How To Air Fry Salmon Without Drying It Out
A fool-proof technique that works every single time.
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When it comes to simple weeknight meals, salmon is at the top of my list—but there’s nothing more heartbreaking than tough, overcooked fillets. You can tell a piece of salmon is overcooked by the white bubbles that ooze out the sides. That’s called albumin, a protein that solidifies and escapes as the fish cooks.
Surprisingly, the air fryer is an excellent way to cook tender, juicy salmon. Inside the magical machine, hot air circulates around the salmon, crisping the exterior while the flesh remains soft and buttery. Here's our complete guide to delectable air-fried salmon.
Tips for Juicy Air-Fried Salmon
1. Preheat your air fryer.
Think of your air fryer like a frying pan. If you throw a piece of fish into a cold pan, then turn up the heat, you’ll sacrifice that oh-so-satisfying caramelization. Well, the same applies to the air fryer. For a crispy edge, spare 10 minutes to preheat the air fryer while you season the salmon.
2. Make sure the salmon fillets are similar sizes.
The time needed to cook salmon thoroughly depends on the thickness of the fillet. When purchasing your fish from the supermarket or fishmonger, ask for cuts that are almost the same size. This way, your salmon will cook evenly. And always choose skin-on, because it adds a protective layer, preventing the salmon from drying out while cooking.
3. Don’t overcrowd the basket.
It’s tempting to fill the basket to the brim, but you run the risk of burning half of your food while undercooking the rest. The air fryer works like a convection oven, circulating hot air around the basket, so each fillet must have room for the air to hit all four sides. It’s worth the extra cook time to divide the fish into two or more batches to ensure a perfectly even cook.
Step-by-Step Air-Fried Salmon
Step 1: Prep work
Preheat the air fryer to 390°F. This is key!
In the meantime, place the fillets skin-side down on a sheet of parchment paper. This will make for an easy cleanup and the skin won’t stick to the air fryer basket. Measure the paper first, cutting it just a little smaller than the size of your basket and leaving longer sides, which will help you lift the salmon out of the basket easily.
Pat the surface dry with paper towels to help the seasonings stick to the salmon. This will also result in a crispier finish. Any trace of moisture will steam rather than fry.
Step 2: Season it up
Use a pastry brush to spread olive oil across the surface of the salmon. Sprinkle your seasonings overtop. (As pictured, my go-to is always minced garlic, lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, parsley, and salt and pepper. Find the full recipe below.)
Step 3: Time and temperature
Holding the long sides of the parchment paper, carefully lower the salmon into the air fryer basket and cook for 10 minutes. When the beeper goes off, check the thickest part of the salmon; if the internal temperature reads 135°F, it’s done. You can also test for doneness by inserting a fork and twisting gently. It should flake easily.
Step 4: Serve immediately
Remove the salmon from the basket immediately or it will continue to cook. Transfer it to a clean plate and whip up a quick side in the air fryer. A few ideas: air-fried avocado fries, air-fried kale chips, air-fried Mexican-style street corn or air-fried sweet potato fries.
RECIPE: Perfect Air-Fried Salmon With Lemon & Parsley
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Yields: 2 servings
2 6-ounce salmon fillets, thawed
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
⅛ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
⅛ teaspoon salt
- Preheat the air fryer to 390°F for at least 10 minutes.
- Place the salmon on a sheet of parchment paper. Use a pastry brush to spread the oil over the surface of the salmon and season with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper.
- Carefully lower the parchment with the seasoned salmon into the basket of the air fryer and cook for 10 minutes.
- Test for doneness by sticking a fork into the thickest part of the fillet and twisting gently. It should flake easily. Remove the fish from the basket immediately or it will continue to cook.
- Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge for two days.