Use this quick and easy Teriyaki Salmon recipe to make a light and savory meal any night of the week. Salmon fillets are pan-grilled to tender perfection in the traditional method and finished with an authentic homemade teriyaki sauce.
Growing up in Japan, I enjoyed eating a variety of fish, and salmon is one of the most available fish we eat at home. It’s a great source of protein and healthy Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. Today I’m going to share with you an authentic Teriyaki Salmon recipe, and how the Japanese make it at home.
Salmon fillets are pan-grilled until nicely golden brown but the meat is still tender and juicy. We then finish it off with a sweet-savory glazed homemade Teriyaki Sauce. It’s easy and absolutely no fuss.
Make Authentic Teriyaki Salmon at Home
I noticed most of the teriyaki salmon recipes online are quite different from how the Japanese make it at home. Here are the main differences:
No Store-Bought Teriyaki Sauce
In Japan, convenient “teriyaki sauce” in a bottle is not widely available like the ones you can find in American grocery stores. We always make teriyaki sauce from scratch. Every family makes the sauce slightly differently based on their preference and the ingredients they have on hand. See more about authentic teriyaki sauce in the next section.
No Need To Marinate
Japanese cooking places great importance on bringing out the original flavor of the food. We don’t want to overwhelm the main ingredient(s) with spices and seasonings. For this recipe, we use sliced salmon fillet which is very delicate. Therefore, we never marinate the salmon with teriyaki sauce before cooking.
No Oven Cooking
I believe there are three reasons why we don’t use the oven to bake salmon:
- It’s not common to use an oven for Japanese cooking, especially when it comes to traditional recipes like this.
- The older Japanese kitchen doesn’t have an oven, so most of the cooking is done over the stovetop. Most of the newly built homes may come with an oven now, but we still prefer to cook salmon teriyaki over the stovetop.
- In Japan, most salmon is cut diagonally in thin slices, therefore cooking time is very short.
The Salmon Cut
In Japan, the salmon fillet is sliced differently than in the US. You will find the fillet available in diagonal cut and thinner slices. Each cut is about ½ to ¾ inch (1.3-2 cm) thick.
Homemade Teriyaki Sauce with 4 Ingredients
If you see teriyaki recipes in Japan, 99% of “teriyaki sauce” is made of only 4 ingredients: soy sauce, sake, mirin, and optionally sugar.
The best way to start making teriyaki sauce is to use equal parts of soy sauce, sake, and mirin and add sugar to your liking. My basic teriyaki sauce ratio is 2:2:2:1.
For optimal taste, we often play around with the ratio for the teriyaki sauce depending on the ingredients and flavor combination of the dish. Therefore, each teriyaki recipe should taste slightly differently.
For example, in this recipe, I cook the salmon with butter to give it a layer of rich creaminess. So I’ve tweaked the teriyaki sauce ratio to work perfectly with all the flavors.
If you’re new to cooking, start with my basic teriyaki sauce (2:2:2:1). It’s very easy to remember and the homemade teriyaki sauce is delicious!
Important Condiments: Sake and Mirin
Japanese cooking doesn’t require many condiments compared to other ethnic cuisines. However, two of the essential pantry items I highly recommend are sake and mirin. Japanese recipes use both of these condiments 90% of the time (have you noticed?). You can’t create authentic Japanese flavors without sake and mirin because they are essential to Japanese cooking.
Use gluten-free soy sauce if needed. If you prefer to use honey or maple syrup, go ahead but take care as it burns easily.
5 Tips to Cook the Teriyaki Salmon Perfectly
- Use skin-on salmon fillets that are in diagonal cut and thinner slices. Don’t remove the skin. It will prevent the flesh from overcooking and drying out. You don’t have to eat it (it’s delicious!), but keep it on! Each cut is about ½ to ¾ inch (1.3-2 cm) thick. If you buy salmon as a whole fish, you can fillet it the Japanese way. It will cook faster and absorb flavors quickly.
- Coat the salmon evenly with flour for crispy skin. This is the secret to juicy salmon. The flour creates a protective layer and retains its umami flavor and juiciness. It also helps to thicken the sauce and to absorb the sauce well. You can use cornstarch or potato starch for gluten-free.
- Sear the salmon skin before laying it down. Salmon skin is so delicious when it’s crispy. Hold the fillet and press the skin against the hot frying pan’s surface for 15 seconds.
- The presentation side (also the skin side) should go down into the pan first because the pan is clean and you will get the best browning on the first side that hits it.
- Highly recommend getting an instant-read thermometer and cooking the salmon until an internal temperature of 125-130°F* (52-54ºC) is registered at the thickest part of the fillet. Take the guessing out of your cooking: every salmon is cooked perfectly with the thermometer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Why don’t you add these ingredients to Teriyaki Sauce while other popular recipes do?
