The next time you need a kitchen confidence boost, make this Blackened Salmon! Fillets of salmon that are coated with a blend of spices, then pan-seared to flaky perfection, this method of cooking fish is both shockingly simple and restaurant-level scrumptious.
Blackening is a cooking technique that can be used with any firm-bodied fish, and it’s popular with chicken too. The fillets are brushed with butter (it must be butter to turn black—more on that momentarily), then coated liberally with a blend of herbs and spices (generally referred to as “blackening seasoning”).
The salmon isn’t burned. Rather, the color comes from the milk solids in the butter deeply toasting and the spices charring when the fish hits the hot pan (helllllo, FLAVOR!).
I cherish the moment when I break my fork down through the “lid” of the blackening seasoning to reveal bright pink, tender flakes of salmon underneath. (Though if blackened protein isn’t your preferred flavor profile, try Poached Salmon instead.)
We eat salmon often at home. It’s widely available, healthy, and since it’s a firm-bodied fish, it can stand up to a wide range of cooking techniques and flavor directions.
Most often, we cook salmon in the oven via this reader-tested, 100% foolproof method for Baked Salmon in Foil. I change up the herbs and spices to create spinoffs like Baked Teriyaki Salmon and Spicy Baked Salmon.
Sometimes, we get wild and put the salmon on the grill—see Grilled Salmon in Foil.
Now that the weather is heating up, I’ve been looking into more ways to cook salmon that don’t involve turning on the oven.
Further, since it’s just the two of us at home, it’s nice to have recipes for cooking individual salmon fillets so that I have the option to make only what we need for that night or the next day or two.
And of course, any salmon we (and you!) cook needs to taste FAB.
After all, if you are going to cook fish, why waste your time and ingredients on making something bland?
Blackening fish hits on all of the above. The flavors are bold, you can scale it to one or to a crowd, and it’s super quick and easy.
This bang-up blend of blackening spices delivers. This recipe is perfect for busy weeknight dinners, and it tastes special enough for company.
Even if you never cooked fish, you will nail this recipe. I’ve included all the tips you need to make the best blackened salmon, plus a helpful instructional recipe video.
What Does “Blackening” Mean?
As outlined above, to “blacken” something, you use butter and a blend of spices and herbs to coat the surface of the ingredient. Then, you cook it in a skillet over high heat to toast the spices so they impart rich, unique flavor.
The butter helps the spices crisp up on the outside while the inside stays perfectly moist, and it contributes to the signature dark color too.
Blackening originated as a fusion of Cajun-Creole cuisine and was first introduced to the public using redfish fillets at Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans, Louisiana (see this NPR article for more about the history of blackening).
The dish quickly gained popularity and—fortunately for us—it happens to be very easy to recreate at home.
You may be wondering how blackening differs from grilling. The difference between grilled and blackened salmon lies in the spices. While you may season your food before grilling it, the cooking method doesn’t rely on those seasonings. Blackening requires spices in order for the cooking method to work.
What Are Blackening Spices?
You can find as many recipes for blackening spice as you can cooks who make them. Everyone has their own method for creating the perfect salmon rub.
While many recipes for blackened salmon call for making a whole jar’s worth of the blackening spice blend, I prefer to mix up only what we need for a single recipe. Today’s will yield enough rub for four fillets.
Popular blackening spices include garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. While I love these vibrant spices all together, if you prefer your salmon with a little less kick, try this Pan Seared Salmon recipe.
My personal tip is to add a little brown sugar to the blackening rub. It helps the fish caramelize when it hits the heat of the pan.
How to Cook Blackened Salmon
If you have a decently stocked spice cabinet and a sturdy skillet, you’re 99% of the way to making blackened salmon.
- Salmon. Salmon is a well-loved, healthy dinner ingredient at our house, and this blackened preparation is truly one of our favorites! Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and potassium (read more about salmon health benefits here).
- Blackening Spices. Paprika, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, thyme, and oregano. BOOM! A flavorful, lightly spicy combination that gives this salmon irresistible flavor.
- Brown Sugar. My secret, delicious addition to the rub.
- Butter. Helps the spices stick to the salmon pieces and critical to the blackening technique.
- Lemon. I love a bright, finishing squeeze of lemon juice over the top of my salmon.
- Pat the salmon fillets dry, melt the butter, and stir the blackening rub ingredients together.
- Brush the butter over the fillets. Top each fillet with the rub mixture. I like to use a little spoon to scatter it on, then pat it with my fingers.
