Salmon salad is my go-to feel-good meal and I make some variation of it almost weekly. It’s the perfect combination of warm & cold and creamy & crunchy and it’s full of good-for-you nutrients that help you fuel your body AND satisfy your desire for food that tastes REALY GOOD.
Please don’t think of salad as diet food
“Diet food” sounds like deprivation…and this salad is anything but!
Ok. So, I need to get something out there right off the bat. I don’t believe in “diets”. I don’t believe in low fat. I don’t believe in counting calories and weighing portions. I think that all sounds like a hell of a lot of work and sucks the joy out of preparing and enjoying food. Before you get defensive, if you’ve found something that works for you and you’re passionate about it, I think that’s great- keep it up! You do you. And if you have a medical condition that requires a specific diet that’s a completely different story.
But me? I basically have three rules I’ve lived by for the last 20 years when it comes to what I eat. Eat real food, with traditional ingredients that haven’t been processed in a way that requires a factory with commercial equipment. Practice balance & mindfulness which means eat a variety of foods from all of the different groups and pay attention to how you feel after you eat them. Be kind to yourself by focusing on what you need to eat rather than what you can’t have (this is a mind set) because you live in the real world and it’s almost impossible to avoid all processed foods/ingredients 100% of the time. Sometimes you want to splurge, just make sure it’s worth it.
What you’ll LOVE about this salad
It’s totally satisfying. The flavors and textures are balanced. And it’s versatile. You can switch up ingredients depending on what you have available and what you’re craving. This is why some of the ingredients don’t have measurements- make it your own and look at this as a guideline.
I do have a few musts for a really great salad, though
You need a combination of cold and warm ingredients. In this case the salmon and (sometimes) the eggs are warm and the other ingredients are cold.
You need both creamy and crunchy components. Texture is important. This salad gets crunch from still crisp green beans and homemade croutons, and creaminess from the soft boiled eggs, goat cheese, avocado and perfectly cooked salmon.
Also, I like something “bright” like tomatoes to balance the other flavors.
Here are two recent salmon salad versions
- Parm instead of goat cheese and a creamy peppercorn dressing
- Divina roasted tomatoes in addition to fresh, a little bacon, feta and buttermilk-herb dressing
What kind of salmon should you use?
It can be confusing deciding what kind of salmon you should buy and there are lots of thoughts on what’s best (for flavor, health and sustainability). Here’s a good article to help you sort it out and decide what’s best for you.
My personal preference is sustainably farmed varieties. I like Faroe Island or Sixty South salmon. They don’t use antibiotics or dyes and I prefer their flavor and fat profile over darker, wild salmon. Both are widely available and moderately priced. If you start with salmon that’s leaner the end result may not be the same (i.e. it will be dry).
Also, I’ve never been a fan of previously frozen salmon. I feel like the texture changes once it’s been frozen, so I always buy fresh.
Make sure your pieces are all similar in shape and size. I usually go for center cut portions around 6 oz each.
Hericots Verts or Green Beans?
Hericots Verts is the French word for green beans. There IS a difference beyond the name and a good reason to seek them out at the store. They’re thinner and more tender than other green beans. They’re also stringless so you don’t need to snap them. They cook much more quickly than the thicker green beans you’ll find at the market, so make sure you follow my instructions for a quick blanching followed by a dip in an ice bath to stop the cooking and preserve the beautiful, bright green color.
Steam Your Eggs (and they’ll peel much easier!)
This is a little trick I just recently learned! If your eggs are super fresh it’s always a little harder to get a clean peel. We’ve all found ourselves staring in disappointment at little pieces of broken eggshell in a pile next to half-dressed boiled eggs, their yellow insides peeking shamefully through their torn up white exteriors. They may still taste good, but visually they’re just not appealing.
I have yet to find a method (and I have tried them ALL) that is 100% every- single- time- every- single -egg going to result in shells that effortlessly slip right off revealing Instagram worthy egg exteriors. Sometimes ugly eggs happen to good people. It’s life. BUT, steaming has given me a much more consistent success rate.
Oozy? Jammy? Or Hard Boiled?
Steaming also makes it easier to gauge your timing to get your eggs to the doneness you prefer. My preference for eggs on a salad is somewhere between jammy and completely cooked so 9 or 10 minutes is perfect for me. If I’m making eggs for a bowl of ramen I want them slightly oozy so it’s 7 or 8. Deviled eggs? 13, is the winner 🙂
Prep your ingredients ahead
If you get your ingredients ready ahead of time, cooking your salmon and assembling your salad is super easy. I usually make more beans and eggs than I’ll need and use them throughout the week for snacks and other meals.
