This simple whole side of salmon with butter, garlic, and fresh herbs is flavorful and foolproof, thanks to roasting it in a foil packet.
This recipe calls for a butter sauce with garlic, lemon juice, and honey which adds sweetness and brightness to the side of salmon. The baked salmon gets topped with chopped chives, basil, and parsley, adding a touch of freshness at the end.
If you don’t have these on hand you can use any fresh soft herb of your choice like tarragon or cilantro. This east-to-make yet flavorful combination is sure to be a crowd pleaser and once you get the method down, the flavor variations are endless.
Because of how fast salmon cooks, it’s a great option for a weeknight meal. If you’re ever making more than one or two fillets at a time, roasting a whole side of salmon is the way to go. Not only does it look impressive, but it’s deceptively simple.
The key to cooking a whole side of salmon is using a foil packet! This method ensures your salmon will be super moist, absorb all the flavors you season it with, and cook evenly.
Types of Salmon
With its accessibility, health properties, and delicious taste, it’s no wonder salmon is one of the most popular fish in America.
In the grocery store, the most common salmon you’ll find is farm-raised Atlantic salmon. Even if a label omits the wording farm-raised, it’s still going to be the farm-raised variety as commercial fishing of that species is now prohibited.
The other category you're likely to see is Pacific salmon. Chinook (aka “king”), sockeye (aka “red”), and coho (aka “silver”) are all Pacific salmon. While most Pacific salmon on the market is wild, some may be farmed as well. Because of various concerns around farmed-raised salmon, you can now find options that have been farmed sustainably, without antibiotics, and other considerations.
There are a number of differences between farm-raised and wild salmon. The first thing you’ll notice is the color. Farmed salmon will be light pink and wild salmon, on the other hand, will have darker reddish-orange hue.
The nutrition profiles are also different, most notably that wild salmon has a lower fat content. This leads to differences in cooking. Because wild salmon does not have as much fat marbling, it dries out more easily and should be cooked less than farmed salmon. Lastly, or perhaps the first thing you’ll see is the difference in price. Wild salmon is typically much more expensive than farm-raised.
You can choose farm-raised or wild for this recipe, both will work. And, if all you have access to is frozen salmon, you’ll still be good to go. In fact, most fresh salmon at the supermarket has been previously frozen right off the boat. Just be sure it was handled properly by checking for any visible ice crystals or signs of freezer burn.
For this recipe, you’ll want to use skinless salmon. Arguably the best thing about salmon skin is getting it nice and crispy. Since we’re cooking this salmon in a foil packet, that crispness won’t be achieved and so it’s best to do without it.
How to Prep the Salmon
To help the salmon cook evenly, we need to “take the chill off” before sticking it in the oven. So, the first step is to let the salmon sit at room temperature while the oven preheats for 15 to 20 minutes.
While that’s happening, use a paper towel to pat the salmon dry and get rid of any excess moisture. Then, run your finger along the centerline to feel for any bones. If you find any use fish tweezers or your fingertips to firmly and slowly pull it out.
Tips and Tricks for Perfectly Baked Salmon
While an individual fillet might benefit from a hard sear in a hot pan, for this large portion of salmon we don’t want that intense heat. The best temperature for this is 375°F.
In addition to the temperature, the other key to this recipe is cooking the salmon in a foil packet. By wrapping all the ingredients in foil, we’re generating steam and providing a gentle cooking environment that allows the fish to retain moisture and flavor.
This extra moisture also makes the salmon a bit more forgiving in case you leave it in the oven a minute or two longer than the cooking time. Not to mention, cooking in a foil packet makes cleanup a breeze.
You know your salmon is finished when the surface is opaque all over (versus translucent) and it’s easily flaked with a fork. Overcooked salmon is hard and dry and should be avoided at all costs! In addition to the taste being compromised, overcooked salmon will also have what looks like white “goo” oozing out of it. This is a protein found in the salmon called albumin.
During cooking, the liquid albumin becomes a solid and, if the fish is overcooked, the albumen gets squeezed out and pushed to the surface. This solidified goop is not harmful in any way, but it’s a sign your salmon was cooked too aggressively.
What to Serve with Salmon
Since we already have the oven on, a natural pairing is other roasted items to go alongside the salmon like broccoli, asparagus or potatoes. Starches like rice, couscous or quinoa would be great for soaking up the buttery juices of the salmon. A lighter side like a salad would also be a delicious complement.
Ways to Use Leftover Salmon
More Quick and Easy Salmon Recipes
- Quick and Easy Jerk Salmon
- Easy Salmon Foil Packets with Vegetables
- Easy Grilled Salmon
- Hoisin Glazed Baked Salmon
- Grilled Salmon with Dill Butter
Easy Baked Salmon
Note whether you’re using farm-raised or wild salmon and adjust your cooking time accordingly, per the below instructions.
- 2 pounds whole salmon fillet, skinned
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- 4 cloves garlic, grated or finely minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoon honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh herbs (basil, chives, or parsley) chopped
Arrange rack, preheat the oven, and prepare the baking sheet:
Place the rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large-rimmed baking sheet with foil, being sure to leave several inches of overhang on both long ends to make your foil packet.
Prepare the salmon:
While the oven preheats, remove the salmon from the fridge to come to temperature, 15-20 minutes. Place the salmon on the prepared pan and pat both sides dry with a paper towel. Feel the flesh for any bones and remove them with fish tweezers or your fingers.
Season the salmon:
Season both sides of the salmon with salt and pepper.
Make the butter sauce and pour over salmon:
In a small bowl, combine the melted butter, garlic, honey, and lemon juice. Fold up the edges of the foil to contain the liquid and pour the butter mixture evenly over the top of the salmon.
Seal the salmon with foil:
Bring the two long sides of the foil together and then fold them down a few times to close the top of your packet. Then, tuck each end under to close the sides. If your piece of foil is not large enough, take a second sheet of foil and cover the salmon, pinching the foil to seal the edges.
Bake the salmon:
If you’re cooking farm-raised salmon, it should be done in 18-20 minutes, depending on the thickness. If you’re using wild-caught salmon, check for doneness beginning at 10 minutes. If you open the packet and see the fish isn’t finished cooking, it should be opaque on top and flake easily with a fork, close the foil packet back up, return it to the oven, and check again in another 2-3 minutes.
Broil the salmon:
Carefully open the foil package to uncover the salmon completely, pushing the foil down and out of the way.
Set the oven to broil on high. If you have an electric stove, return the salmon to the oven, still on the middle rack. Broil the salmon for 2-3 minutes. You’ll see it turn just slightly golden with some charred spots but be sure not to burn the garlic.
If you have a gas stove, you may want to reduce your broiling time to 1 minute or skip it all together.
Let the salmon rest for about 5 minutes. Garnish with chopped herbs. Transfer to a serving platter or serve directly from the pan!