15-Minute Pan Seared Salmon with Basil Tzatziki

~ Pan Seared Salmon yields moist, fall-apart fillets with a flavorful, crisply caramelized crust on top. A refreshing basil and chive tzatziki sauce is an unusual yet startlingly perfect counterpoint. This quick salmon recipe is luxurious enough for dinner parties, yet it’s really easy and makes even the busiest weeknights feel special! ~

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Includes Make-Ahead Steps    Gluten Free  

Need a great new salmon recipe? I’ve got your back here!

Maybe you’re trying to eat more fish (like … you know … pretty much every other health-conscious person)? High-five right there, BTW!

But you need some proven winners, don’t you? Quick salmon recipes that promise BIG flavor with little effort. Ones that just might convert your whole family (finally!) into fish lovers!

Or maybe you’re already cooking salmon frequently, but you’re just booooored by the same-old-same-old recipes … and you want a fresh new idea?

Closeup of the finished recipe, with the pan seared salmon arranged on a rimmed dinner plate, served with rice and asparagus, with utensils and additinal sauce just visible at the edges of the photo.

Either way, today’s your lucky (salmon) day!

Why You’ll Love This Seared Salmon Recipe

Perfectly pan-seared salmon has a crisp, golden exterior, yet it’s so moist and tender inside.

And with this particular version, there’s no need to fire up the oven to finish cooking the fish – the whole cooking process happens on the stovetop, in just a few minutes!

Quick and Easy!

Then, that succulent salmon is draped in a creamy, refreshing tzatziki sauce that swaps out the typical dill for bright, peppy basil … plus chives and tarragon. The fresh herbs in the tangy tzatziki sauce taste … FRESH, absolutely beautiful in elevating the rich salmon. So unexpected, and just really yummy!

It’s rich yet light. Flavorful, unique and satisfying.

Yet also so gosh-darn easy … and the tzatziki sauce can even be prepped ahead of time!

And it’s all ready in less than 15 minutes!

This Salmon’s Origin Story

The very first time I made this recipe (and I’ve made it numerous times over the years), my whole family adored it.

Total winner, right out of the gate.

Most impressively, though, my beef-loving daughter actually compared it very favorably to steak. I have no idea exactly why, since there’s really nothing steak-like about this recipe … but all I cared about was that – coming from her – it was the ultimate compliment!

So where did I find this little gem?

Four salmon fillets served on a white tray, so you can see the pan seared top crust, draped across the center of each fillet with the tzatziki sauce and sprinkled with chopped chives for serving.

Well, you might recall that, until recently, my parents owned a second-hand bookstore, and they kept me very well-supplied with a steady stream of terrific cookbooks (as in … my cookbook collection numbers in the hundreds). Lucky me!

I read my treasured cookbooks voraciously (yes … I’m one of those people who reads cookbooks like most people read novels). But, I honestly don’t cook recipes from them all that often. I’m too busy making my own recipes to test, test and re-test for this site!

But when my parents gave me Giada’s Feel Good Food (by the incomparable Giada De Laurentiis), and I spied the recipe for “Salmon with Basil and Chive Tzatziki” – I had to try it!

We eat salmon at least once a week, so I’m always on the prowl for unique new twists to keep it interesting. (Not that I’m tired of Honey-Glazed Salmon – or Red Miso Salmon or Asian Salmon Burgers. I still make those recipes a lot, too!)

But still, I knew this was a must-try recipe. And I wasn’t disappointed. (Because … you know … that whole “it’s kind of like steak” thing!) It was a major hit!

And it’s so different from all the other salmon recipes in my repertoire!

Through the last 6 or 7 years, I’ve tweaked the recipe ingredients and proportions slightly, meticulously timed it all out, and tested and re-tested various options (more on all that later).

It’s too good not to share … too good to miss. So, now it’s your turn!

Here’s all you have to do:

How to Make This Pan-Seared Salmon Recipe

Make the Creamy Tzatziki Sauce

To make the tzatziki sauce, start by roughly chopping your herbs and grating your cucumber onto two or three layers of paper towels.

Herbs and cucumbers for the tzatziki sauce laying on a cutting board, mostly chopped and grated and ready to be put in the food processor.

I like to use the short end of the cucumber (instead of grating at a diagonal along the sides) to keep the bits of cucumber fairly short.

Then, gather the paper towels around the cucumber and gently press, to remove more of the moisture. Pat it all dry, and set it aside for just a moment.

In a small food processor, blitz up the rest of the tzatziki ingredients (but NOT the cucumber!) until the herbs are very, very finely chopped and the sauce turns a gorgeous, light green color.

You want to be sure all the bits of herbs are very finely minced into little specks, so you’re not munching your way through an herb garden at dinner time.

Stir 1/2 cup of your grated cucumber into your pretty sauce and chill it until dinner. (This is great made earlier in the day. Just give it a quick stir, if needed, before serving.)

At this point, dinner is literally less than 10 minutes from being done … whenever you need it to be! (How easy is that???)

Make the Pan Seared Salmon

When it’s time for dinner, all you have left to do is quickly cook your salmon!

Four raw salmon fillets on white butcher paper, laying on a cutting board and surrounded by ingredients for the tzatziki sauce.

Fire up a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in the oil to give it a nice, thin coating. Season both sides of your salmon fillets and add them to the pan, with the “prettier” side down (and the side that used to have skin facing upwards).

