Salmon is as versatile a seafood as any seafood you could mention. Its flavor is distinctive but not overwhelming, subtle enough to work with the most delicate flavorings but assertive enough to stand up to heavy seasoning or chili heat. Salmon is similarly at home with multiple preparation methods, from poaching to grilling or broiling.
Baking vs. Broiling
Whether you choose to bake or broil your salmon, you will have to use your oven. The difference lies in how each method uses the oven's heat to cook. When you bake foods, you're leaving them in the enclosed space of your oven and using the oven's heating elements or gas flame to heat the air around the food. The heat conducts slowly and evenly through the air to cook your food. Broiling cooks by putting the food just inches away from an intensely hot element or gas flame.
Salmon is well-suited to broiling by its nature. Its flesh is dense and relatively rich in healthy unsaturated fats, which help it stay moist and delicate even in the intense heat of a broiler. This is important, because broilers cook very quickly and, thus, it's easy to overcook something as delicate as a piece of fish. The other risk of broiling is charring the surface of your foods if you are unattentive for a minute or two. However, when done properly, grilled salmon can be moist, savory and uncommonly tasty.
Baking salmon is neither as quick or as risky as broiling it. The less intense heat provides slower cooking, but sharply reduces the risk of burning or overcooking the salmon. Salmon is quick to cook even at the lower temperatures used in baking, usually requiring only 10 to 12 minutes for a fillet of 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Baking is more versatile, allowing you dress the salmon with ingredients that would otherwise char under the broiler's heat. Baking also permits the option of cooking a whole salmon instead of only fillets or steaks.
In many cases, the decision to bake or broil your salmon will depend on the circumstances. If you can't give it your undivided attention, using your broiler is probably not the best option. Baking will give you a few minutes' grace to set the table or attend to your side dishes. Broiling creates a slight crust at the surface, providing a textural contrast with the tender inside of the fillet. Baking your salmon will generally give it a more delicate texture. Broiling is superior for browning or caramelizing the salmon, but baking allows for a wider range of coatings or flavorings.
- "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen"; Harold McGee; 2004
- "Professional Cooking"; Wayne Gisslen; 2003
- Fine Cooking: Salmon
- Fine Cooking; Broiled Salmon with Ginger-Shiitake Glaze; Tony Rosenfeld; September 2010
- Fine Cooking; Baked Salmon with Citrus Vinaigrette; Tasha DeSerio; July 2006