Say Hello to the Best Baked Salmon Recipe in the World
Not everyone knows how to cook salmon. We’ve recently realized this! Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, salmon is in our blood. From a pretty young age, we were eating salmon, and by our teenage years, we were helping to prep salmon filets and sometimes even getting to help cook the salmon! While we love it just about any which way, this easy baked salmon whole filet makes a simple and healthy supper for just about any crowd so it’s a really great place to start for salmon newbies. Whether you’re cooking salmon for just the family or a host of friends, plopping a big, beautiful, coral-hued baked salmon filet in the middle of the table is a nicely modern twist on the classic Rockwellian move of gathering the crew around a roast bird. Our easy baked salmon recipe makes for a feast-like meal that you can dress up with snazzy side dishes to serve to company, or enjoy as a healthy, simple and quick dinner on a busy weeknight! Healthy, delicious, versatile—and we promise you can master this salmon recipe in one go.
A Super Easy Oven-Baked Salmon Recipe in Just 4 Ingredients
Before we go over the (extremely basic) details of how to bake salmon, let’s make sure you’ve got all the ingredients you’ll need to make it. We’re saying four ingredients because olive oil, salt and pepper are freebies, right? Everyone who cooks anything ever has those. So, other than those kitchen basics, you’ll need:
A whole salmon filet. There are many types of salmon—Coho, King, farmed salmon and so on—but our very, very favorite is wild Sockeye salmon, and our very favorite Sockeye salmon comes from Bristol Bay in Alaska, which is the largest sockeye salmon run in the world. Personally, our favorite comes from Iliamna Fish Co. Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon is also managed by people who work hard to ensure the health and resiliency of fish populations and the surrounding marine ecosystem for generations to come through transparent, collaborative, careful, science-based and strict resource management, which is hugely important to us as salmon-lovers. You can search here to find a store close to you that carries Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon.
Paprika (not the smoked kind—just regular paprika).
OK but Seriously—How Healthy Is Eating Salmon?
And, if I really want to double down on the health benefits, what is the best way to eat salmon? Well, not to brag or anything but this baked salmon recipe is about as healthy as it gets. Why? Well, you’ll find no butter here! And we use just minimal seasonings too—a pinch of salt, heart-healthy olive oil, etc. The pure, healthful goodness of salmon is unmarred! And yes, salmon is really, really, really healthy. Salmon is a fatty fish, and fatty, in this case, is a good thing! We’re talking omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fats that support heart health, skin health and increasingly seem to support our bodies in other ways, too, like hormonal regulation and even may protect against some cancers. Salmon is also an excellent source of protein and vitamin A. And yes—we really do love wild Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon. Bristol Bay’s sockeye feast on a diet of krill and plankton and that diet is responsible for the fish's vibrant red color and for its nutritional superstar status as a fabulous source of vitamins, fatty acids and the antioxidant astaxanthin, a heart-healthy, free-radical busting compound that supports whole health.
How to Bake Salmon
Got about 20 minutes? OK cool, let’s cook salmon!
Make an easy salmon spice rub by mixing together the brown sugar, salt, paprika, garlic powder and black pepper.
Line a baking sheet with foil for a much easier clean up. Yes, you can bake it directly on the pan, but just trust us, you don’t want to scrape salmon skin off an unlined baking sheet. It is the kitchen task of doom. Put the salmon filet on the baking sheet, pink side up, skin side down.
Brush the salmon with olive oil and spice mixture.
Bake the salmon fillet! 375°F for 10-15 minutes, watching closely so as not to overcook salmon. And speaking of how to tell if your salmon is done.....
How To Tell When Salmon is Done
It’s very easy to overcook salmon, and a lot of people think they don’t like salmon just because they’ve always overcooked it, or been served overcooked salmon. We’re here to help you love salmon like you should, because this deeply flavorful, meaty fish isn’t just good for you—it’s a gustatory delight! It just needs to be cooked with care. Here’s how to tell when salmon is done (and not overdone!):
Know what salmon doneness you prefer! This might seem like it goes without saying, but salmon is a bit like steak when it comes to the perfect salmon done temp—everyone likes something a bit different. Do you like yours well-done? Rare? Medium? This may be something that takes a little trial and error before you’re sure what you like best. But once you know what perfectly cooked salmon looks like to YOU, you’ll be able to tell if salmon is done by....
