This air fried salmon is by far one of the tastiest salmon recipes I’ve ever tried. There is a lot of flavor coming from the Asian-style glaze alone but air frying adds a ton of extra flavor. Air frying in general is an excellent way to cook salmon. This salmon reminds me of grilled or broiled salmon. The level of caramelization is impressive and salmon skin comes out every bit as tasty as when it’s grilled or pan-fried.
Frankly, after just a few tries, I now prefer cooking salmon in an air fryer to grilling and especially pan-frying. Grilling takes a lot of prep work and using a sweet sauce is a challenge due to burning. Pan-frying creates a lot of smoke and a strong fishy smell, and the fish comes out noticeably greasy. Cooking salmon sous vide creates great texture but takes time.
Air frying, on the other hand, is quick and tidy. There is little to no smoke to worry about and sweet sauces can be used without a problem. There is also little chance of overcooking the fish due to built in temperature and time controls.
Preparing salmon for air frying
When preparing salmon for cooking, I like to cut thin parts off to end up with uniformly thick pieces of fish for even cooking and a tidier appearance. This pretty much eliminates overcooking of the thinner parts which now can be cooked separately. This trick is helpful not just for air frying but for other cooking methods as well.
Pre-heating your air fryer is not required and you can simply place the fish on the rack and start cooking. Unlike air frying chicken thighs or chicken legs for example, cooking salmon should be done without flipping. Based on my experience, flipping doesn’t help much and only creates the risk of breaking up the fish.
Also, remember to oil the rack with a little bit of oil before putting in salmon to prevent sticking. It’s a lot easier to remove salmon from the rack without breaking if it’s cooked skin side down.
To make removing cooked salmon fillets even easier, take out the rack with the fish from the air fryer and then gently remove the fish from the rack.
Some may disagree but I think that air fried salmon just tastes better when it’s cooked well-done, to USDA recommended 145F, which comes with crispier skin and better caramelization. This is especially true with thin pieces which don’t take long to cook. By letting them cook a little longer you can get much better browning and caramalizaiton of the sauce.
What type of salmon you use also plays a role too. Fattier salmon, like farmed Atlantic salmon, handles cooking to well-done just fine, just like chicken thighs or chicken drumsticks. Low fat wild fish, like chum and pink salmon, on the other hand, will taste dry if cooked well-done, akin to overcooked chicken breast. That’s the reason why America’s Test kitchen recommends frying wild salmon to 120F, while Atlantic salmon to 125F if you are after medium-rare doneness.
I prefer cooking salmon at 400F and even 410F, the highest setting on my air fryer. This allows for better crisping up and caramelization on the outside while producing tender, flaky interior. My experiments with lower temperatures resulted in poor browning and lack of flavor.
Some people reported increased smoking when cooking salmon at 400F. In my experience, that has not been a problem. There is some smoke, of course, but it’s nothing compared to pan-frying or even broiling. If you do want to reduce smoke though, try air frying salmon on a piece of foil lightly sprayed with cooking oil. This will help reduce oil drippings falling to the bottom and creating smoke.
Foil also helps with sticking. The downside of this is poorly crisped up skin. I never use foil for that reason alone. I am fine with a bit more smoke but I want my salmon skin crispy and tasty.
Serving air fried salmon
I find this salmon so tasty as is that you can serve it on its own as an appetizer, especially the thin pieces. You can also serve it on a bagel with some cream cheese, or make a fish sandwich with it. You can also serve it as a main dish with you favorite side dish, e.g. rice, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, a salad, etc.
For additional flavor, when serving, sprinkle salmon with fresh herbs and drizzle with lime or lemon juice. My favorite herb to use with air fried salmon is dill but feel free to use whatever herbs you like.
You can substitute the seasoning sauce in this recipe and use whatever you like. I’ve tested this recipe with teriyaki and BBQ sauces with great results. Just be careful not to use overly sweet sauces, especially on thick pieces of salmon as they may start to burn well before the fish is done cooking. This is less of a problem with thin salmon pieces, less than 1/2″ thick, which cook in less than 6 minutes.
Air Fryer Salmon Recipe
- 1 lb salmon fillets (skin-on, about 1 1/4" thick)
- Salt (to taste)
- White or black pepper (to taste)
- Olive oil (for brushing)
- Fresh herbs and lemon wedges for garnish
For the salmon glaze
- 1/2 Tbsp dark soy sauce (see notes)
- 1 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/2 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine (or sherry)
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp honey (or white sugar)
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt (or sea salt)
- Place all of the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl and mix well.
- Pat salmon fillets dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Lightly brush the skin side with olive oil.
- Brush salmon with the glaze, except the skin side.
- Lightly brush the air fryer rack with a little bit of oil. Place salmon fillets on top, skin side down, and leaving some space between pieces.
- Cook at 400F, without pre-heating, for 10-12 minutes, without flipping, or until the salmon is nicely browned and registers 145F internal temperature in the thickest part.
- Once the fish is done, remove from the air fryer and serve hot garnished with fresh herbs and drizzled with lemon juice, as an appetizer or as a main dish with your favorite side dish. If serving as an appetizer, slice into smaller bite-size pieces before serving.