Many of us have been told for years that we should wash fish such as salmon before cooking it. But are we doing the right thing, or are we doing more harm than good?
Should you wash salmon before cooking? Salmon should not be washed before cooking — it increases rather than decreases the risk of bacterial contamination. If your salmon is fresh and safe to eat, the cooking process will destroy any bacteria present in the fish. If preparing raw salmon for sushi, be careful to avoid spreading bacteria.
Want to know all the best tips and tricks for preparing salmon for cooking? We’ve got everything you need to know right here!
Do You Wash Salmon Before Cooking?
You’ll come across many people who still wash salmon and other fish (even chicken) before cooking, and they are adamant that this is the right thing to do.
They believe that washing the fish removes bacteria and reduces the fishy smell during cooking, but is this true?
Unfortunately, this advice is incorrect! Food safety authorities strongly advise against washing salmon before cooking, and they have scientific evidence to back up the reasons for this advice.
Washing salmon can increase rather than decrease the risk of bacterial contamination, not only in the fish itself but also on other foodstuffs and kitchen surfaces.
But what about that fishy smell — if we don’t rinse salmon, will it smell bad when we cook it?
It is true that salmon that is not quite as fresh as we’d like it to be can have a strong, fishy odor when cooked, and this may also alter the taste.
This is thought to be due to an increased bacterial load on the surface of the fish, and rinsing this can help to remove it. But if your salmon smells too fishy, it probably isn’t the best idea to eat it in the first place!
Fresh salmon that is stored correctly will have very little odor at all, even when cooked.
If it starts to smell fishy, bacterial contamination has already started to occur — we could wash this off the surface of the fish to get rid of the odor, but can you be sure that the fish is definitely safe to eat?
Rather than relying on the rinsing method, we’d suggest that you stick to buying fresh, high-quality salmon and consuming it before it starts to smell bad.
Why Shouldn’t You Wash Salmon Before Cooking?
Now for the science bit! If you wanted a good reason as to why salmon should not be washed before cooking it, the evidence is there for all to see.
We might think that we are rinsing our salmon in the safest possible way, but studies have shown that minuscule droplets of water can spread bacteria up to three feet from your sink.
This means that they are landing on the countertop, chopping boards, other foodstuffs, kitchen towels, and even you!
Pretty yucky when you think about it!
This cross-contamination is inevitable, no matter how careful you are when rinsing salmon. And wherever the bacteria lands, it will quickly multiply in room temperature conditions.
All meat, poultry, and fish products will carry some bacteria on their surface, but it is how we store and cook these foodstuffs that make them safe for us to eat.
Washing them may briefly reduce the number of bacteria, but they multiply so rapidly that they will soon be back to their original numbers.
The best way to eliminate bacteria is to cook food to the recommended temperature — in the case of salmon, it should reach a minimum internal temperature of 145°F.
Ideally, the salmon should go straight from its packaging to the cooking pan to minimize the risk of cross-contamination along the way.
But if you’ve got some preparation work to do before cooking your salmon, we’ve got some great tips to keep you and your family safe!
How Do You Prepare Salmon Before Cooking?
In an ideal world, we’d transfer salmon straight from its packaging in the refrigerator to the preheated pan or grill, to minimize the risk of bacterial cross-contamination.
But we might want to do some preparation work on our salmon first, such as trimming or slicing the fillets, or marinading or seasoning them.
Luckily, by following some simple tips, it is easy to prepare salmon for cooking whilst minimizing the risk of bacterial contamination!
First, prepare all your other ingredients. This means chopping any vegetables and returning them to the fridge and pre-mixing any seasoning blend or marinade.
This means that preparing the salmon for cooking will be the very last thing you do, and all other foodstuffs will be safely out of the way!
Clear your work surface and set out a clean chopping board and knife. Take the salmon from its packaging and place it on the chopping board.
You can now carry out any necessary preparation, such as pulling out the delicate pin bones with tweezers or slicing the salmon into smaller fillets. If you wish to remove the skin from the salmon, this is a good time to do it.
Place your prepared salmon into a clean container, along with any seasoning mix or marinade you may be using. It should then be cooked as soon as possible or returned to the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Immediately wash the chopping board, knife, and any other equipment or utensils you have used.
Spray with a kitchen disinfectant and thoroughly wipe down your work surface, making sure to extend over an area of at least 3 feet.
Finally, thoroughly wash and dry your hands.
How Do You Clean Raw Salmon?
You may not realize it, but salmon is one of the few fish you can eat raw! Salmon is a common ingredient in sushi, gravlax, sashimi, tartare, and other raw fish recipes.
But if we’ve already decided that cooking salmon is the best way to eliminate bacteria, how do we make raw salmon safe to eat?
As with all raw fish, firstly you need to ensure that it is as fresh as possible, and kept chilled from the point that it is caught right up to when you eat it.
Ideally, your fishmonger should provide you with an ice-filled container to transport the fish home from the store.
You’ll also notice that many forms of raw fish recipes will marinate the salmon in some form of acidic liquid, such as lemon juice or vinegar. This actually has the same effect as cooking fish, just without the use of heat!
This is why lemon or lime juice will change the color of salmon from pale pink to white. The use of acidic liquids not only alters the color and texture of raw fish, but also helps to eliminate bacteria.
This won’t make the fish quite as safe to eat as cooking it over heat, and raw fish should never be consumed by at-risk groups such as the elderly or pregnant mothers.
But what if you want to skip the marinade, and eat completely raw salmon as part of a sushi banquet?
Firstly, only ever use sushi-grade salmon for this purpose. This will have been cleaned, gutted, and frozen or chilled as soon as it was caught, minimizing the risk of bacterial contamination.
However, there will still be some preparation work to do to turn your raw salmon into sushi. This may involve filleting, trimming, and deboning a whole salmon, or cutting pre-prepared fillets into super-thin slices.
You will need to thoroughly disinfect your chopping board, worksurface, and knife before you start to keep the fish as clean as possible. Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly at regular intervals throughout the process.
Preparing salmon for sushi is an art form that deserves way more than one article to itself, but at least now we’ve got you on the right path to do it as safely as possible!
Now that we’ve solved the conundrum of whether to wash salmon or not, let’s take a look at some other salmon-related questions!
Do you remove the skin on salmon before cooking?
Many people dislike eating the skin on salmon, while others tuck into it with gusto. If you’re in the former group, should you remove the skin from your salmon before cooking?
Even if you dislike eating the skin, it is a good idea to leave it on the salmon while it cooks. It seals in moisture, adds a protective layer, and makes the fish more flavorsome.
This is why most salmon recipes start by cooking the fish skin-side down in the pan!
The only exception to this is if you are poaching salmon in a liquid. The skin may prevent the fish from cooking evenly, so it should be removed beforehand.
How do you know when salmon is cooked?
Overcooking salmon is a common problem, and might be the reason why many people think that they don’t like salmon!
When overcooked, salmon becomes dry, chalky, and filled with unpleasant white gloopy proteins. So, how do you cook salmon to perfection without overcooking it?
The aim is to cook salmon so that it is safe to eat while keeping it juicy and moist.
It may still be semi-translucent in the center, but as long as a safe internal temperature of 145°F has been reached, it will be free of bacterial contamination.
If you don’t have a meat thermometer, press down on the top of the fillet with a fork or finger — if the flesh separates into flakes easily, it is cooked and should be immediately removed from the heat.
Cooking it beyond this point will cause it to become dry, crumbly, and unpleasant to eat.