Checking the salmon’s internal temperature! Checking the thickest part of the filet with an instant read thermometer, watch for the following temps: at 115°F to 125°F your salmon filet is medium-rare. At 125°F to 140°, the salmon is medium to well-done. Think of 140°F as the absolute cut off! If you see 140°F on an instant read thermometer, pull that salmon filet out of the oven! It is done! If you’re not a thermometer person, you can also check to see if the salmon is done by....
Poke the salmon filet with a fork! We don’t really recommend this method for beginners, because it relies on a certain feel that develops over time based on a combination of sense-memory and personal preference. It can also vary a bit based on the type of salmon you buy—perfectly cooked King salmon looks different from perfectly cooked Sockeye. You should be able to flake the salmon a bit with a fork, and see that the inside is cooked to your liking—very similar to how you might check a steak filet for doneness by cutting into it with a steak knife. It’s less ideal than checking with a thermometer, but if you don’t have one handy, this method will work. TL;DR....
Practice makes perfect! You’ll get the hang of it the more you do it. And what a delicious journey it will be!
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Buying the Very Best Salmon (but Were Afraid to Ask)
If you feel like buying fish is complicated or confusing, you’re right! It really can be. If you don’t have the energy to keep up with all of the different varieties of salmon, or stay informed about which kinds of salmon are currently endangered, the easiest way to be certain that you’re buying the best salmon you can is simply to visit the best fishmonger in your area, and buy whatever kind of salmon fillet they recommend! If you’d like to take a deep dive into the world of salmon and sustainability, we recommend reading all about it over on the Marine Stewardship Council’s excellent website here. Below is a quick salmon shopping 101 to get you started.
Why is salmon so expensive? Wild salmon can be a bit pricey, though usually not as expensive as say, halibut. Salmon is extremely popular and overfishing means that some salmon populations are becoming endangered, so the supply of wild salmon struggles to meet the demand. When that’s the case, prices go up. However, there are deals to be found!
Is it better to buy fresh or frozen salmon? Wild or farmed? In general, wild salmon tastes better than farmed. However, if is more expensive and it is not always necessarily more sustainable! Like we said, this stuff can be genuinely confusing. If sustainability is your primary concern, look for certifications, like those given out by the Marine Stewardship Council, or check the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s excellent “Seafood Watch” site for more detailed info about what you see in the fish case.
Speaking of sustainability….If sustainability is your primary concern—and honestly, if you love salmon and want to keep being able to buy it year after year, it should be—look out for Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon. Sockeye is one of our very favorite types of salmon—it’s vibrantly red and oh-so-meaty—and the Sockeye that comes from Bristol Bay is hands down the best. You can read all about their super successful sustainability efforts and fishing practices here.
What do you mean by ‘whole salmon filet’? So what we really mean is half a salmon! It’ll have skin on one side and be gorgeously pink on the other and it’s all ready for you to plop on a piece of foil and bake! And don’t worry too much—the people at the fish counter will know what you mean when you ask for a two-pound filet of salmon.
A Healthy, Easy, Weeknight Go-To—What More Do You Need?
Baked salmon is such a staple—it’s healthy, fast, easy, and you can keep a frozen salmon filet in the freezer and basically be ready to make this anytime you need a quick dinner. It goes with just about anything, too. Pair it with a salad, or pasta, or some good bread—whatever you’ve got—and you’ll have a simple nutritious meal you can feel really good about. If you make it, let us know how you like it! Share a photo and tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper so that we can see your stuff! Happy eating!
This post was sponsored by our friends at Bristol Bay Sockeye Salmon. Thank you for supporting us and the brands we truly love!