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The 1 surprising trick for making foolproof salmon every time

You're probably baking your salmon wrong. Here's the absolute best way to cook this delicious fish.
by Alessandra Bulow / / Source: TODAY
How to bake salmon
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Cooking fish can be daunting, but with a little expert guidance it's easy to learn how to bake salmon at home that's so delicious, you and your guests will think it's been prepared by a restaurant chef.

"The nice thing about baking salmon is that you have a lot of options and flexibility," Sabrina Sexton, culinary arts program director at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, told TODAY Food. "You can customize it, use butter or olive oil and season it with your favorite flavors. Also, baked salmon is fairly forgiving and can cook to any doneness."

Sexton recommended buying organic or wild salmon whenever possible and leaving the skin on the fish because it becomes very easy to remove it after baking.

"Raw salmon should look moist and smell pleasantly like the sea at high tide — not low tide," she said. "There's nothing wrong with asking [the] fishmonger to let you smell the fish."

There's one essential item that makes baking salmon especially easy: aluminum foil.

"Using foil seals in the juices and minimizes sticking and odor," she said. "Best of all, it will save you from a messy cleanup!"

Figuring out how long to bake salmon will vary depending upon the size and thickness of each piece. The approximate cooking time for baked salmon is 8 to 10 minutes per inch of the fish's thickness, according to Sexton. Fish is safe to eat after it has reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees or the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork (the TODAY Food team recommends using a simple meat thermometer).

How to bake salmon
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How to bake salmon fillets

Single-portioned fillets are a good option for one to four people. "For thicker fillets, ask your fishmonger to cut pieces that are closer to the head than the tail," said Sexton.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 6-ounce (1/3 of a pound) skin-on salmon fillet with extra-virgin olive oil and season it with salt and pepper.

Tear off one large piece of aluminum foil that is three times the size of the fillet and place it on a sheet tray. Place the fillet skin-side down on the foil. Wrap the fish in the foil, leaving at least 1 inch of room on each side and 1 inch of room on top so the fish is tented. Tenting the fish with the foil will allow air to circulate and help the fillet to cook evenly.

If cooking several fillets at the same time, tear off one large piece of aluminum foil that is three times the combined size of the fillets. Place the foil on a sheet tray. Place the fillets skin-side down on the foil, leaving about 2 inches between each piece. Tent the fillets with the foil leaving about 2 inches on top of the fillets so air can circulate around them and help the fish cook evenly. Place the salmon in the oven.

Cook to desired doneness. Rare: 4 to 5 minutes. Medium-rare: 5 to 7 minutes. Medium: 6 to 8 minutes. Medium-well: 8 to 9 minutes. Well-done: 10 minutes.

How to bake salmon, how to bake a side of salmon
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How to bake a side of salmon

When cooking for a crowd, Sexton recommended buying a side (or a whole fillet) of salmon.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a skin-on side of salmon with extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Tear off one large piece of aluminum foil that is three times the size of the side of salmon. Place the foil on a sheet tray. Place the salmon skin-side down on the foil. Place the salmon in the oven. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per pound.

How to bake salmon, bake salmon in parchment
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How to bake salmon in parchment (fish en papillote)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cut a heart shape out of parchment paper so it is three times the size of the fish. Brush the paper with a little bit of oil or nonstick cooking spray to keep the paper from burning.

Place the fish on one side of the heart-shaped paper. Cover with 2 slices of lemon, 1 tablespoon white wine, 1 clove minced garlic or 1 teaspoon of minced shallots and 1 tablespoon of your favorite herb. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. You can also place ¼ cup of chopped or julienned (thinly sliced) vegetables under the fish as a base. Try julienned carrots and leeks, diced zucchini, diced or julienned bell peppers – or a combination of vegetables.

Starting at the top of the heart, fold the edges over 1/8 of an inch. Fold each edge twice.

Place the parchment-encased fish on a sheet tray. Place the salmon in the oven. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of the fish’s thickness. You’ll know it’s done because the paper will be puffed up a little. Carefully tear the paper open and serve.

How to bake salmon, salmon with crispy skin
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How to bake salmon with crispy skin

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In an oven-proof, nonstick or cast-iron pan, add enough vegetable oil, olive oil or clarified butter to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Heat the pan until the oil or butter sizzles when a drop of water is added. Season the fillet with salt and pepper.

Place the fillet in the pan skin-side down and cook until the fish browns around the edges, about 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the fish over so the skin side is facing up. Place the pan with the salmon in the oven and cook to desired doneness. Medium-rare: 2 to 4 minutes. Medium: 5 minutes. Medium-well: 6 minutes. Well-done: 7 minutes.

How to bake salmon, salmon teriyaki
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How to bake salmon teriyaki

Follow the same steps listed for how to bake salmon with a crispy skin. After flipping the fish, brush the skin and the exposed sides of the salmon with teriyaki sauce. Place the pan with the salmon in the oven and cook to desired doneness. Medium-rare: 2 to 4 minutes. Medium: 5 minutes. Medium-well: 6 minutes. Well-done: 7 minutes.

Now that that's covered, it's time to get cooking with these delicious salmon recipes!

Healthy food guru and cookbook author Ellie Krieger's "easiest fish recipe ever" is the most straightforward way to prepare salmon — or any other fish. Her rule of thumb is to simply bake any fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Remember that tip and cooking fish will always be a breeze!

"Make sure the salmon is very dry before adding it to the pan," Food Network superstar Giada DeLaurentiis told TODAY Food. "This will help prevent sticking and promote even browning."

"This is an almost-instant meal!" chef Nigella Lawson told TODAY Food. "Fennel seeds and Aleppo pepper, also known as pul biber or Turkish red pepper flakes. spice the salmon which needs a mere 10 minutes, if that, in a hot oven."

Create a crispy, herbed crust on a roasted side of salmon with a quick coat of homemade seasoned breadcrumbs. Simply pulse stale ciabatta bread, garlic, tarragon, parsley, lemon zest and oil in a food processor and spread the mixture on the fish before baking.

Coating the fish with a mustard sauce and cooking it low and slow in the oven makes the baked salmon super tender and moist.

Sami Kotb's Spicy Pesto Salmon

Hoda Kotb's mom, Sami Kotb, spreads a thick layer of spicy pesto sauce on top of a side of salmon and tops it with slices of fresh tomato and Parmesan cheese before baking.

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