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How to Make Perfect Salmon, Sous Vide-Style

How to Make Perfect Salmon, Sous Vide-Style

In the Spring’ 17 edition of Spoonful, we explore the idea of air and all the breeziness that springtime offers. But there’s also something to be said for cooking with no air at all.

Sous vide cooking is a technique first popularized in restaurant kitchens. It involves vacuum sealing food, often meat, in a plastic bag, often with aromatics, and then cooking it in a water bath held at a very precise temperature by a device called an immersion circulator. Chefs have readily adopted the cooking method because of the exacting way that it performs, allowing flavors to permeate without ever allowing the food to overcook.

Precisely for this reason, it’s a cooking technique perfect for home cooks as well, especially when entertaining. Cooking steak for six? Instead of trying to get them all to a perfect medium rare on a grill that might have hot spots, cook them sous vide ahead of time, and then sear them just to add a smoky crispness. Immersion circulators designed for use by home cooks, such as the Joule by ChefSteps and the Precision Cooker by Anova, mean that home cooks are now experimenting with this technique, stressing less when hosting, and often enjoying incredibly consistent results.

Last Bite Salmon sous vide

Though sous vide is great for steaks, chops, chicken, and even incubating yogurt, nowhere is it a better cooking technique than with fish. Delicate filets of salmon in a hot frying pan overcook easily, becoming dry and tough. Cooking them gently sous vide preserves their tenderness and sweetness, yielding perfect fish with a nearly custardy texture. Quickly crisp the skin in a frying pan and you might never go back to cooking fish in the open air again.

Sous Vide Salmon Salad

Serves 4
Recipe by Emily Teel

Though we love the warm salmon against the crunch of lemony spring vegetables, you can also use this basic cooking method to make the salmon on its own, or for any other application you like.

Cook’s Note: One misconception about sous vide cooking is that you need a vacuum sealer to do it. Not so! Simply place your food in a sturdy zip top bag and add it to the preheated water. The pressure of the water against the food will help force the air out of the bag. Then, steal it up, secure it to the edge of the cooking vessel with a binder clip, and you’re good to go.

  • 4 6-ounce skin-on center-cut salmon fillets, preferably about 1-inch thick
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 sprig fresh dill, plus additional to serve
  • 1 sprig fresh parsley, plus additional to serve
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
  • 6 whole radishes
  • 1-2 carrots, peeled
  • 2-3 heads little gem or bibb lettuce
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced
  • ¼ cup lemon vinaigrette
  • Salt
  • Immersion Circulator

Preheat immersion circulator, situated in a vessel with adequate water, to 120°F. Season salmon generously with salt on all sides. Place fillets in one large zip-top bag. Add extra virgin olive oil and butter. Add shallot and sprigs of dill and parsley. Once immersion circulator has preheated, immerse the bag of salmon into the water. Gently press the sides of the bag together to exclude air and seal it. Using a clothespin or a binder clip, attach top of bag to edge of the container. If the bag floats, place a small plate on top of it to weigh it down, under the water line.

Cook salmon for 40 minutes. If fillets are thicker than one inch, add an additional 10-15 minutes cooking time.

While salmon cooks, prepare salad ingredients. Using a mandoline, slice radishes and carrots into very thin disks and ribbons. Submerge these into a bowl of ice water until ready to serve. Pull leaves of lettuce apart and tear into bite-sized pieces. Wash, dry, and set aside.

Once salmon has finished cooking, remove from bag, discarding whole herbs, and allow fillets to drain, skin side down, on a paper towel. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place salmon, skin side down, into the hot fat. Using a fish spatula, gently press down on each fillet to ensure full contact with the pan surface. Cook just until skin has crisped and browned, only 1-2 minutes, no feed to flip the salmon pieces. Remove the salmon to a plate, flipping them crispy skin side up. Allow them to rest for a moment.

In a large bowl, combine lettuce, lemon vinaigrette, avocado, and radishes and carrots, drained from ice water. Toss them together until dressing is integrated. Divide salad among four plates. Top each with a piece of salmon. Scatter additional chopped fresh dill and parsley over and serve.

Love to keep your kitchen skills sharp? Check out tutorials from Spoonful on pizza dough, fresh pasta, and cured egg yolks.

Photos by Nicholas Gang & Rachel Bowman


Emily Teel is the Editor-in-Chief of Spoonful Magazine, as well as a freelance food writer, recipe editor, tester, and developer in Philadelphia. She completed a Master of Arts in Food Culture and Communications at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. An alumna of Bryn Mawr College and a Legacy Award Winner with the women's culinary organization Les Dames d'Escoffier International, she's passionate about food and committed to the idea that everyone deserves access to meals that are both nourishing and satisfying. 

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