Chinese Pan Fried Salmon (香煎三文魚)

Learn a chef's tips for how to pan (or wok) fry the perfect crispy, tender salmon fillets!

Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Yields
4 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

Today, Chef Daddy Lau is going to teach us how to make pan fried salmon, along with one of his favorite dipping sauces. 

The salmon is a super easy weeknight recipe that’s ready in under 25 minutes, and the sauce is something my parents always have a stash of in their fridge, since it pairs well with a ton of different dishes.

Let's dive in!

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
4
    Ingredients for Salmon
  • 1.5 lb salmon
  • 1 egg
  • white pepper (

    to taste

    )
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp corn oil
  • 0.50 tbsp rice cooking wine
  • garlic salt (

    to taste

    )
  • Dipping Sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 0.50 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 0.25 tsp chili sauce (

    to taste

    )
  • 2 tbsp boiling water (

    very important

    )
  • Optional Garnish
  • cilantro
  • broccoli

Selecting salmon

For this specific recipe, my parents bought Atlantic salmon. With regards to Atlantic vs Pacific, farmed or wild-caught, there’s no right or wrong choice, but my parents have a slight preference for Atlantic salmon, which nowadays are primarily farmed. 

As one of the world’s most consumed species of fish, salmon is a massive industry, with several million tons sold every single year, and tons of complexity surrounding how we source it in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. 

As consumers, an easy way to do our part is by making sure we vote with our wallets. Monterey Bay Aquarium in California runs a free website called “Seafood Watch” which has a ton of recommendations on how to choose and purchase seafood in ways that have the least environmental impact.

Finding Asian Ingredients

Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

This is totally optional, but if you're planning on garnishing the salmon with anything (like cilantro) or serving it with any vegetables (like broccoli), then it's best to cut it before the salmon (for sanitation).

To make our salmon (1.5 lb) fillets, make diagonal cuts about 2 cm apart. The diagonal cuts help increase the surface area of the fillets, which leads to a faster cook and less moisture loss.

Spread the fillets out on the cutting board, and sprinkle white pepper () on each side. The white pepper helps counter some of the "fishy" taste of the salmon, which has a slightly negative connotation in Chinese cuisine.

We'll crack and mix our egg(s) (1) into a bowl, and spread out cornstarch (3 tbsp) on a plate.

Coat each side of each salmon fillet first in the egg, and then the cornstarch. This coating helps add some delicious crunchy/crispiness when it's cooked.

Heating the wok

We’ll set our stove to medium high and let our wok heat up. 

Unlike other Chinese recipes, with salmon, it’s important that the wok gets hot enough but not too hot. It’s difficult to give an exact amount of time, since it depends a lot on your stove and cookware.

My dad relies on his own intuition that he’s developed over 50 years of cooking. For the rest of us, he waited about 2-3 minutes on this current setup. 

Cook the salmon

Then, we’ll add corn oil (2 tbsp), and swirl it around the wok. 

The wok and the oil should be hot enough once the oil starts shimmering, or making ripples. 

Once this happens, we’ll add our salmon to the wok.

My dad had just enough room for 8 fillets, so try not to overcrowd your wok and consider cooking in multiple batches if necessary.

The total cooking time for the salmon also varies depending on how hot your stove is, how thick each fillet is, and what type of pan or wok you’re using. 

On my dad’s current setup, which has less heat output than a gas stove, he cooked each fillet for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, generally not flipping the salmon over more than once. 

For a visual cue, once the salmon fillet starts to turn more white / yellow-ish, you can flip it.

You should be able to tell if the salmon is done if it easily flakes. If you wanted to get more precise, you can also insert an instant-read food thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon. 

Other tips

As long as it’s cooked enough, the rest is just a lot of trial and error to find the texture of salmon that’s perfect for you. My dad tends to prefer salmon that’s more medium or well-done, so if you prefer something more rare, then adjust accordingly.

Kenji from the Food Lab has a great blog post and video with a bunch of helpful tips on how to pan fry salmon. Not all of these tips apply to this specific recipe, but it’s still a great resource, and I’ve linked to it in our description. 

Add garlic salt () to the fillets.

Then, we'll add rice cooking wine (0.50 tbsp). We should have the lid for the wok within reach, because we’ll be covering the wok immediately after we pour the cooking wine in. We’ll only be covering the wok for about 20 to 30 seconds before we take the lid off. 

Uncover the wok, and turn the heat off. Transfer the salmon fillets to a plate, and add any garnish you'd like.

To make the sauce, mix together sugar (1 tbsp), vinegar (0.50 tbsp), light soy sauce (2 tbsp), boiling water (2 tbsp), and chili sauce (0.25 tsp). Mix it all together for about 5-10 seconds. 

Notes:

  • If you prefer more spiciness, feel free to add more chili sauce. 
  • If you’re wondering why my dad specifically uses boiling water, it’s to help extend the shelf life of the sauce. My parents elaborate on why during our "Meal Time".

