Thawing Fish 101: How to Thaw Frozen Salmon

Imagine it. You’ve made it home from work after an extremely hectic day and you head to the kitchen to cook up a delicious meal for your family. You want something that’s not only fast, but also nutritious and tasty, so pan-frying or baking some salmon filets should do the trick. But wait — you’ve forgotten to thaw your frozen salmon, yet again… Pizza night, anyone? 

If you frequently forget to thaw your salmon or you’re just not sure how to thaw salmon correctly, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know to thaw your salmon the correct (i.e., safe!) way — from how long it takes to thaw salmon to how to thaw vacuum-sealed fish specifically — so you can enjoy delicious salmon dishes right when you want them. 

Copper River Salmon

But Do You Need to Thaw Your Frozen Salmon?

But before we jump into how to quickly thaw salmon, it’s important to ask whether or not you actually need to thaw your frozen fish. According to the Food Network, you may not need to thaw your salmon at all. 

You really only need to thaw your salmon if you’re working with larger pieces of fish. If you’re cooking small salmon filets (4–6 oz.) that come vacuum sealed, you should be fine cooking your salmon straight from frozen. This is because most vacuum-sealed salmon is flash-frozen, which minimizes ice crystals and helps retain the fish’s texture, even when taking it from rock-hard frozen to sizzling hot in a matter of seconds. 

Do note, though, that if you pan fry, bake or grill salmon from frozen, you will need to adjust your normal cooking methods just a tad.

How to Thaw Vacuum-Sealed Fish the Right Way

But, you may be working with a larger piece of salmon or you might not want to adjust your typical, tried-and-true cooking methods in order to cook salmon straight from frozen. In that case, you’ll still need to thaw your salmon in one of a few ways — and, if you’re thawing vacuum-sealed fish, you’ll want to take a few extra precautions. 

While vacuum-sealing fish helps to maintain that amazing fresh flavor and texture everyone wants, that vacuum-sealed environment also creates a no-oxygen environment. A no-oxygen environment is precisely the place where clostridium botulinum (or the fish equivalent of E. coli or Salmonella) likes to live. As you thaw your fish, you bring it up to a higher temperature and clostridium botulinum likes that even more. 

For this reason, it’s important to remove all of the elements that Clostridium botulinum loves. Thaw your vacuum-sealed salmon at the correct temperature (that means not leaving it out on the countertop while you’re at work!) and subtract that no-oxygen environment from the equation by puncturing your vacuum package before you start thawing. 

The Best Way to Thaw Salmon (And Any Frozen Fish)

Once your vacuum pack is punctured, you can decide which thawing method is best for your needs. 

The best way to thaw salmon or any frozen fish is overnight in the fridge for multiple hours.

This method is incredibly easy, even if it does take a little extra time. Just toss your salmon into a bowl or rimmed dish (to catch any melting water) and place it in your fridge before you go to bed. The next night, you’ll have perfectly-thawed, ready-to-cook salmon. Make sure to place your salmon in the coldest part of your fridge, where the temperature is below 38 degrees Fahrenheit. A fridge thermometer can help you find the best location. 

Do note that thawing your salmon in the fridge can give your fridge a somewhat fishy smell. Additionally, if your fridge isn’t clean and tidy, you may be exposing the raw salmon to common fridge-found bacteria such as Listeria. You can avoid this exposure by both keeping your fridge clean and by searing or cooking the fish completely rather than eating it raw.

When it comes to how long to thaw salmon in the fridge, you can do so for up to 24 hours, but any longer is risky.

Thawing Salmon Quickly: The Second-Best Way

Wondering how long to thaw salmon and realizing you do not have 24 hours for the fridge thawing process? You can thaw salmon in your sink in a matter of an hour or two. This comes with a slight problem, though. You need to thaw your fish in water, but you don’t want your fish to get wet. 

Your first instinct may be to simply leave the fish in its air-tight, vacuum-sealed packaging. Rather than risk that potentially-dangerous situation, though, Masterclass recommends removing your salmon from its packaging completely and placing it in a resealable plastic bag. 

Fill your sink with cold water (always cold, never hot) and allow the fish to sit in the bag in the water. Change the water out every 30 minutes, to ensure it stays cold (under 40 degrees Fahrenheit), until the salmon is thawed.

But what if you don’t have even the hour or two necessary for thawing salmon in the sink? If you're wondering how to thaw salmon quickly, you can do so in your microwave. 

Preparing Salmon at Home


How to Thaw Salmon in the Microwave

Thawing salmon in the microwave isn't exactly ideal. The texture and quality can deteriorate. However, if you're strapped for time, this may be your only option. 

You’ll want to first determine the weight of your salmon. On your microwave, choose the “defrost” setting and then enter the weight. Place your (unwrapped) salmon on a microwavable plate, covered with a paper towel, and then let the microwave work its magic. 

A little tip from us to be more risk-averse: start short! Start with putting the time only for 1 minute. Keep adding 1 minute at a time and keep a close eye on the fish. This will prevent you fish to be cooked in the microwave. You don't want to waste your fish in the microwave, especially if it is the luxurious Copper River Salmon.

Typically, microwaves defrost at a rate of about six to eight minutes per pound of fish. However, make sure to check the fish occasionally to ensure the microwave is only defrosting the salmon, not cooking it. Stop defrosting once the fish is flexible and cold, not warm. 

The Best Salmon to Cook — No Matter How You Cook (Or Thaw!) It

A delicious salmon dinner doesn’t just start with how you thaw your salmon. It starts with where you buy that salmon. Alaskan Salmon Company ships restaurant-quality, sushi-grade salmon straight to your door. Check our current availability here

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