Pan-fried salmon is a quick and easy meal that can be whipped up in just 15 minutes, making it perfect for those busy weeknight dinners. Unfortunately, it’s often baked to death with minimal seasoning and presented as a healthy meal. While this recipe certainly fits into our opinion of a wholesome diet, there’s nothing bland about it. Cooked and served with a flavor-packed lemon, butter, garlic, and thyme sauce, it’s easy to forget that this dish is as nutritious as it is appetizing.
Basing this dish on Gordon Ramsey’s simple salmon recipe, Jaime Shelbert from Wholly Nourished has thrown in a zesty punch of lemon and some spice to give some added zip. Thanks to tips from Chef Ramsey, the flavor is maximized and the texture of the fish is flaky and tender — synonymous with perfectly cooked salmon. You’ll be able to use these easy techniques to significantly improve the caliber of all your future salmon recipes. So pull on your apron and maybe a chef’s hat, and bring your appetite, because you will want to polish off this salmon dish the second it’s ready.
What did we change with Gordon Ramsey’s recipe?
Gordon Ramsey can cook up quite the salmon, and we love his thyme and garlic butter version. All the same, we can’t get enough of Jaime Shelbert’s twist on his recipe. Jaime included lemon juice and zest to add an aromatic component of citrus oils to the fish. The tangy acid cuts through the rich butter sauce with garlic and thyme for a refreshing balance. Lemon and fish are such a classic pairing, and you’ll know why when you taste this dish.
Gordon uses Cajun seasoning which usually combines paprika, Italian seasoning, and cayenne pepper. To make the dish a touch hotter, Jaime swaps the Cajun for just cayenne — the extra kick is just what we want.
Gather the ingredients for your salmon in butter sauce
This recipe is a quick one, so you’ll want to gather all the ingredients for it before turning on the heat.
To start, you will need a fresh salmon filet deboned and with the skin on. The skin will provide a barrier on one side of the fish as you pan fry it, keeping everything nice and tender. It’s also delicious and packed with nutrients if you choose to eat it. A filet of approximately 10 ounces should be sufficient for two people if you are serving the salmon with sides, but adjust the quantities if need be. Jaime wouldn’t hesitate to try this with trout, so you can swap out the salmon depending on what you can get your hands on.
In addition to the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper are used to season the salmon and bring out its natural flavors. You’ll need some olive oil to cook the salmon, but butter is also necessary to make the decadent sauce to finish the dish. Sliced garlic, fresh thyme sprigs, lemon zest, and lemon juice will turn the butter into a creamy, heavenly sauce that you might start adding to everything.
Score the salmon skin
It might be tempting to throw your salmon straight from the package into the pan, but you will get a lot more out of your piece of fish with a few easy steps.
For starters, remove the fish from the refrigerator about 5 to 10 minutes before cooking so that it isn’t cooked from a cold temperature. Chef Ramsey recommends this step in order for the fish to cook more quickly without drying out in the hot pan.
With a sharp knife, gently slice through the salmon skin, making slits along the fish every inch or so. Gordon Ramsey explains that scoring the skin helps the fish cook more quickly and keeps the skin extra crispy. Be careful not to cut too deeply into the fish or the inside will dry out.
Season the fish and add it to a heated pan with oil
Seasoning should be done prior to adding the salmon to the pan in order for it to properly absorb everything. Sprinkle the salt, ground pepper, and cayenne pepper on both sides of the fish, rubbing it in for maximum flavor. Then heat a skillet on medium heat — make sure to choose one that will fit the whole fillet flat in the pan. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and let it spread across the surface.
Place the salmon skin side down on the pan to avoid damaging the delicate flesh. You’ll hear a sizzle to signal that the pan is hot enough. Using a spatula, gently press the fish down so that the skin lies flat on the bottom of the pan. This will contribute to making the skin extra crispy and tasty, and keep the fish from buckling up. Cook the salmon skin side down for two minutes, then flip and cook the other side for one to two minutes until it has browned.
Add the butter, garlic, and fresh thyme to the pan with the fish
Flip the fish once more so that the skin is facing down again. Add 1 tablespoon of the butter, half of the sliced garlic, and the sprigs of thyme to the pan with the fish. Decrease the heat to medium low, allowing the fish to cook for another five minutes until finished.
Keep a careful eye on the salmon to avoid overcooking it. By properly pan-frying the skin, you’ll be left with a nice, crispy exterior that you’ll be hard-pressed to throw out.
Test the doneness by poking a sharp knife into the thickest part of the filet — it should flake easily.
Remove the fish once it has cooked and add lemon to the pan
When the fish has cooked through after about five minutes, remove it from the pan and transfer it to a plate. Leave the skillet on the stovetop at low heat, and add the lemon zest and lemon juice, the remaining butter, and the rest of the sliced garlic. If you’ve started watering at the mouth, don’t worry; you’re only moments away from digging in.
Stir the butter as it melts and combines with the lemon and garlic into a creamy sauce. It will come together quite fast so be attentive to avoid burning the butter. Remove the pan from the stove top once the sauce is ready.
Top the salmon with the creamy lemon butter sauce
With a spoon, top the salmon filet with the lemon, butter, garlic, and thyme sauce. Don’t hesitate to thoroughly cover the fish with sauce so that every bite includes the rich combination of flavors. In just about 15 minutes you’ve prepared a delicious and satisfying salmon recipe that could pass for restaurant quality.
Depending on your appetite, you can pair this salmon dish with a multitude of sides. If you’re craving something starchy, Jaime recommends simple roasted potatoes to mop up any excess sauce. If you’re going all out, a lovely option according to Jaime would be a vegetable risotto. If you’re looking for something lighter, steamed or sautéed vegetables such as asparagus will add plenty of color to accompany the flavorful fish. Finally, If you forgot about a side until your salmon was plated, Jaime suggests you whip up a fuss-free salad with your favorite greens — simply toss them with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette and you’re set.
In case you didn’t gobble it all up, the salmon will keep in the fridge for up to three days, though the quicker you eat it, the fresher it will be. Reheating salmon often causes it to dry out, so if you do end up with leftovers, toss them into a salad or add them to a cream cheese bagel.
- 10 ounces fresh salmon filet with skin, deboned
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- Pinch freshly ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced, divided
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- Zest of ½ a lemon, about 1 teaspoon
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- Score the skin side of the salmon with a sharp knife making horizontal scores about 1 inch apart.
- Season both sides of the salmon with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat.
- Add the olive oil once the pan is hot.
- Add the salmon to the pan skin side down. Press the salmon gently with a spatula to prevent buckling as it cooks.
- Cook for 2 minutes, then flip the fish to cook it for another 1 to 2 minutes until browned.
- Flip the salmon so that the skin side is down once again.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the butter, half of the sliced garlic, and the 4 sprigs of thyme.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the salmon for 5 minutes.
- Remove the salmon from the skillet, leaving the pan on the heat.
- Add the zest, lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, and the remaining sliced garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring until the butter is melted and creamy.
- Plate the salmon and top the fish with the lemon butter sauce.