- Blanch your beans: Plunge them into boiling, salted water for 2 1/2 minutes. Drain in colander, run cold water over them and immediately place them in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Once they’re completely cooled, lay them out on a double thickness of paper towel (or a clean dish towel), roll them up and place in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. If you’re doing this more than a couple hours ahead place the entire bundle in a plastic bag (they’ll keep for 3 days).
- Cook your eggs: Get out a large pot that has a steamer insert (or steamer basket that will fit inside). Bring 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil and have your eggs ready in the basket (outside of the pot). Once the water boils put the steamer basket of eggs inside , cover with a lid and start your timer (see photo for times/doneness). As soon as your time is up take the eggs out and place them into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
- If making your own croutons: Preheat oven to 350 and cut good, sturdy bread into 1″ cubes about 1/2″ thick (I like sourdough). Lay out on a baking sheet large enough to hold them all without touching each other. Drizzle with a little olive oil (use your discretion for how much- you want them lightly coated enough to make your seasoning stick but not soaked), season with kosher salt (you can use any other seasonings you like) and bake for 10-15 minutes, stirring around a couple of times to check their progress. I like mine to be crunchy outside but a little chewy in the middle, you might like them crisp all the way through. Time them accordingly.
- Make your salad dressing: Whisk together all ingredients and refrigerate for at least an hour to let the flavors blend.
- Season your salmon with salt, cracked pepper and Old Bay 15 minutes before you’re going to start cooking.
Foolproof, silky, medium salmon
People have a tendency to overcook salmon, and when it’s overcooked it’s dry and unappealing. Perfectly cooked salmon should be medium (125-ish on an instant read thermometer), not well done.
The perfect salmon for me has a wonderful, crispy, flavorful top and is meltingly soft and buttery inside. For years I made crispy salmon by searing it first in a very hot skillet and then transferring to a very hot oven to finish cooking. The result was sometimes REALY GOOD. And sometimes my salmon was overcooked on the outside but still underdone in the middle. And sometimes it was overcooked all the way through. The only thing that was consistent was that it ALWAYS set off my smoke alarm when I seared it!
There’s a better way. You’re still going to start on the stove top and finish in the oven but the difference is the level of heat you’ll use. You also need a skillet that will go from stove top to oven (not non-stick).
Start on the stovetop
- To get that nice, crispy top it’s important to dry your fish well with a paper towel before seasoning. Make sure your fish is at room temp when you start cooking.
- Get your oil moderately hot, not smoking, in an ovenproof skillet. I prefer a combo of avocado and olive oil. Lay your fish, skin side up, in the hot pan- you should hear an enthusiastic sizzle, not a scream or a whisper, but in between. Don’t touch your salmon for 3-4 minutes, let it get nice and crispy.
- Next, use a thin metal spatula to see if the fish will easily separate from the pan and to check the color. It should be nice and golden and not offer too much resistance when lifting.
Finish in the oven
- When it’s golden and you can easily slide the spatula under the fish, flip it over carefully and place it in the oven. Depending on the size and thickness it should take 8-10 minutes at 325f to get to an internal temperature of 120f. Take it out at 120f, the residual cooking over the next few minutes will get it to a beautifully cooked 125f.
- An instant read thermometer is a great, cheap tool that will help you feel confident no matter your level of cooking experience. I use mine all the time! If you don’t have one there are visual clues you can look for, too. Medium salmon will be slightly translucent in the very center and you’ll be able to see where the salmon flakes along the muscle fibers.
Start with your greens
I am going to admit right here and now that I don’t usually think about what greens I’m going to use ahead of time. I mean, if I’m making a wedge salad it seems pretty obvious to use iceberg, Caesar salad I use romaine. But other than that I look in my fridge and see what I have.
I know there’s an art to matching greens to the flavors and textures and dressings, just like there’s an art to matching wine with food. But, that said, I drink red wine with everything and I’m perfectly happy with that decision.
So many options…
At different times for this salad I’ve used romaine, spring mix, spinach, arugula and butter lettuce. If I’m not using a blend, like spring mix, I like to get individual heads rather than bags. That’s partly the “enjoy the process” part of me and partly because I think there’s an off odor to bagged greens. If you see living lettuce in your store I highly recommend it (it’s the kind with the root end attached, still standing in water and it really does taste fresher).
I love bibb lettuce for it’s butteriness, red leaf for color, arugula for it’s spicy notes, romaine for it’s crunch and spinach for it’s flavor and tenderness. I’m an equal opportunity lettuce lover.
