raw salmon on a wooden table

How to Thaw Frozen Salmon: Best Practices and Recipes to Get You Started

While you may already have an idea of how to thaw frozen salmon, not every defrosting method is created equally. Taking the fish from a frozen state to a warm, flaky dish requires some prep work to make sure that you’re not only thawing it quickly, but doing so safely.

It’s critical, when thawing any piece of fish, to keep the cut out of the dreaded “danger zone.” This is the temperature range between 40°F and 140°F, where bacteria grow most rapidly. For that reason, simply leaving the salmon out on the counter to defrost is not a great idea.

Wondering how to thaw frozen salmon properly? Below you’ll find two best practices as well as several tasty salmon recipes to make at home. You’ll even get tips for cooking salmon straight out of the freezer for those nights when you’re pressed for time.

Best Practices for Thawing Frozen Salmon

The Gold Standard: Defrost in Refrigerator Overnight

If you had the foresight and time to take salmon out of the freezer and move it to the refrigerator, then you’re following the gold standard. This is the simplest, most effective, and arguably safest method for defrosting salmon, but it also takes the most time. 

As long as your fridge is kept at safe temperatures, you don’t have to worry about bacterial growth. Simply move the salmon in its packaging to the fridge to defrost. Depending on the size of your cut of salmon, this method can take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours.

If You Can Spare an Hour: Thaw in Cold Water (and Ditch the Vacuum-Sealed Packaging)

If, like us, you occasionally forget to put the salmon in the fridge overnight to thaw, don’t fret. You can still defrost your salmon in cold water. This method is relatively fast and effective. It’s also safe, provided you take key safety practices to heart.

If you’re starting with salmon in vacuum-sealed packaging, remove the fish and place it into a resealable plastic bag. That sounds like an annoying extra step, but it’s actually very important. Thawing fish in its packaging (above fridge temperatures) presents a risk for botulism.

Clostridium botulinum—a bacteria that causes the spores that can lead to botulism—thrive in low-oxygen environments, like that of vacuum-sealed packaging. The spores can create the botulism-causing toxin in warmer environments, like outside the fridge. 

By exposing the fish to oxygen and placing it in another bag, you can stop those spores in their tracks. Now, place the new bag in a bowl of very cold water. Check your fish every 30 minutes to see if it’s thawed; change out the water if it’s gone tepid. 

Pro Tip: You Can Cook Salmon Straight from the Freezer

Did you know that, if you’re in a pinch, you can totally cook salmon straight from the freezer, too? It’s totally safe, easy, and works with so many different cooking methods, like the oven, air fryer, and Instant Pot. Plus, it really does turn out delicious. 

If you’re not sure where to get started, check out our tutorials:

Salmon Recipes to Try Tonight

pan-seared salmon with salad and green goddessPan-Seared Salmon with Green Goddess Dressing and Radish Apple Salad

This crisp salmon pairs beautifully with a vibrant, herb-packed dressing and crisp radish apple salad. Plus, it takes a whopping total of 15 minutes to throw this whole meal together.

The salmon itself requires little more than salt, pepper, butter, and a hot skillet. That’s because the green goddess dressing packs in flavor, thanks to a blend of herbs like tarragon, parsley, and chives. Greek yogurt, lemon juice, and sherry vinegar add the perfect hints of acid and tang.

Finally, the simple salad comes together with leaves of Bibb lettuce, carrot ribbons, and thinly sliced radishes and apples. It’s a light but nourishing meal.

pesto sheet pan salmon and delicata squash

Sheet Pan Salmon with Delicata Squash

Salmon is nothing if not a quick dinner, and this all in one sheet pan dinner exemplifies that. You’ll have a pesto-coated salmon and rich delicata squash meal ready in 20 minutes flat.

This isn’t just any pesto—it’s a homemade spinach and dill version, complete with almond, olive oil, and lemon. You’ll whip this up quickly, then lay out your salmon fillets and delicata squash rounds on a sheet pan. Top the salmon with the pesto, bake for about 15 minutes, and that’s it! Serve it all with a big green salad for an even more colorful meal.

seared salmon with pineapple salsa

Seared Salmon with Pineapple Salsa

Salmon pairs amazingly with sweet accompaniments, and this pineapple salsa is no exception. Made with pineapple, red pepper, garlic, cilantro, and lime, it’s light on the heat but not on the flavor.

This meal is incredibly simple to throw together. First, whip up your pineapple salsa. The beauty of this salsa is that it can be made up to four days in advance, and can also be used on beef, chicken, and pork. Once you have your salsa, you’ll want to salt and pepper your salmon generously, and sear it for a few minutes on each side. Assemble, and enjoy!

lemon-poached salmon

Lemon Poached Salmon with Quick Pickle Sour Cream

If you’d like a dish that really highlights the delicate flavor and texture of salmon, this lemon poached recipe is the one. It’s accompanied by a bright, cool, and crunchy salad.

The poaching liquid is vibrant and flavorful, complete with white wine, lemon, bay leaves, parsley stems, and black peppercorns. The salmon needs only five minutes to absorb all that incredible, delicate flavor.

The quick pickle sour cream elevates this dish, with a medley of cucumber, red onion, champagne vinegar, dill, parsley, and of course, sour cream.

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Courtney Hamilton
Courtney Hamilton is a writer and editor with over seven years' experience in journalism, blogging, communications, and other media. She has written for publications like PaleoHacks, PaleoPlan, The Center for American Progress, OC Weekly, and more. 
 
Check out more of her work at www.courtney-hamilton.com.