- Start the salmon fillets flesh (spice)-side down in a hot pan. Flip each piece over and cook on the other side.
- Top with lemon juice, and ENJOY!
Tips for Perfect Blackened Fish
- Keep the Salmon Cold. The butter will adhere better with cold fish, so keep the salmon in the refrigerator until you’re ready to start the recipe.
- Use a HOT Pan. You want the pan to be extra hot so the fish blackens properly and doesn’t stick. Use a heavy-bottomed, sturdy pan or cast iron skillet for the best results.
- Don’t Move the Fish. When you first add the fish to the pan, do not move it around. Let it cook for a few minutes so it forms that delightful butter/spice crust.
Some recipes suggest you add oil to the pan, but I don’t find it necessary. Brushing the fish with butter before adhering the spices, combined with the natural fats in the salmon itself is enough to cook the fish.
As long as your skillet is nice and hot, you should not have an issue with sticking.
What to Serve with Blackened Salmon
- Salad. Serve the salmon with Caesar Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Crispy Chickpea Croutons for a healthy meal.
- Pasta or Rice. Either this Pasta al Limone or Lemon Rice would be delicious paired with blackened salmon.
- Veggies. This salmon would be tasty with a side of Roasted Brussels Sprouts or Roasted Potatoes and Carrots.
More Ways to Use Blackened Salmon
In addition to serving this blackened salmon on its own with any of the sides above, you can also use it (or your leftovers) to make a variety of new dishes:
- Blackened Salmon Tacos. Take a note from my Blackened Zucchini Tacos recipe, and pile this salmon into tortillas with fresh veggies, cheese, and beans.
- Blackened Salmon Pasta. This salmon would be delicious served over a bed of pasta. Try it with either the Pasta al Limone mentioned above or this Quick Garlic Pasta with Olive Oil and Parmesan.
- Blackened Salmon Salad. Blackened salmon makes a wonderful protein addition to salads like this Spinach Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Poppy Seed Dressing. If you’re using leftover salmon, you can serve it cold or at room temperature.
- Blackened Salmon Scramble. I love adding leftover salmon to my scrambled eggs. This would be tasty and hearty for any meal.
Storage and Reheating Tips
- To Store. This salmon is best the day it is made, but you can store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
- To Reheat. To avoid drying out your salmon, gently reheat it in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat until just warmed through.
- Any leftovers would be delicious in one of the recipe ideas listed above.
More Easy Salmon Recipes
- Buffalo Baked Salmon
- Lemon Pepper Salmon
- Whole30 Salmon
- Balsamic Glazed Salmon
- And, this post on How to Cook Salmon (plus SO many recipes!).
Recommended Tools to Make This Recipe
- Fish Spatula. Perfect for turning fish in any of my healthy salmon recipes!
- Cast Iron Skillet. A well-seasoned cast iron skillet is an essential kitchen tool. This one is also nice.
- Measuring Spoons. These are easy to store and clean.
Roll up your sleeves and preheat that pan. It’s time to rock the rub and cook perfect blackened salmon at home!
If you try this recipe, please leave a comment to let me know how it goes. Your comments are so important to my site’s success, helpful to others, and they mean the world to me too.
- 4 6-ounce salmon fillet portions skin-on
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- Chopped fresh parsley or thyme for serving
- Place the salmon on a large plate, flesh-side up, and pat dry.
- In a small bowl, stir together the paprika, brown sugar, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, cayenne, thyme and oregano.
- In a separate small bowl, melt the butter. Brush the butter over the flesh-side of the salmon fillets, then sprinkle the flesh sides evenly with the spice mixture. Lightly pat the spices to adhere as needed.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet or similar heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat (no need to add oil). Turn on the exhaust fan and open a window if things start to get smoky. Once the pan is completely hot (a droplet of water should dance on its surface), working quickly but gently, add the salmon fillets, one at a time, flesh-side down. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes without disturbing the fillets, until the surface is blackened (peek as little as possible so that the salmon gets a nice dark color), then carefully turn each piece of salmon over.
- Continue cooking over medium heat, until the skin becomes crispy, and the fish is fully cooked through, about 5 to 6 additional minutes depending upon the thickness of your fillets. The fish should reach 145 degrees F on an instant read thermometer and flake easily with a fork at its thickest part.
- Squeeze lemon over the salmon, then transfer the fillets to serving plates. Serve immediately with a sprinkle of fresh thyme and additional lemon wedges.
- TO STORE: This salmon is best the day it is made, but you can store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
- TO REHEAT: To avoid drying out your salmon, gently reheat it in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat until just warmed through.
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