If you’ve cooked salmon, it’s more than likely that you’ve noticed a white liquid oozing out of your fish during the cooking process. It certainly looks unappetizing, and it seems to be more present in some filets than others. Perhaps you, like me, simply scrape it off and continue on with the recipe. But is there a way to minimize its presence, what exactly is it anyway, and is it safe to eat?
What’s That White Stuff on My Salmon?
First things first, that white stuff is a form of protein, and it actually has a name: albumin. This particular protein, as described by the Oxford Dictionary, is soluble in water and coagulable by heat, which explains why it changes form during the cooking process.
As Dr. Donald Kramer, former professor of seafood science at the University of Alaska explains in Cook’s Illustrated’s Kitchen Smarts, as fish cooks, the albumin denatures (in other words, the molecular bonds are broken in the protein, causing it to have a looser structure), and gets squeezed out from the inside of the fish and onto its surface.
Once there, it coagulates into the white streaks you see. Think of it like the fat in a smashburger; what was once small white specs dispersed throughout the ground beef becomes liquid fat when smashed into a hot pan, leaving behind lacy edges of meat.
Of course, unlike beef fat, which melts into liquid form over high heat, the albumin solidifies into those thick white streaks.
Though overcooking your salmon will likely lead to more visible albumin, Kramer notes that no matter how you cook your salmon, at least some albumin will likely come to the surface.
Can you eat it? Luckily, yes. And it doesn’t taste like much either. So if you don’t mind the looks of it, proceed with your recipe! Or, if you’d like to clean it up for serving, it’s easy to wipe it off gently with a damp paper towel.
3 Easy Ways To Avoid Albumin on Your Salmon
The number one way to avoid an albumin-covered filet is to not overcook your salmon. There are several ways to avoid taking your fish too far.
1. Take the Temp
The simplest is to use a thermometer. (It should be noted that pricking the fish often with a thermometer will create openings for the albumin to ooze out. Simply dab the hole with a paper towel after measuring the temperature to curb the flow.)
The USDA recommends that fish is cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F, but don’t forget that it will continue to cook once removed from heat. So pull the salmon out of the pan or baking dish slightly before it reaches 145°F and let it come to temperature while it rests on a plate.
You can always pop it back in the pan or oven to cook it for longer, but there’s no going back to less done! If the fish separates into flakes when pressed gently with a fork, it’s definitely ready to go.
2. Pick Filets That Are About the Same Size
Cooking with similarly-sized filets of salmon and bringing it up to room temperature before cooking can also help to avoid overcooking. Same-size filets will cook at the same rate, and room-temperature fish will cook more evenly. Both are good practices for any fish, not just salmon.
Wyoming University’s School of Nutrition and Food has another great tip for perfect salmon—you’ll need to buy salmon with the skin still attached. Fish skin will naturally protect the flesh from direct heat during the cooking process, so to help regulate temperature, cook the salmon skin-side down.
3. Brine the Salmon
If you’re really concerned about albumin showing up on your salmon, Cook’s Illustrated has come up with the most effective way to ward off those pesky streaks. The secret is a saltwater brine made up of one tablespoon of salt per cup of water.
They found that after soaking their filets in this brine for only 10 minutes, the cooked fish had little to no visual albumin. According to Cook’s Illustrated’s Kitchen Smarts, the salt in the brine partially dissolves the muscle fibers near the surface of the fish’s flesh, so it’s less likely to contract and push the albumin out of the fish and onto the surface. If aesthetics are a concern, this is a great method. If not, just dab the white stuff away! It’ll be just as delicious.