Seared Salmon + Cilantro Pesto


Can I let you in on a secret?

Promise not to tell?

I usually despise seared or roasted salmon–even at restaurants. But I’m always a little tempted to try it given its health benefits (for more on that, click here for a reader’s digest version.) I seem to always be disappointed by salmon; it’s usually over-cooked, dry, and has that yucky fishy-smelling taste (not the good briny ocean taste but the rotting-dead-fish-on-the-beach-taste. Bleh!).

Salmon for me is usually raw as sushi–it’s good that way. You actually taste the fish itself. It’s moist, and the texture is right.

But I’m always up to try to change my mind about how I feel about a food. So I made salmon again last night in an attempt to prove that not all cooked salmon is gross–and I succeeded! I used Mark Bittman’s words of advice for searing the salmon fillets (1 minute per side for a thin fillet; 2-3 minutes each for a thick fillet). I also stumbled upon a Bon Appetit recipe for seared salmon with cilantro pesto (which I played with because I didn’t have all the ingredients and I also wanted to make it a little easier!)

I hope you’ll try this preparation of salmon–it changed my mind completely about salmon, and I plan on making it again!

Cilantro Pesto

  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/2 cup seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or pine nuts (really any nut or seed will do here–it adds texture and as well as flavor, so add something that you like!))
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • juice of 2 limes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water

1. In a food processor, pulse the cilantro, garlic, corainder seeds, and seeds/nuts (I used sunflower seeds because that’s what I had) until roughly chopped.


2. Then, with the food processor running, slowly pour in the lime juice, then the olive oil, and, finally, the water through the feeder.

3. Season the pesto to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

IMG_1007 IMG_1008

Seared Salmon

(2 six ounce salmon fillets and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil)

These fillets are very thin (less than an inch thick).

1. Heat a heavy pan over high heat. I heated my pan for close to 10 minutes; it needs to be VERY hot.

2. Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel.

3. Remove any remaining pin bones if the fishmonger didn’t already. (This video has a very clear “how-to” of that!)

4. Season each side of the salmon with salt and pepper. And, as you get ready to cook the salmon, prepare for a very fast whirlwind. It cooks very quickly!

It will steam and smoke a little. Do not be afraid.
It will steam and smoke a little. Do not be afraid.

5. When the pan is very hot, add 1 tablespoon of vegetable or peanut oil (do not use olive oil as it does not do well under high heat). Add the salmon fillets, skin-side down. Cook for 1 minute for a thin fillet, or 2 minutes for a thick fillet (more than 2 minutes as you might as well eat a pair of shoes). Then, flip and cook for the same amount of time. Do not press, poke or move the fish around. In order to get a nice sear, it needs to hang out in just one spot on the pan.

Note on cooking salmon: You can also judge if your fish is done by how you want it cooked. I wanted mine rare, so I only let the very edges turn soft pink and left the inside of the fillet red (see the picture below). If you want the salmon cooked medium to well, you’ll watch for the whole fillet to turn soft pink. My biggest piece of advice is to cook it for a little less than you think you need to–that’s how salmon gets over-cooked and dry.)

6. As soon as it’s done, remove it from the pan and plate it!

The deep red in the center is just what I wanted (I cooked for about thirty seconds per side). If you want it medium or well, cook a little longer--but for a fillet this thin, another thirty seconds or so would be plenty.
The deep red in the center is just what I wanted.  If you want it medium or well, cook a little longer–but for a fillet this thin,  another thirty seconds or so would be plenty.
See that seared crust on top? YUM.
See that seared crust on top? YUM.

Dress it up with the pesto (and bring the pesto to the table because if you’re like me, you’ll want more!) Serve with some steamed, roasted, or sauteed veggies. I had mine with kale (cooked Brazilian greens style) and then finished with a little bit of lemon juice.

I loved every bite!
I loved every bite!

How do you cook your salmon? I would love to know!





2 thoughts on “Seared Salmon + Cilantro Pesto

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