How to Cook Frozen Salmon

Updated: Apr. 19, 2024

You can cook frozen salmon without thawing! Here's how—in the air fryer, oven, grill and on the stovetop.

If the idea of cooking fish sounds intimidating, we suggest getting started by preparing salmon. It’s generally one of the less expensive options at the fish counter, and it’s even more affordable if you buy it frozen.

That might sound like a strange suggestion—after all, chefs are always touting the quality of fresh and local ingredients. In the case of seafood, “fresh” fish doesn’t always equate to first-rate flavor. Most stores receive frozen fish that’s thawed before it goes into the fish counter, so the quality deteriorates as the day goes on. Flash-frozen salmon, on the other hand, is almost always a high-quality product, as the freezing process preserves the fish’s freshness and texture.

But doesn’t frozen salmon require long thawing times? True, salmon can take 12 to 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator, but a little-known secret is that it’s safe to cook most fish straight from the freezer. Knowing how to cook frozen salmon is all about choosing the best cooking method, including baking, grilling, and pan-searing.

It’s no secret that salmon is good for you. Here’s a helpful guide to the most common types of salmon.

Different Ways to Cook Frozen Salmon

Air-Fry Frozen Salmon

The method for making air-fried frozen salmon is almost identical to cooking a thawed salmon, with one tiny adjustment. If your go-to air-fryer salmon recipe calls for cooking the salmon at 400°F for 5 to 7 minutes a side, increase the cooking time to 7 to 9 minutes a side for frozen salmon.

Depending on the recipe, you may want to increase the air fryer’s temperature, too. In our experience, temperatures under 390°F don’t work well for frozen salmon.

Bake Frozen Salmon in the Oven

We love baked salmon recipes as weeknight dinners because they’re a hands-off way to get a delicious, healthy dinner on the table. The same can be said about baking frozen salmon, except the cooking process is divided into two steps because seasonings won’t stick to a frozen fillet.

For best results, start with a hot oven here, from 425°F to 450°F. Arrange the salmon in a single layer on a baking sheet and cook for about 5 minutes, until the top of the salmon loses its frozen sheen. Remove the sheet from the oven and add any seasonings or sauces you desire. Bake for an additional 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the size of the fillets. Are you looking for a new delicious way to bake your salmon? Learn how to bake salmon in foil.

Grill Frozen Salmon

One of the best ways to cook frozen salmon is by making a grilled salmon in foil recipe. The foil protects the frozen flesh from the grill’s harsh flames, which can burn the exterior before the inside has thawed and cooked through. It also traps the steam inside, helping the salmon thaw more evenly.

Brush the salmon with oil and season it with the seasonings of your choice before sealing the packet tightly. You can add any vegetables you desire here, too. Grill the packet over medium heat (or 375°F for pellet grills or electric smokers) for about 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful when opening the packet to check for doneness, as the steam will be very hot!

Make Frozen Salmon in a Pan

You can use any pan-seared salmon recipe to prepare frozen salmon in a pan, but we recommend rinsing the frozen salmon under cold water first and patting it dry with a paper towel before getting started. This removes any frozen ice crystals that might flake off into the pan as the fish cooks, spitting and splattering hot oil everywhere.

Heat a tablespoon or two of oil over medium heat, adding the salmon skin-side up when the oil starts to shimmer. Cook the fish for 4 to 5 minutes before flipping the fillet and seasoning the browned side. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cover the pan, trapping the steam inside. Cook for an additional 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon. Learn how to make a pan-fried salmon recipe.

Instant Pot Frozen Salmon

You have two options when it comes to cooking frozen salmon in the Instant Pot: Go the poached salmon route by cooking the fish in a flavorful liquid, or use a trivet or steamer basket insert to make steamed salmon. All you need to do differently is to increase the cooking time by two minutes. If your recipe calls for cooking the salmon for 3 minutes, adjust it to 5 minutes.

Tips for Cooking Frozen Salmon

frozen salmon on a platea-lesa/Getty Images

How long does it take for frozen salmon to thaw?

If you don’t want to cook your salmon from frozen, that’s okay; it’s perfectly acceptable to thaw it, first. If the fish came in vacuum-sealed packaging, remove it from the bag and place it in a bowl or a rimmed plate to catch any liquids. Let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Depending on the size of the fillet, it should be done in about 12 hours, but it may take up to 24 hours.

Forgot to plan ahead? We all make that mistake! You’ll still want to remove the fish from the vacuum packaging (thawing fish in this packaging can present a botulism risk) and place it in a resealable bag. Submerge the bag in a bowl of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes until the fish is thawed. Next, try these easy salmon recipes.

What temperature should my salmon be when cooked?

While some chefs cook salmon to lower temperatures, the USDA recommends cooking fish to a safe, internal temperature of 145°F whether it’s fresh or previously frozen. You’ll know when your frozen salmon is finished cooking when the flesh flakes easily when poked with a fork and the color turns from a shiny, bright pink or red to an opaque, light pink hue.

If you see little white flecks as the salmon cooks, don’t worry. The white stuff is called albumin, a perfectly normal, safe-to-eat protein that pushes to the surface and coagulates when salmon cooks quickly at high temperatures.

Can I use marinades or seasoning on frozen salmon?

While you can season frozen salmon, we don’t generally recommend it. The seasonings don’t stick to the frozen surface, so they flake off easily. It’s better to season the fish after a few minutes of cooking when the surface thaws enough to become sticky.

Marinades for salmon are super easy to make, often utilizing ingredients you already have in the kitchen. A marinade will work with frozen fish, but keep in mind that the frozen flesh can’t absorb the flavors as readily as thawed salmon. It may result in uneven seasoning.

What can I serve with salmon?

The better question here is what can’t you serve with salmon? The best side dishes for salmon include veggies, grains and salads. Try pairing salmon with herb-roasted vegetables like potatoes, carrots, asparagus or broccoli. To make the meal more filling, add a grain like pasta, quinoa or rice.

When it comes to sauces, there are a multitude of options. Try a creamy dill sauce, a refreshing balsamic orange sauce or a rich Mornay sauce. Asian sauces like teriyaki or a soy-ginger glaze also work really well.

Up Next: 50 Easy Salmon Recipes
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