Pan-Seared Salmon with Horseradish Crema

Robert Murray/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
Robert Murray/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

“Salmon is quickly pan-seared and cooked to flaky perfection then garnished with a no-fuss sauce made with horseradish, lemon and Greek yogurt.”

It’s just you and the salmon. “I’ve got this,“ you somewhat reassuringly say to yourself, even though you can already feel your heart racing and your hands sweating. You set your pan on the stove, turn up the heat, throw in the salmon and pray for the best. But it’s too late, you start to worry… is it done? How can I tell? Should I flip it yet? You know based on previous experience that if you flip salmon too early, it will just stick to the pan. You also know that if you cook it too long it will end up tougher than a tire. You fuss and fret so much that you end up reaching for the ibuprofen instead of a fork. But before you throw that fish out with the next load of trash, I invite you to read on and find out why you need to learn the valuable skill of cooking salmon.

You already know salmon is good for you, but do you know why? Salmon is loaded with good-for-you unsaturated fat that occurs naturally in salmon as eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). These omega-3 fatty acids contribute to a healthy heart and brain and reduce inflammation in the body. Pregnant and breast-feeding women benefit from salmon’s DHA and EPA which have a positive effect on infant brain and eye development. Salmon is also a great source of lean protein, making it an excellent alternative to other protein sources that can be high in saturated fat.

It’s time you learned the skill of cooking salmon. Here are a few tips and tricks to make it easier:

  • Tip 1: Buy good-quality salmon. If it isn’t in good shape when you buy it, salmon will never taste good, no matter how you cook it. If you can, buy fresh salmon. Ask the fish monger when it came in and when it was butchered. Same day processing is best. Frozen fish is also a great choice, but see Tip 2 for a trick on successfully cooking it.
  • Tip 2: Pat, pat, pat it dry. Salmon can hold on to water and that extra moisture does not play well with the heat and oil in your pan. The dryer the fish, the easier it will be to cook.
  • Tip 3: Get your pan hot. If your pan isn’t hot enough, then you’ll just end up steaming your fish, or worse — have it stick to your pan. Set the pan over medium-high heat, add the oil and once it’s hot, add the fish.
  • Tip 4: Leave it alone! Yes, you heard me, don’t touch it. I know it’s hard to resist that temptation, but messing with it will only lead to disaster.
  • Tip 5: Leave the skin on. By cooking with the skin on, you can create a barrier between the salmon flesh and the heat, which can help prevent over-cooking. How does it work? There’s a tiny layer of fat between skin and flesh that allows the slow movement of heat upward. This allows for even, gentle cooking.
  • Tip 6: As with any raw seafood, be sure to keep your workspace and your hands clean. Use separate cutting boards; one for the salmon and one for cutting produce. After handling salmon, thoroughly wash your hands and cutting boards in hot, soapy water.

Now you’ve got the information you need to be successful at pan-searing salmon. The recipe below is a simple way to use your new skills. Just relax and have fun!

Pan Seared Salmon with Horseradish Crema

Recipe by Sara Haas, RDN, LDN


  • ¼ cup low-fat Greek yogurt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest, wash lemon first
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice, wash lime first
  • 1 ¼ pound salmon fillet, skin-on
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives, washed


  1. Make the aioli: Combine yogurt, horseradish, garlic, lemon zest and juice in a small mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving.
  2. Pat the salmon dry with clean paper towels then cut into four equal portions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Place a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. Once hot, add the salmon, skin-side down, reduce heat to medium-low. Press gently on the fillets to cook the skin, about 7 minutes*. Turn fillets over and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Cook and use a food thermometer to ensure internal temperature reaches 145°F.
  4. To serve, top each cooked salmon fillet with about 1 tablespoon of horseradish crema. Garnish with chopped chives.

Cooking Note

  • Cooking times vary based on thickness of fish. As a general rule of thumb, assume 10 minutes of total cook time per inch of thickness and always use a food thermometer.
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Sara Haas
Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian and co-author of the Fertility Foods Cookbook. Read her blog, The Cooking RD, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.