I cook salmon once or twice a month for my family. Though I’d love to have fresh wild-caught fillets on hand, in all honesty, frozen salmon is more convenient for mid-week meals. Most of the time, I buy frozen salmon for this very reason, but other times I’ll have salmon that I bought fresh and ended up freezing. Luckily, both store-bought frozen salmon and fresh salmon that I froze are easy to thaw for quick weeknight dinners.
The USDA recommends thawing frozen foods in three ways: refrigerator, cold water, or microwave. We’re going to trust the experts and follow those guidelines to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. And we walk you through each of the three approved methods below.
How Do You Know It’s Thawed?
Before we go on, you might wonder how to tell if your salmon is thawed. Check by trying to bend it. If it stays straight, then keep thawing. If the fillet bends in the middle, then you know that dinner will be on the table in mere minutes.
Now let’s get down to business and discuss the pros and cons of each method. Which one is your favorite?
The Best Way: In the Refrigerator
Time: 8 to 12 hours
When we say that thawing salmon is easy, this is what we mean: 8 to 12 hours before cooking the salmon, move it from the freezer to the refrigerator.
Fresh salmon that you froze at home can be kept in the zip-top bag and thawed in the refrigerator as is.
Salmon sold in the freezer section includes instructions for thawing in the refrigerator on the back of the bag. Most often the instructions are to remove the salmon fillets from the vacuum-sealed packaging and transfer to a container to thaw in the refrigerator. Or the instructions may tell you to pierce the individual packaging with a fork instead of removing it. Regardless, you’ll want to put your thawing salmon in a container to catch any drips.
Pros: Thawing salmon in the refrigerator is the most flexible method. It doesn’t require any hands-on time. With this method, the salmon can be cooked within a day of thawing instead of immediately afterwards like the other methods.
Cons: It can take up to 12 hours for salmon to completely thaw in the refrigerator, so it does require planning ahead.
A Faster Way: Cold Water
Time: 1 to 2 hours
Dinner isn’t completely lost if you forgot to put the salmon in the refrigerator last night. The cold water method requires an hour or two and is a great option.
Remove the frozen salmon from the vacuum-sealed package and transfer to a zip top-bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Fill a container with cold water and submerge the salmon. You can use a plate to keep the bag from floating. Set a timer and check the fish in 30 minutes. If it’s still frozen, then dump the water, refill the container with cold water, and submerge the salmon again. Repeat until the salmon is thawed.
For salmon that is already in a zip-top bag, you can thaw it in cold water while still in the bag.
Pros: Defrosting salmon in cold water is faster than the refrigerator method and can be done right before dinner. It’s a simple method and only requires a container, cold water, and a timer. This method allows for multitasking: prep dinner ingredients while it’s thawing.
Cons: The downside of this method is that you do need to remember to set a timer to ensure that the salmon is safely defrosting. The water must be cold to keep the salmon out of the “danger zone” and needs to be changed after 30 minutes. With this method, the details are important so make yourself a note (or check back here!) with the important details: submerge in cold water for 30 minutes, check for thawing, change out the water and repeat until the fillet is thawed.
Fastest, But Not the Greatest: The Microwave
Time: 2 to 4 minutes
The microwave is by far the fastest method. To thaw salmon in the microwave, remove it from all of the packaging and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Then select the defrost button on your microwave and input the amount of ounces you are defrosting. On mine, 4 ounces of salmon took 2 minutes to defrost. The time varies depending on the amount of salmon you need to thaw. Cook the salmon immediately after thawing it in the microwave.
Pros: Thawing salmon in the microwave is fast and easy, especially if you are used to using the defrost function on the microwave.
Cons: Obviously, this method only works if you have a microwave. Microwaves can end up cooking the salmon instead of just defrosting it, so keep an eye on it. You might find that the microwave has a lingering smell after defrosting salmon inside, which you can fix by microwaving a lemon.