Make your selection, make sure it’s washed and dry (use a salad spinner or blot with paper towels) so the dressing doesn’t slide off, tear it into bite sized pieces and arrange it on your plate or bowl.
While your salmon cooks arrange your salad
Have all of your toppings ready. Slice your tomatoes, quarter your eggs, and gather any other topping you’ll be using. Arrange them on your greens leaving a section in the center for your salmon.
I drizzle some dressing on the salad before I add the salmon, but not a lot. You can always add more as you eat, but you want to taste all of the flavors, not just the dressing.
When your salmon is done, slide the spatula between the skin and the flesh and place on top of your salad. Sprinkle cheese and croutons around your salmon and drizzle with a little more dressing. Crack some pepper over all and enjoy!
- 2 center cut salmon fillets, 6 oz each
- 2 eggs, soft boiled (see notes for steaming instructions)
- french green beans (hericot verts)
- 1 avocado, sliced
- cocktail or other small tomatoes, halved or sliced
- oil cured black olives (or olives of choice)
- 2 oz creamy goat cheese, crumbled
- croutons (see notes if making homemade)
- Old Bay, kosher salt and cracked pepper to taste
- Olive and or avocado oil, 2 TBSP total
- Salad greens of your choice, washed and dried and torn into bite size pieces, enough for two servings
- 1/3 cup crème fraiche, sour cream or Greek yogurt
- 2 Tbsp grated parmesan
- 2 Tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp anchovy paste
- 1 small clove garlic, grated
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- I like to make the dressing at least an hour ahead to let the flavors develop. Combine all of the ingredients for your dressing in a bowl & whisk until smooth & completely combined. Taste & adjust seasonings. You can add a little water if it's too thick (start with a Tbsp). Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- If making your own croutons, do this now (see notes for instructions)
- Bring pot of salted water to a boil & have large bowl filled with ice cubes & cold water ready (ice bath). Plunge beans into boiling water wait 2 1/2 minutes. Drain beans in a colander, run cold water over, & place in ice bath. Once beans are completely cool lay them out on a double thickness of paper towels or a clean dish towel & roll them up. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- If steaming eggs, do this now (see notes for instructions)
- Season salmon with Old Bay, kosher salt & cracked pepper to your preference, set aside & let salmon come to room temp about 20 minutes.
- While salmon sits, gather your remaining ingredients. Slice your tomatoes, & avocados. Peel & quarter your eggs. Get your salad greens ready.
- To cook salmon: Set oven to 325 f & put a Tbsp each of olive & avocado oil in an oven proof skillet (stainless or cast iron). Heat your oil in the skillet just until it shimmers over moderate heat. Lay your salmon, skin side up, in the oil. You want the oil hot enough to sizzle nicely, but not so hot that it burns. leave the salmon alone for 3-4 minutes.
- After 3-4 minutes slide a thin metal spatula under the fish to see if it lifts easily. If it gives a lot of resistance wait a little longer & check again in a minute. The top should be nice & golden & it should release easily. Flip your fish over & place entire skillet in the oven.
- Cook 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of your fillet & how long you seared it. Check at 8 minutes with an instant read thermometer. It should read 120 when it's ready to take out. Residual cooking should increase the temperature to 125. If you're squeamish about salmon being a little pink take it out at 125 & let it rise to 130.
- While salmon cooks arrange greens on individual bowls or plates. Arrange tomatoes, green beans, eggs, olives, avocados on top leaving a space for your salmon. Drizzle with a little bit of the dressing.
- When salmon is done slide spatula between the skin & the flesh & place on top of salad. Sprinkle croutons and cheese around salmon & drizzle with a little more dressing. Crack some pepper over all.
- For croutons: Preheat oven to 350 and slice 1/2" thick slice of firm bread into squares about 1". Place on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, just enough to make seasoning stick, don't soak them. Toss them to distribute the oil evenly and then season with a little kosher salt. You can use other seasoning if you like (garlic powder, cracked pepper, even a little parmesan cheese. just depends on your taste). spread cubes out so that they aren't crowded and bake 10-15 minutes, stirring around a couple of times to check progress. I like mine crispy outside and a little chewy in the middle, if you prefer crispy all the way through cook longer. Take them out when they're cooked to your liking.
- For eggs: Place cold eggs in a steamer basket and set aside. Bring 1 1/2 inches of water to a boil in a pot that will hold the steamer basket. Prepare an ice bath. As soon as water comes to a boil place basket with eggs inside and cover with the lid. Set a timer for the appropriate amount of time (I've provided a chart in the notes). Immediately remove the eggs when the time is up and place them in an ice bath. Set aside.