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Lemon and Caper Salmon

My Lemon and Caper Salmon recipe combines simple ingredients to make a restaurant-quality meal. Tender, flaky salmon fillets in a zesty, buttery lemon and caper sauce, served on a bed of herbed pearl couscous. A tasty, healthy, and easy family dinner.

Restaurant quality meal alert! My Lemon and Caper Salmon recipe, made from quickly pan-fried salmon fillets teamed with an irresistibly buttery lemon and caper sauce needs to go on your meal rotation immediately!

Why? It’s quick, tasty, and healthy, and you are going to love it.

I like to serve this ‘salmon piccata’ with a big helping of herby pearl or Israeli couscous. If you can’t get hold of it, don’t worry! This flexible dish is just as good with bread, potatoes or pasta.

Lemon and Caper Salmon with herby couscous on a serving plate with a glass of white wine.

Salmon is good for you!

Whether wild salmon or farmed, salmon is a nutrition powerhouse. This fatty fish (good fats, I promise!) is full of Omega-3, which research shows is excellent for the heart, skin and joints.

In addition, salmon is a terrific source of protein and loaded with good stuff like Vitamins B, D and Selenium.

Did I mention it is incredibly delicious too?

Ingredients

To make my Lemon and Caper Salmon recipe, you’ll need the following main ingredients:

  • Salmon: Try to find the freshest salmon you can (or salmon that has been flash-frozen on the fishing boat). It should be firm to the touch and not smell at all fishy. I recommend buying skin-on salmon for the best flavour. Yes, the skin is edible and delicious.
  • Oil and butter: I use extra-virgin olive oil and unsalted butter in this recipe. Because the cooking time is so short, the butter will help give the salmon a golden crust and bring loads of flavour to the lemon sauce.
  • Capers: Made from the pickled flower buds of the caper plant (honestly!), capers add pops of tangy flavour to the sauce. I use large capers preserved in vinegar; dry-packed capers are too salty for this dish.
  • Lemons: a natural partner to fish, the bright flavour of fresh lemon juice and zest brings everything in this recipe together.
  • Israeli couscous / pearl couscous: Created in Israel in the 1950s, this giant type of couscous (ptitim) looks beautiful on the plate and soaks up any flavours you throw at it. If you can’t find it in your local grocery store, try using orzo/risoni, regular couscous or rice instead.
  • Vegetable stock or broth: Cooking couscous in stock instead of water gives it an amazingly rich flavour. I usually buy a carton of good-quality stock when making this recipe. Be aware that the stock is fully absorbed into the couscous, so if you are on a low-sodium diet, water it down.
  • Fresh herbs: If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know I am a sucker for fresh herbs. Fish dishes like this play nicely with parsley, basil and dill, so use what you have to hand.
Salmon steaks frying in a skillet.

Instructions

This recipe is super quick, so set the table and have all your ingredients ready before you start to cook.

  • First, cook the couscous by bringing the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the couscous and return to a boil, then cover, turn the heat right down to the lowest setting and simmer for 10-12 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Stir through the lemon juice and herbs and set aside.
  • To cook the salmon, pat it dry with a paper towel, then heat the olive oil and half of the butter in a large frying pan or skillet. Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper, then when the butter is foaming, lay the fish in the pan skin side down.
  • Press down on the fish with a spatula or fish slice to ensure the skin has good contact with the pan (this makes it crispy, yum!) and cook for 5 minutes (a little less if the fillets are very thin). Then, carefully turn the fish over and cook for 1-2 minutes until done to your liking. Err on the side of caution; the fish will continue to cook while it rests.
  • Transfer the salmon to a plate and cover loosely with aluminium foil while you make the sauce.
  • To make the buttery lemon sauce, add the remaining butter, capers, lemon juice and zest to the pan and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes until just beginning to brown. Use a wooden spatula to scrape any cooked flavour on the pan’s bottom.
  • Divide the couscous and salmon between four plates and spoon plenty of the piccata sauce over the top of the salmon.

The recipe card at the bottom of the page contains the complete ingredient list and instructions.

Crispy skinned salmon on a plate.

How to tell if salmon is cooked?

