Weeknight dinner
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Salmon Saute With Tequila Orange Sauce

Let’s put the Saute with Pan Sauce basic technique to work again.

If you have been reading this blog, you probably know my first choice for cooking fish is the grill.
*OK, OK, you caught me.  My first choice for cooking anything is the grill.

What do I do when there are two feet of snow on my deck, and I don’t feel like shoveling?*  I return to my trusted saute technique.  And I get some salmon.  Salmon’s bold, meaty flavor helps me get through a cold winter’s night.
*Yes, I know I talked tough in my winter grilling post, but after two weeks of non-stop snow, the last thing I want to do for a quick weeknight dinner is shovel my deck.

Sauteed salmon has a seared, crispy exterior to go with perfectly cooked, tender flesh.  The pan sauce adds the sweet citrus flavor of oranges, butter for a rich mouth feel, and complex undertones from tequila.  Even better, the recipe comes together quickly; it takes longer to read than it does to cook the salmon.

Recipe: Salmon Saute With Tequila Orange Sauce

Cook time: 8 minutes



  • 5 to 6 Alaskan salmon fillets, each 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide (I used 12 ounces of frozen Alaskan Salmon, and cut it into fillets myself)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp per fillet – about a three-finger pinch)
  • 1 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder (1/4 tsp per fillet)
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz tequila (one shot glass)
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

*For an overview, see my Saute with Pan Sauce basic technique
1. Prepare the Sauce: Measure out the tequila and butter, juice the orange, and set aside.

2. Prepare the Salmon: Sprinkle the salt and ancho chile powder evenly over the salmon fillets.

3. Prepare the pan: Heat the oil in your pan over medium-high heat, until the oil is shimmering and just starting to show wisps of smoke.

4. Saute the Salmon: Place the salmon fillets in the pan, skin side up. Shake the pan to get the oil under the salmon, then let sit for 3 minutes, or until well browned. The salmon should release easily from the pan, or it needs another minute of cooking. Flip the salmon, and cook with the skin side down for another 3-5 minutes. The timing on this side depends the thickness of the salmon. Small pieces, roughly 1 1/2 inches thick, will be done after about 3 minutes; thick pieces (2 inches or more) need four to five minutes.* Remove the fillets to a plate.
*To determine the doneness, I watch the side of the salmon fillets – you can see the pink, uncooked part getting smaller and smaller. I like my salmon cooked to medium doneness, so I wait until the salmon just looks cooked through on the side. If I have sushi grade salmon, or Copper River salmon when it first hits the market in June, I cook it rare.  I sear the top and bottom, but get it off the heat while I can still see that uncooked line in the middle. See the sauteing picture above – the thick filet in the middle on the left has an uncooked line in the middle; the thinner filets on the right are already cooked all the way up the side.

5. Make the Pan Sauce: Pour off any oil left in the pan. Off the heat, add the tequila to the pan. Wait about a minute, until the tequila stops steaming, then put it back over the heat.* Add the orange juice, and scrape any browned bits of salmon from the bottom of the pan into the sauce. Boil until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and whisk in the butter. Taste the sauce, and add salt and pepper until it is well seasoned.
*If you want to add some showmanship to your cooking, flambe the tequila. Immediately after adding it to the pan, put it back over the heat, and light the tequila with a click lighter or by tilting the pan until the tequila fumes ignite from the burner. Shake the pan occasionally until it stops flaming, then add the orange juice.
**Make sure you have a lid that will cover the pan nearby, just in case. If the fire gets out of control, cover the pan with the lid to smother it.

6. Serve: Serve each salmon fillet with 1 teaspoon of sauce drizzled on top, and pass any leftover sauce at the table.

Serving suggestions:
I served the salmon with mango salsa, quick couscous and a side of steam sauteed green beans.

*Margarita sauce: Replace the orange juice with the juice from two limes, and 1 teaspoon of sugar.

*Screwdriver sauce: Replace the tequila with vodka.

*Non-alcoholic sauce: Replace the tequila with 1 cup of chicken broth, preferably homemade.

*Need some other ideas for the sauce?  See the Saute with Pan Sauce basic technique.

*Simple Salmon: Use salt and ground black pepper, and skip the pan sauce.  Squeeze a little lime or lemon over the fish, and serve.

*I cook my salmon in a stainless steel pan, instead of a nonstick pan; I get a better sear on the salmon that way.  Just make sure you don’t skimp on the oil in the pan when you do this, and give the salmon enough time to develop a good crust – it releases from the pan once it is has that crust built.  Even then, you may have to help it release from the pan by gently working any stuck sections loose.  I like my slotted spatula for that.

*As I’ve said before, please buy sustainable seafood. In this case, that means Alaskan wild salmon is the right choice for this recipe.

*Thawing frozen salmon: If you follow my advice and buy Alaskan salmon, it is probably going to be frozen, unless you’re buying it in season (or have a very good fishmonger available to you.) To thaw, I just leave the vacuum pack in the refrigerator overnight. If you’re in a hurry, put the vacuum sealed package of salmon in a bowl under cold running water. It will take about an hour to thaw.
*Does anyone know why my frozen salmon says to remove it from the plastic vacuum package before I thaw it? I never do, and it seems to turn out OK, if not quite as good as when they thaw it at the store.

*Yes, frozen salmon. “Fresh” fish means “Fresh frozen”, unless I buy it at the dock, directly from the fisherman. My understanding is that all the fish at the grocery store or fish market is flash frozen at sea, then thawed once it reaches the store. And really, that’s OK – it results in higher quality fish. There’s no way fish would make it to market in Ohio, all the way from the Pacific ocean, without freezing it to keep it from spoiling.
*Source: Warming Up to Frozen Fish [alaskaseafood.org]

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Pictured with my Mango Salsa
Saute with Pan Sauce basic technique
Pork Chop Saute with Orange Mustard Sauce
Grill Smoked Salmon
Sustainable Seafood

Adapted from:
Pam Anderson How to Cook Without a Book
(And check Pam out at her blog: ThreeManyCooks.com)

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  1. Oh, two of my favorite things: salmon and tequila! It looks divine and I would love a bite of it right now. You can’t go wrong with salmon. It would be great on the grill ~ we have lots of snow here also. I’m hoping I can ship more to you for your enjoyment…

  2. Oh boy… Love everything… the technique (and of course I will be flambe ing this!), and the ingredients… All are shopping friendly for me right now, so you will be seeing this soon. I made it to the island, so ingredients for some of the “fancier” recipes i see are a little hard to find

  3. @Pam:

    Thank you! Except for the snow comment, that is. If the weather reports are right, the snow shipping is working…darn it.

    Thanks. I’m sure there are ingredients you can get there that we can only dream of; I want to see what you can come up with that’s local!

  4. To answer a question I got in email:

    Can I use the Tequila Orange sauce with chicken instead of salmon?

    Absolutely! All the saute with pan sauce recipes are pretty much interchangeable – if you like the sauce in one, use it with the protein in another.

  5. hello,i am new to this website,i found this as i was trying to find a recipe for my salted beef brisket..i am japanese and i had no idea how to cook it for my husband,but now it did make sense,thank of your easy-to-understand explanation.also i have been missing having fish in my dinner as my husband doesnt like it that much..but i will try this recipe as it looks funtastic!
    thank you very much,i would like to come back here again:)

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