Keeping salmon succulent in a skillet
For weeknight cooking, we love seared fish since it usually cooks in half the time as chicken or other proteins. But it’s a fine line between cooked and completely dried out.
So for this recipe from our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we made three choices to ensure succulent seafood every time.
First, the choice of fish. Salmon is our go-to because its richness makes it more forgiving in a skillet than most white fish, which can overcook quickly and flake apart. Then we take a two-step approach to ensure it stays moist, basting it in butter as it cooks and then serving it with a luscious but bright sauce.
For the sauce, we borrow from Colombia’s take on guacamole — spiked with both lime juice and vinegar as well as fresh chilies — to create an easy, no-cook sauce for the fillets. A fresh tomato-cilantro salsa finishes the dish, adding a bright, acidic note to balance the rich, savory fish.
This recipe calls for an Anaheim chili and a habanero. Though that might sound too spicy, the habanero’s fruity flavor pairs perfectly with the avocado and the richness of the salmon keeps the heat in check. Just make sure to seed both chilies.
Seared Salmon with Avocado Sauce and Tomato-Cilantro Salsa
Start to finish: 20 minutes
1½ cups cherry or grape tomatoes, roughly chopped
5 tablespoons lime juice, divided, plus lime wedges, to serve
2 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1 Anaheim chili, stemmed, seeded, cut into rough 1-inch pieces
1 habanero chili, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1½ cups lightly packed fresh cilantro, divided
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and chopped
Four 6-ounce center-cut salmon fillets (each 1 to 1¼ inches thick), patted dry
1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of the lime juice and a pinch of salt. Set aside. In a blender, combine the scallions, both chilies, vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add ¾ cup of the cilantro and the avocado. With the blender running, stream in 3 tablespoons water and blend until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute, scraping the blender jar as needed; if needed, add up to 1 tablespoon more water to achieve the correct consistency. Set aside.
Season the salmon on both sides with salt. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the fillets flesh side down, reduce to medium and cook until golden, about 4 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, flip the fillets, add the butter and increase to medium-high. Once the butter stops foaming, spoon it over the fillets, adjusting the heat to prevent the butter from burning. Cook and baste the fish until the thickest parts reach 115°F to 120°F, or are nearly opaque when cut into, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice into the pan and baste the fillets once or twice more.
With a wide metal spatula, transfer the fillets to individual plates. Spoon about 2 tablespoons avocado sauce over each fillet. Add the remaining ¾ cup cilantro to the tomatoes and toss, then spoon over the salmon. Serve the remaining avocado sauce on the side, along with lime wedges.