Salmon Piccata

4.95 from 34 votes
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This salmon piccata recipe is an easy gourmet meal, ready in 30 minutes! Plus, clean-up is a breeze—I pan-sear the fish, forming a crispy golden crust, and then make a tangy lemon caper sauce in the same pan.

Salmon piccata in a skillet with lemon wedges.

Recipe Science

  • Searing salmon fillets in a hot pan initiates the Maillard reaction, producing a golden crust with enhanced flavors while keeping the interior tender.
  • Deglazing the pan with white wine after cooking the salmon lifts the flavorful fond (browned bits), incorporating these rich flavors into the piccata sauce.
  • Adding capers and lemon juice to the sauce introduces a burst of acidity and brininess, which cuts through the richness of the salmon and balances the dish.

Why It Works

If you’re looking for a fast yet fancy seafood dinner, grab some salmon fillets, and you’re in for a treat. The bright orange flesh packs nutrients, so it’s a great addition to your diet. Pan-searing creates a beautiful, crispy golden crust, but afterward, there’s a ton of flavor left in the pan.

Don’t let those residual bits go to waste! Make a bright and citrusy piccata sauce with a bold mix of lemon, white wine, and capers. The tangy flavors perfectly balance the rich and flaky salmon. Pair with freshly steamed rice, pasta, or veggies for a gourmet meal made right at home.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Ingredients needed to make this salmon piccata recipe portioned on a table with labels.
  • Salmon: You can use different types of salmon for this recipe. I recommend Scottish or Atlantic varieties for their buttery and flaky texture.
  • Cooking Fat: I use a high smoke point oil like olive oil to pan-sear the salmon. Butter is whisked into the sauce for richness.
  • Stock: To control the sodium level, use unsalted vegetable stock or broth. Fish stock is a great alternative.
  • Wine: Use a dry white wine like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc. The variety you choose will add a unique flavor to the sauce.
  • Citrus: Add freshly squeezed lemon juice to make a vibrant pan sauce. I add lemon zest to infuse its essential oils into the butter and create a more robust citrus aroma.
  • Capers: The briny and piquant flavor of capers adds a burst of flavor to the seafood dish.
  • Herbs: Fresh parsley and dill add a delicate taste to the salmon without being overpowered by herbaceous notes.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

Now you know how to make salmon piccata like a pro! Try these tasty ways to customize the dish:

  • Salmon: Fresh salmon tastes the best, but defrosted pieces can be used. Splurge on King (chinook) salmon for its nutty flavor; it’s pricey but worth it for special occasions. Wild Alaskan salmon is deep red if you’re okay with a firmer texture.
  • Caper Substitute: Add chopped green olives or kalamata olives for a briny flavor.
  • Wine Substitute: Replace with vegetable stock or add some white grape juice. The juice will add some sweetness to the sauce.
  • Citrus: Instead of lemon, add orange or lime juice and zest.
  • Herbs: Sliced basil, thyme, chervil, or tarragon would pair nicely with the lemon caper sauce.

How to Make Salmon Piccata

Step 1: Cut into Fillets

I like to purchase a whole side of salmon, preferably center cut. You get more for your money and can control the size of the pieces for even cooking. You have to do a bit of butchering (which is quite fun!) to remove the salmon skin and cut it into portions, but it’s a great skill to learn and practice.

Trim off the thin tapered sides of the fillet, then cut it into about 2-inch wide pieces, around 6 ounces in weight. If desired, make them larger for heartier portions.

Quick Substitution: If the extra work isn’t your jam, most grocery stores sell skinned and portioned fillets. They are more pricey per pound but a convenient choice.

Jessica pressing down on a salmon fillet with paper towel.

Step 2: Dry and Season

Dry the fillets well to ensure a super crisp, browned surface. I use a paper towel to soak up the moisture on the top and bottom. This technique prevents steaming instead of searing. It’s also safer to pan-fry dried salmon because any residual water that comes into contact with the hot oil will pop and splatter, so be careful!

Right before cooking, season the salmon with salt and pepper. Don’t salt too early in your prep, or this will draw out too much internal moisture to the surface, which we want to avoid.

Fish spatula pressing down on a salmon fillet.
Metal tongs flipping over a salmon fillet.

Step 3: Pan-Sear the Salmon

Use a high smoke point oil of at least 375ºF (191ºC) with a neutral flavor, like light olive oil (not extra-virgin), avocado, or canola. Once the oil is shimmering, add the salmon to the pan presentation-side down and press on it to ensure even contact with the fat. Then, don’t move it!

Let it cook about 80% through. You’ll see it turn translucent to opaque. Flip it over and let it finish cooking. Depending on the thickness, the process only takes 7 to 8 minutes. Let it drain on a paper towel while you make the sauce.

Chef’s Note: I’m a big fan of pan-seared salmon for its delightful contrast in texture and color. It’s a technique I learned in culinary school that always gets praise from my husband. If you like skin, you can keep it on for extra crunch; just cook it skin-side down first. 

Lemon sauce and capers cooking in a skillet.

Step 4: Make the Piccata Sauce

Similar to my chicken piccata recipe, the key ingredients of the sauce are vegetable stock or broth, lemon zest and juice, a dry white wine, and capers. ​​They will be reduced by half in the same pan used to make the salmon while infusing salty flavors into the sauce. The heat on the stovetop evaporates some of the moisture and concentrates the punchy flavors. 

Tips for Perfect Execution: To thicken the sauce, whisk in cold butter over low heat. This process properly emulsifies the fat so the sauce lightly clings to the fish instead of breaking down and becoming greasy. Taste it and add salt and black pepper as needed.

