How to Thaw Salmon

How to Thaw Salmon (Image: ansonmiao/E+/GettyImages)

Fresh salmon lasts just two days in the refrigerator. Move that salmon to the freezer, and it can last up to three months easily. You can cook frozen salmon without thawing it, but defrosting salmon makes it easier to handle, season and cook. A few different options let you safely thaw your salmon fillets and maintain the flavor and texture.

Safe Salmon Thawing

Why does your salmon thawing method matter? Choosing the wrong method can cause food safety issues and change the texture of the fish.

Food remains safe from the bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses as long as it's in the freezer. As it thaws, the fish warms up to a temperature that allows bacteria to quickly multiply. That increase in bacteria also increases the risk of the food causing a foodborne illness.

The temperature danger zone for meat and fish, including salmon, is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the thawing process raises the salmon temperature into that danger zone, you may end up serving a side of foodborne illness with your salmon. Keep yourself and your family safe by thawing your salmon at a temperature outside the danger zone.

Thawing Salmon in the Refrigerator

The safest method of thawing salmon fillets is putting them in the refrigerator. Your refrigerator keeps the frozen salmon at a constant temperature below the danger zone. That means you decrease the risks of bacterial growth during thawing.

This method takes about 8 to 12 hours, so you have to plan ahead to thaw your salmon in the fridge. The specific time can depend on the temperature of your refrigerator and even the location of the salmon. Colder settings or certain areas of the fridge can increase the thawing time. Put the salmon in the fridge the night before you're planning to cook, and it should be thawed by lunch or dinner time.

Thawing Salmon in Water

Need to speed up the thawing process? Thawing salmon in water is another safe method with a much shorter wait time. Salmon can thaw in about 30 minutes in water. Make sure the frozen salmon is inside a watertight bag to protect it from contamination.

For food safety reasons, you need to use cold water. It seems like cold water might slow the process, but it works very well and thaws quickly. If you use hot water, it can raise the temperature of the salmon into the danger zone and make the bacteria multiply quickly.

Thawing Salmon in the Microwave

You can defrost salmon safely in the microwave, but this method can change the texture of the fish. If you use the microwave, choose a defrost setting for the best results and enter an accurate weight in your microwave to adjust the time properly. Flip the salmon occasionally while it defrosts in the microwave for even thawing and better cooking.

Even with the automatic time calculation of your microwave, it's a good idea to check on the salmon often. Microwave power and times vary, so it's easy to go too long. If you leave it in too long, it can start cooking in the microwave. Pull it out of the microwave when it's partially thawed and bendable but still a little frozen.

Cook the salmon immediately after thawing it in the microwave. Because of the heat of the microwave, parts of the salmon may reach the danger zone. By cooking it right away, you destroy any bacteria that may start to grow, and you give the bacteria less time to multiply before cooking.

Avoid Room Temperature Thawing

Tossing frozen salmon on the counter to thaw seems like an effective option. However, your kitchen's temperature falls right in the middle of the danger zone. Even if the center of the salmon fillets stays cold, the outer edges start to thaw and warm up, allowing bacteria to grow in those areas.

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