The official temperature for cooked salmon is 62°C/145°F, but most of the time, this will result in dry, stringy salmon. Salmon will continue to cook as it rests, so if you are unsure, use an instant-read thermometer and cook to 130℉ (55°C), which will give you a lovely moist result.

Cooking fish gets easier with practice. The most straightforward test to see whether the salmon is cooked is gently flaking one piece (yours) at the thickest part with a fork. If it flakes easily into large chunks and looks just very slightly translucent, then it is done.

Looking for more tasty salmon recipes?

Try my Garlic and Herb Roast Salmon. It’s covered with a crunchy garlic breadcrumb, and it’s all cooked in one baking dish in the oven – less washing up!

Fancy something more adventurous? My Beet Cured Salmon Gravadlax is as beautiful to look at as it is tasty to eat.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Can I make Lemon and Caper Salmon in advance?

This recipe is most delicious when fresh out of the pan. However, salmon reheats beautifully and can be eaten cold. That means if you are prepping meals for the week or have leftovers, it will make a delicious meal for another day.

Can I use frozen salmon?

Yes! Be sure to defrost it thoroughly before cooking, ideally in the fridge overnight.

Can I use this lemon caper sauce with other meat?

Absolutely! In fact, this meal was inspired by the more famous Chicken Piccata! Grab the recipe by clicking here. Citrussy sauces like this one are also brilliant with pork.

Can I cook salmon on an outdoor grill?

I get it! Nobody likes the smell of fried fish in the house. Good quality, fresh salmon should have a mild aroma, but you can cook the salmon on a hotplate on an outdoor grill if you like. In this case, I’d make the lemon sauce in a small saucepan on the stove before I started cooking the salmon and reheat it while the salmon rests.

Lemon and Caper Salmon with herby couscous on a serving plate with a glass of white wine.

Lemon and Caper Salmon Recipe

Lemon and Caper Salmon with herby couscous on a serving plate with a glass of white wine.

Lemon and Caper Salmon

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

My Lemon and Caper Salmon recipe combines simple ingredients to make a restaurant-quality meal. Tender, flaky salmon fillets in a zesty, buttery lemon and caper sauce, served on a bed of herbed pearl couscous. A tasty, healthy, and easy family dinner.

Ingredients

for the couscous:

  • 750ml (3 cups) vegetable stock
  • 300g (1.5 cups) pearl or Israeli couscous
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • small bunch of fresh basil, shredded
  • freshly ground black pepper

for the salmon:

  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 50g (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 skin-on salmon fillets (180-200g / 6.5 oz. ea.)
  • 3 Tbsp capers
  • juice and zest of half a lemon
  • sea or kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions

  1. COOK THE COUSCOUS: Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan. In a small bowl, stir the couscous in the oil to coat, then add to the boiling stock. Return to the boil, turn the heat to the minimum and cover. Cook for 10-12 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed, then remove from the heat.
  2. FLAVOUR THE COUSCOUS: Allow the couscous to stand for 5 minutes, then stir through the lemon juice, parsley and basil and season with black pepper. Cover and keep warm.
  3. PREPARE: Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel, then season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil and half the butter in a large frying pan or skillet.
  4. COOK SALMON: When the butter is foaming, lay the salmon fillets carefully in the pan, skin side down. Cook for 4 minutes, pressing down with a spatula to keep the skin nice and crisp. Carefully turn and cook for a further 1-2 minutes. Remove from the pan, cover loosely with foil and allow to rest while you make the sauce.
  5. MAKE THE SAUCE: Add the remaining butter to the pan, along with the capers, lemon juice and lemon zest. Use a spatula to scrape up any browned on flavour on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.
  6. SERVE: Divide the couscous between warmed plates, top with salmon and spoon over the lemon caper sauce. Garnish with any remaining fresh herbs and serve immediately with lemon slices on the side.

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Jay Wadams
Jay Wadams

Jay Wadams is a cookbook author and food photographer. Jay is the author of two cookbooks: 'Tasty' (2017) and 'Simply Summer' (2019). Based in Italy 🇮🇹 Germany 🇩🇪 and Australia 🇦🇺.

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