Christy learned the art and science of cooking from her Southern kin. Her cooking secrets aren't secrets because she shares them freely.
How to Make Perfect Salmon That’s Not Dry
Do you want to know how to bake perfect, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth salmon? For years, my salmon always came out too dry. Now I know a better way—a method that guarantees perfectly moist fish but that's still easy enough for a weeknight dinner. You’ll be eating delicious salmon in less than 30 minutes.
I’ll give you the recipe below. And after that? Ideas for sides to go with your meal, notes for how to prepare this recipe on the grill, and some bonus variations—including salmon with a white wine, butter, and caper sauce or a Greek yogurt sauce.
Mmm! Let’s get to work!
Baked Salmon With Lemon Herb Butter Recipe
One of the things I love most about this recipe is how simple it is. Just brush a mixture of lemon juice, melted butter, salt, pepper, dill, and rosemary over salmon fillets and bake until done, then pour the remaining lemon-butter sauce over the fish before serving.
|Prep time||Cook time||Ready in||Yields|
- 4 (4–6 ounce) salmon fillets
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 lemons
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 ounces capers
- Remove the salmon from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add crushed garlic and sauté for 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
- Cut four slices from the broadest part of one lemon. Set aside. Juice the second lemon plus whatever’s left of the first lemon. Add the juice to the melted butter.
- Add salt and pepper to lemon butter sauce. Add half of the dill and rosemary and mix thoroughly.
- Place the salmon fillets on a baking pan. Glaze the salmon with one-third of the sauce, setting aside the remaining two-thirds.
- Place one lemon slice on top of each fillet.
- Bake for 12–14 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads between 125°F (for medium-rare) and 140°F (for well done).
- Remove from oven, cover loosely, and let stand for 5 minutes. (The temperature will continue to rise.)
- Serve, pouring remaining lemon butter sauce over fillets. Garnish with remaining dill, rosemary, and capers.
Options and Substitutions
- Salt is optional: I cook with only unsalted butter so I can control the amount of sodium. If you use salted butter, you might not need to add any salt to this recipe at all.
- Experiment with different herbs: Whenever I bake salmon, I use whichever herbs strike my fancy. Dill, rosemary, salt, and pepper are mainstays. Sometimes I use garlic, parsley, sage, ground mustard, or a little tarragon.
- Try leaving the lemon butter sauce off until just before serving: If you do this, use some other measure to keep the salmon moist (see suggestions below).
- Bake low and slow: Set the temperature to 225°F and cook for 20–30 minutes.
3 Tasty Variations to Kick It Up a Notch
- Lemon, white wine, and pepper gravy: While the salmon is baking, add ½ cup dry white wine to the reserved lemon butter sauce. Add enough chicken broth to bring the total to 1½ cups and set aside. Melt 1½ tablespoons of butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Remove from heat and stir in 1½ tablespoons of all-purpose flour, stirring to make a smooth roux. Sir in ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Slowly stir in sauce and broth, stirring to dissolve roux thoroughly into the liquid. Heat to a low boil. Boil for 2 minutes, or until thickened. Pour over baked salmon and garnish with dill, rosemary, and capers.
- Brown sugar and lemon: Instead of butter, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to the lemon juice glaze.
- Greek yogurt sauce: Mix ¼ cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 2 teaspoons fresh dill, 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper. Spread over salmon before baking.
How to Make Crispy-Skin Salmon
To make the fish skin crispy, you simply need to broil it.
- Brush the skin with melted butter or oil.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the salmon skin-side up.
- Broil about 5 inches from the top of the oven.
- Check the temperature after 6 minutes, as broiling cooks the fish quickly!
Use a high-smoke-point oil such as canola oil. This temperature is too high for olive oil. Save the delicious olive oil to use as a finishing oil.
Extra-Crispy Skin Method
If you want even crispier skin, you can pan-fry it first.
- Preheat a cast-iron skillet with a thin layer of oil to medium-high. Add the salmon, skin-side down, and press it with a spatula to keep the skin from curling.
- Fry until the skin crisps up, about 4–6 minutes.
- Transfer it to the oven—skillet and all—for the remainder of the cooking time. (This is one of the neat tricks that makes a cast-iron skillet indispensable.) Or just pan-fry it completely, flipping once.
Jamie Oliver's Crispy Skin Salmon
Jamie Oliver pan-fries the fish, as described above, completing the process entirely on the stove, but he goes one step further: He coats the salmon with Patak’s Korma Spice Paste. It adds a different flavor than the lemon and herb butter recipe here—and it’s one that’s worth trying!
What’s the Right Oven Temperature for Baked Salmon?
I know what you’re thinking! Some recipes say to bake at 350°F. Others say 425°F. Still others say to broil it, while others say it's better to go “low and slow” at 225°F.
So who’s right?
