by Stephanie M. Beaudette M.Ed.,RDN
Do Defrost Salmon in the Refrigerator
Of the three safest ways to defrost frozen salmon fillets, thawing in the refrigerator is recommended as your best option for flavor, texture and quality. When defrosting any frozen fish or meat, proper thawing practices reduce the risk of foodborne illness and food poisoning. When food is in the danger zone, 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria multiply more quickly increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Defrosting salmon fillets in the refrigerator keeps the fish at a safe temperature. Defrosting salmon in the fridge does require some advance planning and time as one pound of fish may require 10-12 hours to thaw completely. Plan on thawing in the fridge overnight, or up to a full day prior to defrost completely. When thawing salmon in the fridge, remove the vacuum-sealed packaging and place the salmon within a dish or container that prevents the contents from leaking onto other foods in the fridge. For this same reason it is also recommended that you place your container on the bottom shelf of the fridge. Some chefs recommend placing a paper towel under the salmon during the defrosting process to absorb excess liquids and maintain the quality of the fish. Cover the salmon with plastic wrap or a lid. You can safely store thawed salmon in your fridge for an additional 1-2 days before cooking. Should your dinner plans change, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that you can safely refreeze salmon that has been thawed in the fridge–but do not refreeze with any of the other defrosting methods until the salmon has been fully cooked.
Don’t Defrost Salmon at Room Temperature
Do not defrost frozen salmon at room temperature on your kitchen counter or in cooler basements, garages or porches. According to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, part of the US Department of Agriculture, food that is thawed or held between 40-140 degrees is in a danger zone where bacteria multiply more rapidly which may increase the risk of foodborne illness. Thawing on the counter may seem convenient, but if thawing overnight in the fridge is not an option, or you are short on time, you can safely thaw salmon in cold water.
Do Defrost Salmon in Cold Water
If you forgot to put the salmon in the fridge the night before you can defrost under cold water fairly quickly. Defrosting salmon in cold water is faster than thawing overnight in the fridge but still may take a few hours depending on the weight of the fish. There are also a few more steps involved to safely thaw salmon in cold water. First, place the salmon in a watertight bag and seal. It may be tempting to just fill your sink with cold water and toss in the bag of frozen salmon but don’t do it! If your bag is not completely sealed, not only could you inadvertently add unwanted water to your salmon but also unwanted bacteria from your sink. A safer method is to use a large bowl or pan, add the bagged salmon, and fill with cold water. You may find you need to place a small bowl or heavy plate on top of the bag of fish to ensure it stays completely submerged. In order to stay out of the danger zone, replace with fresh cold water every 30 minutes for the next hour or so until thawed. Plan on cooking the salmon immediately after thawing under cold water. Do not refreeze salmon after thawing under cold water but you can freeze once fully cooked.
Don’t Defrost Salmon in Warm or Hot Water
Don’t thaw salmon in warm or hot water as this puts the fish in the Danger Zone. Thawing under warm or hot water may also negatively impact the texture and quality and you are not preparing sous vide. A safer and quicker route would be to defrost frozen salmon in the microwave.
Do Defrost Frozen Salmon in the Microwave
If you are really pressed for time and cannot thaw in cold water, a safer option would be to defrost the salmon in the microwave. When thawing frozen salmon in the microwave, be sure to remove all packaging and place salmon in an appropriate dish with sides to prevent leaks. Follow the instructions on your microwave to defrost by weight or time. Plan to cook the salmon immediately after thawing as some microwaves may start the cooking process while defrosting. Of the three options, using the microwave to defrost may result in an altered texture or flavor as some of the quality may have been compromised. Some microwaves are finicky and may over cook some spots and under cook others. If you’re in a hurry, microwave defrosting or cooking from frozen are decent options. It is safe to refreeze salmon after fully cooked.
Do Cook Salmon from Frozen
Thawing isn’t required and you can cook salmon straight from your freezer if you truly do not have time or interest in thawing beforehand. Prepare your salmon recipe as desired, in the oven or on the grill using the frozen salmon fillet but expect your total cooking time to increase by about 50%. As with microwave defrosting, the texture and quality of the salmon may suffer a bit compared to thawing overnight in the fridge or under cold water, but cooking from frozen is definitely an option.