Whether to oil salmon before or after seasoning is a common question for home cooks. The order in which you apply oil and seasonings to salmon can affect how the flavors are absorbed and distributed. Understanding the benefits of each method will help you decide when to oil and season your salmon for optimal results.
Oiling Salmon Before Seasoning
Oiling salmon before seasoning is a common technique. Here are some of the potential benefits of oiling before seasoning:
- Allows seasonings to stick and coat the fish: Oil acts as an adhesive for dry seasonings like spices, herbs, salt, and pepper. Brushing or drizzling oil over salmon first helps the seasonings coat and stick to the fish better.
- Distributes seasonings evenly: Oil spreads evenly over salmon and helps distribute seasonings uniformly over the entire fillet or portion. This prevents clumping of seasonings.
- Allows deeper flavor absorption: Oil penetrates into salmon and acts as a flavor carrier. Oil brings seasonings in direct contact with the fish, allowing for deeper absorption of flavors into the salmon.
- Prevents skin from sticking: Oiling the skin first prevents it from sticking to the pan or grill. Oil creates a barrier between the salmon skin and cooking surface.
- Adds richness: Oil itself contributes flavor and richness to salmon that complements other seasonings.
Oiling before seasoning is ideal if you want well coated seasoned salmon or crispy skin. The oil facilitates adherence and absorption of seasonings into the fish.
Seasoning Salmon Before Oiling
Seasoning salmon before oiling also has some advantages:
- Allows salt to penetrate fish: Salt is a critical seasoning for salmon. Salting before oiling gives the salt time to penetrate into the flesh and enhance flavor throughout.
- Intensifies herb and spice flavors: Dry seasoning the salmon first means the oil does not dilute or mask the intensity of herbs, spices, and aromatics on the surface.
- Creates flavorful exterior: Seasoning before oiling delivers pronounced seasoned flavor concentrated on the exterior of the salmon.
- Oil does not wash away seasonings: If oiled first, brushing on oil can wipe away some loose seasonings. Seasoning first prevents this.
Seasoning before oiling is great if you want pronounced seasoned flavor on the exterior or are mostly concerned about salt penetration. The oil seals in surface flavors without diluting seasonings.
Best Practices for Oiling and Seasoning Salmon
To get the best results from oiling and seasoning salmon, follow these tips:
- Pat salmon dry first – Remove excess moisture from the salmon before oiling or seasoning. Damp fish will dilute oil and seasonings.
- Allow salt time to penetrate – If salting first, let salmon sit for 15-20 minutes before the next step.
- Use a neutral oil – Let the seasonings shine by using a mild oil like grapeseed, avocado, or light olive oil.
- Brush oil on thinly – A light brushing distributes oil without excess. Too much oil will pool and can become greasy.
- Season generously – Don’t be afraid to layer on herbs, spices, garlic, citrus zest, etc. Salmon can handle lots of flavor.
- Let sit before cooking – After oiling and seasoning, let salmon rest for 10-15 minutes so the flavors marry and absorb.
- Get oil hot before searing – Make sure oil is shimmering hot before adding salmon to get the best sear.
Oiling and Seasoning Methods for Grilled Salmon
Grilling is a popular cooking method for salmon. You can oil and season salmon destined for the grill in a few different ways:
On the Grill
- Pat salmon dry and lightly oil grill grates
- Place salmon skin-side down on hot grill and cook 2-3 minutes until browned
- Brush top of salmon with oil and season as desired
- Flip salmon and oil and seasonpreviously grilled side
- Continue grilling until salmon is opaque and flakes easily
Oiling and seasoning salmon directly on the grill leaves pronounced char and caramelized flavors.
- Pat salmon dry and brush both sides with oil
- Season both sides as desired
- Let rest 10-15 minutes for flavors to absorb
- Place salmon skin-side down on hot grill and cook until done
Oiling and seasoning ahead permeates the salmon with flavor and helps prevent sticking.