Basically, they’re all right—but the cooking time will vary. The higher the temperature, the shorter the time. Here’s a quick guide:
Salmon Baking Time: Quick Guide
5” from top of oven
How to Bake Salmon Without Overcooking It
Start checking the temperature or flakiness at the low end of the cooking time and bake until done. Either:
- Insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon. Remove the salmon when it is 125°F (for medium-rare) or 140°F (for well done).
- Insert a fork into the thickest part of the salmon and twist slightly. The fillet should flake, with the meat coming apart easily along its natural lines.
Home ovens have notoriously varied temperatures, and the thickness of the fillets will also affect cooking time. A whole fillet will take longer than individual portions.
I find mine comes out best at 425°F for 12–14 minutes.
To What Temp Should Salmon Be Cooked?
The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145°F. For the best results, bake it until an instant thermometer reads 140°F, remove it from the oven, cover it, and let it rest for five minutes. By then, it should reach 145°F.
However, that temperature is for well-done salmon. Many people prefer medium-rare, or a temperature of 125°F, plus a few degrees more after it rests. Just be aware that this is below the USDA’s recommendation.
Do I Need to Flip Salmon in the Oven?
The short answer is no. But if you're cooking it another way, you might. Here's a quick guide:
- Baking: No need to flip.
- Grilling: There are hot spots and cold spots on the grill, so flip it and rotate it halfway through the cooking process.
- Pan-Frying: Cook at high heat, skin-side down, for 4–6 minutes, or until you see the color on the side changing to opaque. Flip and sauté another 4–6 minutes. A cast-iron skillet will get the best sear. If the outside is crispy but the inside is still undercooked, transfer the salmon to the oven—cast-iron skillet and all—for about 5 minutes at 350°F.
Should I Bake Salmon Covered or Uncovered?
Bake salmon uncovered.
However, if you’re having trouble with your salmon drying out, wrap each salmon fillet in parchment paper or aluminum foil.
Should I Wrap Salmon in Aluminum Foil?
I’ve tried it both ways and measured the results . . . well, the way anyone does. I foisted it on my family and made them vote. The verdict? The results were the same when I used the lemon-butter glaze and made sure I didn’t overcook it. This still wasn’t a scientific test, though. It might just mean my kids are afraid of me. Hard to say.
If you’re grilling the salmon, then definitely wrap it in aluminum foil. What’s that? Grilled salmon? Hey, I’m glad you asked!
Grilled Salmon With Lemon Herb Butter
Lemon herb butter salmon works great on the grill, as well. The process is nearly identical with a couple of small adjustments.
- Follow steps 1–7 in the recipe above (but don't preheat the oven or place the glazed salmon on a baking pan).
- Wrap each glazed salmon fillet in aluminum foil. Don't forget to place a lemon slice on top of each fillet before you wrap it.
- Cook over medium-high heat for 12–14 minutes, rotating midway through to avoid hot spots, or until an instant thermometer reads 140°F.
This works just as well over campfire coals as it does on a charcoal grill.
Pro Tip: Grilled Vegetable Addition
When you wrap the salmon fillet in foil, include some of your favorite veggies, too. Try broccoli, onions, asparagus, or peppers. Throw the entire foil packet on the grill. When they’re done, peel open the foil and eat!
Side Dish Ideas for Baked Salmon
Really, there aren't any rules about what you should serve on the side. What I recommend is choosing a green plus a starch. Try these for starters:
Pan-fried red potatoes
Garlic toasted sourdough bread
Crunchy Asian cabbage salad
Corn on the cob
Sheet Pan Dinner: Salmon With Green Beans and Potatoes
My go-to trifecta for an easy meal I can cook in the oven at the same time? On a baking sheet:
- Salmon: In the center, salmon with lemon butter sauce (see recipe above)
- Potatoes: On one end, diced (parboiled) red or new potatoes drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with parsley
- Green beans: On the other end, green beans drizzled in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
As a bonus, this combination can be wrapped and foil and cooked on the grill (see grilling notes above).
And then there’s Minnesota wild rice, which technically isn’t rice at all. It’s a related grain called manoomin, and it’s far healthier than white rice. Cook it in chicken broth and add caramelized mushrooms, and it’s the perfect side for oven-baked salmon.
How Long Does Baked Salmon Keep?
Cooking Light says baked salmon can be kept safely in the refrigerator for up to three days.
But, seriously, isn’t that putting the cart before the horse? In my house, leftover salmon is gone after one day.
Well, I don't know about you, but I need to bake some more salmon!
© 2021 Christy Marie Kent
So What Do You Think?
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2021:
We love eating salmon, and you gave plenty of suggestions concerning the cooking methods plus good accompanying foods to serve with it. Well done!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 19, 2021:
I like salmon and his recipe sounds perfect.