salmon a little rare in the center, so we cook the second side of a 1-inch fillet about 3 minutes.
4 Pour lemon cream sauce over the salmon: Place the salmon fillets on plates and pour lemon cream sauce over them and sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.
If you've crisped up the skin, serve the fillets skin-side up so they stay crispy. Otherwise serve the fillets skin-side down.