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Sesame-crusted Salmon with lemon and ginger

Cook's Illustrated, March/April 2014
2 servings
Prep info
10 min prep + 1 hr cool + 15 min brine + 5 min cook + 20 min prep + 20 min bake + 5 min rest
Prep time
1 hour, 50 minutes
Cook time
25 minutes
Time required
2 hours, 15 minutes
Oven preheat
Mains - Seafood
Not tried


  • Brine:
  • 2.5 T salt
  • 1 L water
  • 1/3 c sesame seeds
  • 2 salmon fillets (skinless)
  • Paste:
  • 1/2 T lemon zest
  • 1 thinly sliced green onion (whites and greens divided)
  • 1 t lemon juice
  • 2 t tahini
  • 1 t grated ginger (fresh)
  • 1/8 t cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch salt
  • To cook:
  • 1/2 T canola oil


1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325F.

For the Brine:

2. Dissolve 2.5 Tbsp salt in 1L water.

3. Transfer 1 cup of brine to a bowl, stir in sesame seeds, and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.

4. Submerge salmon in remaining brine and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Prepare the seeds and paste:

5. Drain seeds and place in 10" nonstick skillet. Cook seeds over medium heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer seeds to pie plate and wipe out skillet with paper towels.

6. Place scallion whites and lemon zest on a cutting board and chop until whites and zest are finely minced and well combined.

7. Transfer scallion-zest mixture to bowl and stir in lemon juice, tahini, ginger, cayenne, and 1/16 tsp salt to make a paste.

Put it all together and cook:

8. Remove salmon from the brine and pat dry.

9. Evenly distribute half of paste over skinned sides of salmon. Press coated sides of fillets in sesame seeds and transfer, seed side down, to a plate. Evenly distribute remaining paste over tops of fillets and coat with remaining seeds.

10. Heat oil in now-empty skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Place salmon in skillet, skinned side up, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until seeds begin to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

11. Remove skillet from heat and, using 2 spatulas, carefully flip fillets over. Transfer skillet to oven. Bake until fish is cooked, 10 to 20 minutes.


12. Transfer to serving platter and let rest for 5 minutes.

13. Sprinkle with scallion greens and serve.


Notes from Source: To ensure even cooking, purchase fillets that are about the same size and shape. If any of your fillets have a thin belly flap, fold it over to create a more even thickness. To do so, place the fillet skinned side up on a work surface. Gently fold the flap over and secure it by horizontally inserting a toothpick through the flap and into the thicker portion of the fillet.

Why this recipe works: Most sesame-crusted salmons are one-note affairs in which rich, fatty salmon is coated with bland sesame seeds. We brine our fillets to ensure that each piece is seasoned and remains moist after cooking. The sesame seeds themselves are brined and toasted to bring out their flavor. Then we use a tahini paste that has been “thickened” with citrus juice to glue the citrus zest, scallions, ginger, and spice to the fillet. The resulting dish has the rich flavors of salmon and sesame seeds along with pops of ginger, citrus, and spice.