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What to Do (and What to Avoid) When Defrosting Salmon

For so many of us, salmon is such a crowd-pleaser at the dinner table that it’s something we reach for frequently. While buying it fresh at the fish counter is great, it’s not always a reasonable option. Whether you don’t have time to stop at the store on the way home from work or the price of fresh isn’t right, frozen salmon is a great alternative. What’s the best way to defrost it, though? It all depends on how much time you have.

How to Safely Defrost Salmon

You have a few options when it comes to defrosting salmon — it really just depends on how much time you have. The goal with all of them is to keep the fish out of the temperature danger zone (41°F to 135°F) where bacteria can grow quickly. Risks include extended time at room temperature, contact with hot water, and microwave defrosting — the latter two can also affect texture.

If You Have Plenty of Time

While it involves some planning, the easiest and most foolproof way to defrost salmon is to allow it to thaw slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Simply transfer the frozen package from the freezer to the fridge (you can put it on a paper towel-lined plate to catch any condensation). In about 24 hours it should be completely defrosted and ready to cook.

If You Have a Little Bit of Time

If you forget to put the salmon in the fridge overnight but dinner is still a couple of hours of away, your best option is to thaw it in cold water. Fill a large bowl of cold water, place the fish in a resealable plastic bag (if it’s not already) and submerge it. It will take about an hour for the salmon to defrost, depending on its size and thickness. Check it after 30 minutes to see how it’s progressing and change out the water if it starts to become tepid.

If You Have (Essentially) No Time

Here’s a little secret: If you can’t even wait an hour to start cooking dinner, you can actually cook the salmon straight from frozen. It’s safe to do this because you’re bypassing the temperature danger zone as you cook it through. To ensure its texture is just as tender and flaky as thawed salmon, you’ll want to follow a specific method: Roast the salmon, covered, at high heat for five minutes to steam it and lock in moisture as it defrosts, then uncover it for the remaining five to eight minutes to evaporate any excess moisture.

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