Salmon with Lemon Cream Sauce

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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.

Salmon with Lemon Cream Sauce

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.

Salmon with Lemon Cream Sauce

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.

Salmon with Lemon Cream Sauce Recipe

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  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

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.

Ingredients

  • 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
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillets
  • Parsley for garnish

Method

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.

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The recipe is adapted from an arctic char recipe in The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews.

Links:

Grilled Salmon with Dill Butter here on Simply Recipes

Slow Cooked Salmon - from Steamy Kitchen

Smoked Salmon Chowder - from TasteFood

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Showing 4 of 22 Comments

  • AJ

    This was great. for the sauce, I used wine and one swanson flavor boost packet
    and added a little garlic and onion powder. For the salmon, I followed roasted salmon sheet pan meal recipe.

  • Jeanette Schmidt

    I’m still trying to figure out why people water down the cream with broth only to have to thicken it back up with butter and flour. Hey, I have an idea! DON’T WATER DOWN YOUR CREAM! And if you want it thicker, use cheese. A little fat in your diet is good for you and adds lots of flavor! Less work, better food! Enjoy.

  • Elise Bauer

    Make sure you use heavy whipping cream or it will curdle. If it does curdle, you may be able to save it by puréeing it in a blender.

  • Dr. Banjo

    Ir curdled and was too thin. I stirred and stirred then added corn starch.

  • Ernie LePire

    I know this post is about aged, but wanted to pass along a method for lessening the smell when cooking fish in the house. Have a small pan of vinegar simmering on the back burner while cooking, leave it there until the pans are cleaned. It’s magic !

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