I’ve seen many non-Japanese recipes that include ingredients such as rice vinegar, honey, brown sugar, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, or garlic in the teriyaki sauce. Some recipes also use ground ginger or garlic powder. I would not recommend them if you wish to follow the authentic Japanese cooking method.
Some people even use cornstarch to thicken the sauce, but it is not needed for my recipe (the proper Japanese method). The sauce will be naturally reduced and thickened during the simmering process. Plus, we coat the fish with flour (or starch) which helps thicken.
Occasionally, depending on the teriyaki recipes, I add grated ginger and grated onion for extra flavors but never include rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hoisin sauce.
Q: Can I adapt the recipe to bake or broil the salmon?
If you prefer to bake or broil the salmon, you can follow the baking method from my Miso Salmon recipe for the instruction. You will need to make the teriyaki sauce separately and brush the salmon with the sauce several times while baking for a minimum of 10-15 minutes.
What to Serve with Teriyaki Salmon
With a sweet and savory soy-based flavor, teriyaki salmon pairs perfectly well with many different side dishes. For a healthy Japanese-style dinner, I like to serve the fish with pan-grilled asparagus and miso soup, alongside steamed brown rice.
Other veggies such as green beans, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers, and spinach are also delicious with salmon. Here are more suggestions I think you’d like:
- Blanched Broccoli with Sesame Oil
- Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
- Spinach with Sesame Miso Sauce
- Japanese Potato Salad
- Roasted Cauliflower Kale Salad
- Green Bean with Crumbled Tofu & Sesame
- 15 Best Healthy Side Dishes to Serve with Salmon
For a low-carb diet, you can serve the salmon with cauliflower rice or quinoa.
What to Do with Leftover Teriyaki Salmon
You can do a lot with leftover teriyaki salmon! Here are some of my favorites:
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- 2 skin-on salmon fillets (12 oz, 340 g; ¾ inch (2 cm) thick; the skin will hold the flesh together while cooking)
- ¼ tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (plain flour) (coating the salmon with flour helps it absorb the sauce and retain its umami flavor and juiciness; it also thickens the sauce; use cornstarch or potato starch for gluten-free)
- ½ Tbsp neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (for cooking)
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter (for cooking)
- 1-2 Tbsp sake (for steaming; can substitute Chinese rice wine, dry sherry, or water; for thick salmon fillets, you may need the full amount)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make the Teriyaki Sauce
- Combine the ingredients for the teriyaki sauce in a (microwave-safe) bowl and mix well.
- You can also microwave the mixture for 30 seconds and mix until the sugar is mostly dissolved.
To Prepare the Salmon
- Rinse the salmon fillets and pat dry. Season one side with half the salt and black pepper.
- Flip over and season the other side with the remaining salt and black pepper.
- Sprinkle half of the all-purpose flour on one side of the salmon and coat evenly.
- Flip over and sprinkle the rest of the flour on the other side. Gently press it to adhere and then remove the excess flour.
To Cook the Salmon
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add the oil and butter. Take care not to burn the butter. If the frying pan gets too hot, reduce the heat or remove it from the heat temporarily. Sear the skin of the salmon fillets, one at a time. Press the skin against the hot frying pan's surface for 15 seconds before laying the fillet skin side (this is also the "presentation side") down. The presentation side should go down into the pan first because you will get the best browning on the first side that hits the clean pan. Repeat with the remaining salmon.
- Cook the salmon for 3 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown, and then flip.
- Add the sake (1 Tbsp for thin fillets and no more than 2 Tbsp for thicker fillets) to the pan. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the stove's heat to low. Steam the salmon for about 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillets. If the sake has evaporated but the salmon isn't cooked through yet, add another tablespoon of sake and continue steaming.
- Cook the salmon until it registers an internal temperature of 125-130°F (52-54ºC) at the thickest part of the fillet (I use a Thermapen instant-read thermometer). Then, transfer the salmon to a tray or plate. These fillets were about ¾ to 1 inch (2-2.5 cm) in thickness and took roughly 4 minutes to cook. Tip: The USDA recommends cooking fish to an internal temperature of 145°F (63ºC); however, the remaining heat will continue to cook the salmon, so you must remove the fillets at 125-130°F (52-54ºC) to avoid overcooking.
- Add the teriyaki sauce ingredients to the pan and increase the heat a bit. When the sauce starts to boil, add the salmon back to the pan.
- Spoon the sauce over the salmon. When the sauce thickens, turn off the heat. Transfer the salmon to a plate, drizzle the sauce on top, and serve immediately.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and in the freezer for 2 weeks.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 25, 2013. The post has been updated with a new video in May 2016. The post content and images have been updated in March 2022.