Kenji Lopez-Alt is the chief creative officer of Serious Eats, where he writes The Food Lab, unraveling the science of home cooking.
Q: I buy my salmon prefrozen—should I be ashamed?
A: Not in the least. The best lesson my high school physics teacher ever taught me was that it’s OK to be lazy. Well, not quite. What he said was, “If you can get the same results the fast and easy way as with the hard and laborious way, do it the easy way.”
Case in point: cooking salmon. One of my favorite quick dinners is salmon fillets coated in a sweet miso and sake and cooked under the broiler until charred on the outside and medium-rare in the center. It takes about half an hour, start to finish. But here’s the thing: Fresh fish doesn’t last long, which means that when I want to cook this dish, I need to head to the fish counter the same day I want to cook it, which takes it out of the category of spontaneous dinner.
Little known fact: Pretty much all the salmon that you buy in a supermarket has been frozen at some point to destroy parasites and preserve it for storage. This is not a bad thing. Modern freezers chill fish extremely quickly, which minimizes the formation of ice crystals that can cause damage to delicate flesh. And at low temperatures, bacterial and enzymatic actions that can degrade flavor and texture slow down almost to a standstill.
Carefully thawed frozen salmon can be nearly indistinguishable from fresh-caught, but careful thawing takes time. So what happens if you cook salmon fillets straight from the freezer?
I tried it out, rubbing a frozen fillet with my miso marinade and placing it under the broiler. It took a bit of fiddling with timing, but to my surprise, it worked like a charm. In fact, it worked even better than cooking thawed fillets, allowing me to keep more of the center that nice medium-rare while still getting great char outside. It’s the ultimate healthy, easy, and—let’s face it—lazy dinner.
Here’s the Cooking Light version of my favorite salmon preparation: Combine 3 tablespoons white miso paste, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons sake, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Brush this mixture over 4 (6-ounce) frozen salmon fillets. Broil fillets until the tops are charred, about 12 minutes. Cover pan with foil, and broil an additional 15 minutes or until desired degree of doneness.