Summary

Chinese Pan Fried Salmon (香煎三文魚)
Learn a chef's tips for how to pan (or wok) fry the perfect crispy, tender salmon fillets!
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Total Time: 25 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
    Ingredients for Salmon
  • 1.5 lb salmon
  • 1 egg
  • white pepper (

    to taste

    )
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp corn oil
  • 0.50 tbsp rice cooking wine
  • garlic salt (

    to taste

    )
  • Dipping Sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 0.50 tbsp vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 0.25 tsp chili sauce (

    to taste

    )
  • 2 tbsp boiling water (

    very important

    )
  • Optional Garnish
  • cilantro
  • broccoli
Step 1 - Cut salmon↑ Jump to details

This is totally optional, but if you're planning on garnishing the salmon with anything (like cilantro) or serving it with any vegetables (like broccoli), then it's best to cut it before the salmon (for sanitation).

To make our salmon (1.5 lb) fillets, make diagonal cuts about 2 cm apart. The diagonal cuts help increase the surface area of the fillets, which leads to a faster cook and less moisture loss.

Step 2 - Coat salmon↑ Jump to details

Spread the fillets out on the cutting board, and sprinkle white pepper () on each side. The white pepper helps counter some of the "fishy" taste of the salmon, which has a slightly negative connotation in Chinese cuisine.

We'll crack and mix our egg(s) (1) into a bowl, and spread out cornstarch (3 tbsp) on a plate.

Coat each side of each salmon fillet first in the egg, and then the cornstarch. Make sure each side is evenly coated.

This coating helps the salmon retain its juices, and also add some delicious crunchy/crispiness when it's cooked.

Step 3 - Cook salmon↑ Jump to details

Heating the wok

We’ll set our stove to medium high and let our wok heat up. 

Unlike other Chinese recipes, with salmon, it’s important that the wok gets hot enough but not too hot. It’s difficult to give an exact amount of time, since it depends a lot on your stove and cookware.

My dad relies on his own intuition that he’s developed over 50 years of cooking. For the rest of us, he waited about 2-3 minutes on this current setup. 

Cook the salmon

Then, we’ll add corn oil (2 tbsp), and swirl it around the wok. 

The wok and the oil should be hot enough once the oil starts shimmering, or making ripples. 

Once this happens, we’ll add our salmon to the wok.

My dad had just enough room for 8 fillets, so try not to overcrowd your wok and consider cooking in multiple batches if necessary.

The total cooking time for the salmon also varies depending on how hot your stove is, how thick each fillet is, and what type of pan or wok you’re using. 

On my dad’s current setup, which has less heat output than a gas stove, he cooked each fillet for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, generally not flipping the salmon over more than once. 

For a visual cue, once the salmon fillet starts to turn more white / yellow-ish, you can flip it.

You should be able to tell if the salmon is done if it easily flakes. If you wanted to get more precise, you can also insert an instant-read food thermometer into the thickest part of the salmon. 

Other tips

As long as it’s cooked enough, the rest is just a lot of trial and error to find the texture of salmon that’s perfect for you. My dad tends to prefer salmon that’s more medium or well-done, so if you prefer something more rare, then adjust accordingly.

Kenji from the Food Lab has a great blog post and video with a bunch of helpful tips on how to pan fry salmon. Not all of these tips apply to this specific recipe, but it’s still a great resource, and I’ve linked to it in our description. 

Step 4 - Add flavors, cover wok↑ Jump to details

Add garlic salt () to the fillets.

Then, we'll add rice cooking wine (0.50 tbsp). We should have the lid for the wok within reach, because we’ll be covering the wok immediately after we pour the cooking wine in. We’ll only be covering the wok for about 20 to 30 seconds before we take the lid off. 

Step 5 - Uncover, plate, garnish↑ Jump to details

Uncover the wok, and turn the heat off. Transfer the salmon fillets to a plate, and add any garnish you'd like.

Step 6 - Create sauce↑ Jump to details

To make the sauce, mix together sugar (1 tbsp), vinegar (0.50 tbsp), light soy sauce (2 tbsp), boiling water (2 tbsp), and chili sauce (0.25 tsp). Mix it all together for about 5-10 seconds. 

Notes:

  • If you prefer more spiciness, feel free to add more chili sauce. 
  • If you’re wondering why my dad specifically uses boiling water, it’s to help extend the shelf life of the sauce. My parents elaborate on why during our "Meal Time".
Step 7 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 8 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

Salmon and the Chinese immigrant story

As I was researching this recipe, I felt like it was important to share how salmon and fishing helped form some of the first Chinese communities in the West.

During the Gold Rush, tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Guangzhou, flocked to California enticed by the promise of the Gām Sāan, or gold mountain in Cantonese, although many were forced out of mining work due to discrimination. 

Undeterred, a group of experienced fishermen found their own gold in abalone and other fish along the Monterey coast. Known as China Point by locals, Chinese immigrants proudly sparked the first large scale commercial fishing industry in California, supplying fish and shellfish to countries all over the world. 

During and after the Gold Rush and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad, many Chinese immigrants relocated to Seattle, Vancouver, and surrounding areas to work for salmon canneries and on fishing boats, doing the difficult work of supplying and processing most of the world’s salmon at the time.

Today, the once thriving Chinese enclave in Monterey no longer exists, but in spite of periods of intense discrimination and oppression, Seattle and Vancouver are still homes to some of the largest Chinese communities abroad.

Enjoy!

I have so many memories eating this dish growing up.

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this dish with your loved ones.

Also, I cordially invite you to eat with us and learn more about the dish, Chinese culture, and hang out with our adorable son. We get into a lot of detail about how how salmon made its way into the Chinese diet, and what life was like for my parents growing up in China.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.