Pan Seared Salmon Fillets

serving pan seared salmon with asparagus

Pan seared salmon fillets are a favorite in our house, we probably eat these several times a month, and I’m sure my kids ask for it more often than that!

I’ve never really thought about this as a recipe, it’s simply how I prepare salmon, and since there is really only one ingredient, I don’t really feel right calling it a recipe, but whatever I call it, friends and family have commented on it, so it must be ok.

preparing to cook salmon fillets in pan

With only one, or two if you include the butter, ingredients involved, most of the thought involved with these pan seared salmon fillets have to go towards the salmon itself.  Am I satisfied with farm raised salmon?  Or should I pay the extra bucks and get the wild caught salmon?

For years, we have been buying the farm raised, primarily because it’s a few dollars cheaper per pound.  But lately, as I educate myself on where my food comes from, I’ve come to realize that farm raised fish is not fed a natural diet, and often can be fed grains that have been genetically modified.  And without knowing what the salmon are eating, I can’t be really sure what I am eating.

So, it looks as though we have started down the path of buying responsibly and sustainably caught wild salmon, even though they tend to be less well marbled and not quite as fatty, which is has turned into a bigger problem than I had originally thought.  My family is just not that into the taste of wild salmon, and I can’t disagree.  So for now, we do our best to find as sustainably and responsibly raised farmed salmon as possible, and will save our move over to wild salmon for another day.

The only other major consideration to make when cooking these pan seared salmon fillets is your choice of fat to cook with.  Since Canola and other vegetable oils are no longer allowed in my house (see My 5 Rules), that leaves me with only a few choices.  I could go with olive oil, but at high temperatures, the oil will break down, totally defeating the purpose of using nice olive oil, so that’s out.  I guess I could use coconut oil, but again, I like to cook my fish a bit higher that I am comfortable taking coconut oil.  Which leaves me with butter.

Well, not butter, but ghee, which is either clarified butter or closely related, depending upon who you ask.  Ghee is simply butter without the butter solids, and it can tolerate quite a bit of heat in the kitchen, so it’s my go to fat when I’m cooking over a high temperature.

One last note:  Many pan seared salmon recipes that you find advise you to always start your fish skin side down.  This has never made sense to me, and I refuse to go along.  I always start skin side up, and have a reason or two for doing so.  Mainly, I want the presentation side of the fillet to get a nice clean sear, and so I want that side to cook first while the pan is still clean and uniformly hot.  I understand that I am going against the norm here, but I’m crazy like that.  Feel free to disagree, but I’ve tried it both ways and keep coming back to skin side up to start with.

pan searing salmon fillets face down to start

Pan Seared Salmon Fillets
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
  • 4 - 6 oz salmon fillets
  • olive oil and butter
  • salt and pepper
  1. minutes before you are ready to cook your fish, take the fillets out of your fridge and season with salt and pepper.
  2. A few minutes before cooking the fish, heat a non-stick 10 inch pan over a medium flame.
  3. When the pan is hot, place about 1 tablespoon ghee in the pan and let it melt.
  4. When the ghee has melted and sizzled a bit, go ahead and add your fillets, skin side up, to the pan.
  5. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until they look great and have a well seared and crunchy appearance.
  6. Turn them over and cook with the skin side down about 5 more minutes.
  7. Either take the skin off, or don't, depending upon your preferences. My kids love salmon skin. Me? Not so much.

golden brown salmon fillets after turning them over

When calculating the nutritional values of many dishes, most people don’t count the butter or olive oil that they throw in the pan, but that’s a mistake.  Some of that melted butter is bound to make it from the frying pan to your plate, so you are better off going ahead and being honest with yourself and including that ingredient in your nutritional panel.  Which is exactly what I’ve done below.  For this nutrition panel, I used four salmon fillets, each weighing 6 ounces, cooked with salt and pepper in one tablespoon of butter melted in another tablespoon of olive oil, for a total of four servings.

pan seared salmon fillets nutrition panel

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