- Pat salmon dry and rub with oil
- Grill salmon without any seasoning
- When cooked through, brush salmon with oil and season
Seasoning after grilling allows you to adjust flavors to your taste and ensures seasonings don’t burn.
Oiling and Seasoning Baked Salmon
For salmon that is oven roasted or baked, you can also oil and season using different techniques:
- Pat salmon dry and coat both sides with oil
- Generously season both sides
- Let sit 15 minutes to allow flavors to penetrate
- Bake salmon on oiled sheet pan or foil until opaque
Oiling and seasoning ahead of time infuses the salmon with flavor.
Partially Baked, Then Seasoned
- Pat salmon dry and rub with oil. Bake 5-10 minutes.
- Remove salmon from oven, brush with more oil and season
- Return to oven until fully cooked through
This technique browns the salmon before seasoning for added flavor.
- Pat salmon dry and bake plain without oil or seasonings
- When fully cooked, remove from oven and brush with oil
- Season oil-brushed salmon as desired
Seasoning after baking gives you the most control over flavors.
Should You Oil or Season Salmon First?
Whether to oil or season salmon first depends on your priorities:
|If you want:||Try this method:|
|Maximum flavor penetration||Oil, then season|
|Pronounced exterior seasoning||Season, then oil|
|Salted interior flavor||Salt, rest, then oil|
|Intense surface char||Grill plain, then oil and season|
|Control over flavors||Bake plain, then oil and season|
There is no universally correct method – it ultimately comes down to the flavors and textures you want to achieve. Don’t be afraid to experiment with both oiling first and seasoning first to see which works best for your preferred preparation.
Oils for Seasoning Salmon
You have options when it comes to selecting an oil for seasoning salmon:
Extra virgin olive oil
EVOO has a fruity, peppery flavor that can complement or overwhelm salmon, depending on quality. Best for dressing cooked salmon.
Avocado oil has a very mild, buttery flavor that lets other seasonings shine. It has a high smoke point for searing.
Walnut oil provides a nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with salmon. Use in moderation as the flavor can be intense.
A neutral-flavored oil that disappears into the background. Excellent choice for showcasing seasonings on salmon.
Distinct sesame flavor best used sparingly to complement, not overwhelm salmon. Mix with a neutral oil.
Seasonings for Salmon
Salmon pairs well with a huge variety of seasonings and flavor combinations. Consider seasoning salmon with:
- Fresh herbs – dill, parsley, basil, thyme, rosemary, tarragon
- Spices – coriander, cardamom, mustard, paprika, chili powder
- Citrus zests – lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit
- Alliums – garlic, shallots, onion, chives
- Salt and pepper
- Soy sauce, fish sauce, miso (umami boosters)
- Honey, maple syrup, brown sugar (for caramelization)
- Chili flakes, wasabi, ginger (for heat)
Experiment with spice rubs, herb blends, marinades, and compound butters to customize the flavor profile. Balance robust seasonings with mild counterparts.
Should You Oil and Season Salmon Skin?
Salmon skin can become deliciously crispy and flavorful when oiled and seasoned. However, take care with how much oil you use:
- Brush skin very lightly with oil – just enough to coat. Too much will result in flabby skin.
- Season skin judiciously – a light sprinkling is enough for flavor and crunch.
- Cook skin-side down – grill or pan sear first to render fat and crisp the seasoned skin.
When prepared properly, salmon skin adds the perfect textural contrast to rich, tender salmon flesh.
Oiling and seasoning are both important steps for preparing flavorful salmon. While there is no single right technique, oiling before seasoning helps the seasoning stick and penetrate into the fish. Seasoning before oiling provides intense surface flavor. Making sure the salmon is patted dry first, using quality oil and seasonings, and allowing time for the flavors to marry are all keys to success. Vary between pre-cook and post-cook seasoning for different results. With practice, you can master perfectly seasoned, tender and flaky salmon.