Tongs placing a fried fish fillet into a pan of sauce.
Salmon fillets in a pan with capers on top.

Step 5: Garnish and Serve

Add the pan-seared salmon back to the pan to warm. Generously drizzle the lemon caper sauce on top.

I like to garnish with chopped parsley and dill for fresh herbaceous notes. Serve with lemon wedges on the side to squeeze some extra tangy citrus flavor on top. For a complete meal, I’d serve this with my homemade mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a piccata sauce made of?

The sauce is a powerful blend of citrus and tangy ingredients. It’s often made with lemon juice, capers for pungency, dry white wine, vegetable stock, or chicken stock. Cold butter is whisked in to thicken the sauce.

What temperature does salmon need to be?

On an instant-read thermometer, the internal temperature should register at 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare or 130°F (54°C) for medium.

Can you use frozen salmon?

Yes, but you must defrost the pieces and dry the surface well before cooking. The freezing process injures the muscle fibers, releasing a lot of juices. The excess moisture can be dangerous when added to hot oil and prevents a crispy crust on the fish.

What can be used instead of capers?

The pickled flower buds have a very unique salty and tangy flavor. Chopped green olives or kalamata are an excellent substitute for a similarly intense briny and piquant taste.

What type of pan should I use?

You can use either a stainless steel pan or a nonstick pan, although I prefer stainless steel for even heat distribution. Preheat the pan before adding the oil to create a nonstick surface. Seeing the sauce develop and emulsify in a lighter-colored pan is also easier. However, if you feel more comfortable using a nonstick pan, especially if you’re new to cooking salmon, grab that instead.

More Salmon Recipes

If you tried this Salmon Piccata recipe, please leave a 🌟 star rating and let me know how it went in the 📝 comments below!

Salmon Piccata

I love making salmon piccata because the combination of flavors is simply irresistible and always impresses family and friends.
4.95 from 34 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time15 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Entree
Cuisine Italian

Ingredients 
 

Pan-Seared Salmon

  • 1 ½ pounds whole salmon fillet
  • kosher salt, for seasoning
  • black pepper, for seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Piccata Sauce

  • ½ cup unsalted vegetable stock, or broth
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup capers
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped dill

Instructions 

  • Portion the Salmon – If the salmon skin is still intact, use a boning knife to remove the skin. Cut into four even-sized fillets, about 6 ounces in weight.
  • Dry and Season – Thoroughly dry the surface with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.
  • Pan-Sear the Salmon – Heat a 12-inch stainless steel or nonstick pan over medium heat until hot. Add the oil, then turn the heat to medium-high. Once shimmering, add the salmon one at a time, flesh-side down. Use a fish turner and press the fish into the pan for about 10 seconds.
    Reduce the heat to medium. Cook, occasionally pressing down, until the surface is golden brown and crispy and easily releases from the pan, about 4 to 5 minutes. The salmon will be about 75 to 80% cooked through.
    Use tongs to flip the pieces over. Press the surface to make direct contact with the pan, then do not move. Cook until the edges are opaque and the center is slightly translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a thermometer, the internal temperature should read 120°F (49°C) for medium-rare or 130°F (54°C) for medium. Turn off the heat. Transfer the salmon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain the excess grease. Do not discard the pan.
  • Make the Piccata Sauce – In the same pan, carefully add vegetable stock, lemon zest, lemon juice, white wine, capers, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, then bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce by half, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the heat to low and whisk in the butter. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired.
  • To Serve – Add the salmon back to the pan and drizzle the sauce over top. Garnish with parsley, dill, and lemon wedges if desired.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Using Pre-Portioned Fillets: Select four skinless fillets, about 6 ounces in size.
  • Wine Suggestions: Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Oil Substitutes: Grapeseed, avocado, or canola oil.
  • Storing: Cool completely, store in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 375kcal (19%)Carbohydrates 3g (1%)Protein 34g (68%)Fat 24g (37%)Saturated Fat 6g (30%)Polyunsaturated Fat 5gMonounsaturated Fat 10gTrans Fat 1gCholesterol 109mg (36%)Sodium 788mg (33%)Potassium 874mg (25%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 1g (1%)Vitamin A 327IU (7%)Vitamin C 9mg (11%)Calcium 31mg (3%)Iron 2mg (11%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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20 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. James Fleming says

    I made this tonight with a couple of adjustments: seared salmon presentation-side down, then covered the pan for five minutes. No need to flip fillets. I also added a tablespoon of flour to the sauce but that is totally optional. Just delicious! Thank you.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thanks for sharing your recipe modifications, James! I love the idea of a thicker sauce and covering the salmon to finish off the cooking process.

  2. Valerie C. says

    I made the salmon while my daughter made rice pilaf from a Shabbat cook book she got online. Both turned out wonderfully, but together they’re out of this world! Thank you for the wonderful recipe Jessica, it was a huge hit tonight.

  3. Soren Reynolds says

    Just made this. Wow! Another great recipe. The method for salmon yields a super crispy filet. The sauce is flavorful, vibrant and mouthwatering! I’ll be making this again and again.

  4. Jerry Jeschke says

    Made it…awesome. I didn’t have dill so I used a 1/4 cup of dill picle juice then reduce the sauce a little longer. Jess… you are the bomb!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Wow, that is so interesting using pickle juice to the flavor the sauce. I’m intrigued! You’re the bomb, Jerry!

  5. Elisa says

    Just made it for the Christmas lunch, it was so tasty! We loved it. As side dish we had potato and peas puree with a touch of mint leaves, and Brussels sprouts: the piccata sauce greatly complemented the vegetables too! Thanks for this recipe and happy holidays!