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Is 24 hours too long to marinate salmon?

Salmon is a delicious and healthy fish that is a popular choice for many home cooks. Marinating salmon before cooking is a great way to infuse flavor and make the fish extra moist and tender. But there is some debate around how long salmon should be marinated. Some recipes call for just 30 minutes of marinating time, while others recommend marinating salmon fillets overnight for up to 24 hours. So what is the ideal marinating time for salmon? Here is a comprehensive look at whether 24 hours is too long to marinate salmon.

What happens during marination

Marinades are used to impart flavor and tenderize proteins like salmon. A marinade is typically an acidic liquid that may contain ingredients like oil, herbs, spices, citrus, vinegar, wine, and more. When salmon is soaked in a marinade, a few things happen:

  • Acid from ingredients like citrus juice, vinegar, or wine gently begin breaking down the muscle fibers on the exterior of the salmon. This makes the fish more tender.
  • Moisture is able to penetrate the salmon, keeping it juicy and preventing it from drying out during cooking.
  • Flavor compounds from aromatic ingredients like herbs, spices, garlic, etc absorb into the salmon.

Ideally, you want the marinade to penetrate deep into the salmon fillets. But salmon is a dense, fatty fish that takes longer for liquids to seep into compared to leaner types of fish. Longer marinating times allow the acidic marinade to work deeper into the thick salmon fillets.

Recommended marinating times

Most chefs and recipes recommend marinating salmon fillets for at least 30 minutes to an hour. This allows the marinade enough time to start breaking down the exterior muscle fibers and impart some flavor.

Marinating salmon for 6-12 hours allows the marinade time to penetrate deeper into the fillets. Overnight marination for up to 24 hours gives the acid and moisture even more time to reach the center of the fillets for super tender and flavorful salmon.

Here are the general recommended marinating times for salmon:

  • 30 minutes – 1 hour: Minimum time to get light flavor and tenderizing
  • 2-6 hours: Allows marinade to start penetrating deeper into salmon
  • 12-24 hours: Marinade fully penetrates fillets for maximum flavor and tenderness

Benefits of marinating salmon for 24 hours

Marinating salmon for a full 24 hours has several advantages:

  • Deep penetration of moisture – The lengthy marinating time allows moisture to seep all the way to the center of the fillets, keeping the salmon incredibly moist and preventing dryness.
  • Intense flavor – Herbs, spices, garlic, and other flavor compounds in the marinade have prolonged contact with the salmon to infuse it with lots of flavor.
  • Tender texture – Acid from the marinade works slowly to break down tough muscle fibers into a buttery-soft texture.
  • Insurance for thick fillets – The extra long marinating time guarantees that even the thickest parts of salmon fillets get properly seasoned and tenderized.

Many chefs swear by marinating salmon for a full day because the results are hard to beat – incredibly moist, deeply flavored, fall-apart tender salmon.

Downsides of marinating too long

While 24 hours is an ideal marinating time for salmon for most home cooks, going much longer than that can have some downsides:

  • The acid in the marinade can start to chemically “cook” the salmon by denaturing the proteins. This gives it an unpleasant, mushy texture.
  • The salmon may take on too much marinade flavor and start to taste “pickled” rather than just infused with flavor.
  • Too much acid can give the salmon a mealy, chalky texture.
  • Herbs and aromatics in the marinade can become overpowering.

To avoid the downsides of over-marination, it’s best to stick to 24 hours or less. The collagen and fat in salmon help protect it from getting too mushy, even when marinated for a full day.

Tips for marinating salmon for 24 hours

Here are some tips to follow for safely and effectively marinating salmon for 24 hours:

  • Make sure salmon is fresh and very high quality. Lower quality salmon will quickly become mushy.
  • Use an acidic marinade with ingredients like lemon, lime, vinegar to tenderize the salmon. But don’t overdo the acidity.
  • Always marinate in the refrigerator, not on the counter. The cool temperature prevents bacterial growth.
  • Place salmon in a shallow baking dish and pour marinade over top to maximize contact. Flip halfway through.
  • Pat salmon dry before cooking so the flavors don’t burn. Cook quickly over high heat like grilling or sautéing.

Sample 24-hour salmon marinade recipes

Here are a couple delicious sample marinade recipes that work well for salmon fillets marinated for 24 hours:

Soy Ginger Marinade

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Citrus Herb Marinade

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • Zest and juice from 1 lime
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano


A marinating time of 24 hours is ideal for salmon fillets. The lengthy marination allows the acidic marinade to thoroughly penetrate and tenderize the salmon while infusing lots of moisture and flavor. As long as the marinade has a good balance of acidity and flavor, letting salmon marinate for a full day in the fridge results in exceptionally juicy, tender, and delicious fish. While marinating longer than 24 hours runs the risk of making the salmon mushy, a full 24 hours is just right for maximizing the flavor and texture of salmon fillets.