Overhead of four salmon fillets, uncooked but ready to be seared in a metal pan.

Just three or four minutes (covered) on the first side, and the salmon should have a crispy, caramelized and golden sear to it.

Now, This Is Important

You’ll know it’s time to flip the salmon when you can slide a sturdy spatula under it, and it releases fairly easily from the pan. If you have to scrape forcefully at it to get it to release, it’s not ready yet.

STOP!

Do not ruin it by tearing it away from the pan before it’s ready, leaving most of the seared flesh behind in the pan. Sad, sad, sad! If it won’t release, that’s your cue to give it another 30 seconds or a minute to form that fabulous seared layer.

THEN … flip it over.

Overhead of four salmon fillets in a metal pan after they have been seared on one side and then flipped, so you can see the seared top crust.

From here, you’re just cooking the salmon for maybe another minute or two more, just until it’s cooked to your liking.

Pro Tip: Don’t overcook your salmon! As Bon Appetit says, “If you think you don’t like salmon, chances are high that you’re overcooking it.”

It should easily flake moistly apart, when tested with a fork. It should be tender, and definitely not overly firm inside.

Also remember that, just like with most any meat, your pan seared salmon will continue to cook a little further from residual heat, even after you’ve removed it from the pan.

(Fine Cooking has a handy little visual guide to help you gauge when salmon is done to your liking … and to help you avoid that kinda chewy, overly firm, not very tasty, overcooked mistake.)

Boom! And just like that, dinner’s done!

Serve your salmon topped with a creamy cascade of refreshing herbed tzatziki … glorious!

Shopping Tips

Great Salmon for Searing

If possible, purchase salmon that’s a fairly even thickness, so each fillet cooks in the same amount of time as the others.

Four seared salmon filets after they've been removed from the fry pan, laying on a white marble serving slab before being served with sauce.

If you have any fillets with really thin edges at one end, you can tuck those ends under to sort of double-up the thickness and help to keep those ends from overcooking too much, before the rest of the thicker parts of the fillet are done.

And of course, fish is always most delicious when it’s absolutely as fresh as possible. Purchase the freshest you can find, and cook it that same day, if you can – the next day at the latest.

The Best Cucumber

Seedless (aka “English” or “hothouse”) cucumbers have very thin skin and essentially no seeds. They’re perfect for this recipe because you don’t have to peel and seed them, saving time. If you can’t find them, you can substitute “regular” cucumbers, but you may need to peel the skin if it’s thick, and you’ll definitely want to remove any large seeds.

Either way, regardless of which type of cucumber you by, I like to grate my cuke on the short end, so you get short bits of cucumber, instead of annoyingly looooooong strands.

Bonus Tips on How to Make the Perfect Tzatziki (My Exhaustive Testing Notes!)

I’ve made this tzatziki sauce so many different times, obsessively testing it with lemon juice vs. white wine vinegar, with Greek yogurt vs. regular (non-Greek) yogurt, and with vs. without that tiny bit of extra virgin olive oil.

This version is the hands-down winner!

Here’s what I learned:

Tip #1

No matter what, don’t try to substitute “regular” yogurt for Greek yogurt. It’s horribly disappointing!

Tip #2

Although many traditional recipes call for full-fat Greek yogurt to produce a rich tzatziki, I always reach for nonfat Greek yogurt because I like the savings in fat and calories.

According to this article from Shape, choosing nonfat will save you 10 grams of total fat and 7 grams of saturated fat, plus 100 calories per 6 ounces. (Note that we’re using about 5 ounces in this recipe.)

Giada’s original recipe called for reduced-fat (2%) Greek yogurt, but that’s not as commonly available at the supermarket. Nonetheless, you can use that as a happy middle-ground between fat-free and full-fat, if you prefer.

Tip #3

Swirling a little extra virgin olive oil into the tzatziki does a beautiful job of rounding out the flavors. And the bit of fat it adds is much more heart-healthy than the fat found in full-fat dairy products like full-fat Greek yogurt.

Closeup of salmon fillets on a white serving tray, after they've been pan seared and dressed with a dollop of tzatziki draped across the middle of each fillet.

Tip #4

Hey wait … doesn’t tzatziki sauce usually have dill and garlic?

Yup! Good catch.

But this one changes things up a little! It’s creative and unique … and delicious in its own right!

The chives have a lighter hand than assertive garlic, and the basil and tarragon offer a feeling of bright, summery freshness I just love! (You may recall from my scrumptious Healthy Chicken Salad with Grapes that I already have a bit of a torrid love affair with tarragon.)

Tip #5

DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO SKIP THE FOOD PROCESSOR!

You know I’m always looking for shortcuts for you (and for me, actually)! So you know I tested whether I could just mince the herbs up really finely with a knife, and skip the food processor altogether.

Trust me – don’t do it.

Even if you’re a very good and meticulous mincer (and I am!), you’ll still have too-big bits of herbs in the finished sauce, and you’ll end up unpleasantly chewing your way through them. It’s not awesome.

Just give them a rough chop and then throw them in the food processor – you’ll be glad you did!

Tip #6

If you Google “Tzatziki Recipes,” you’ll see a wide range of acidic ingredients used in different recipes, from lemon juice to “plain” white vinegar, to white wine vinegar (like I use here), and even to red wine vinegar.

I think “plain” white vinegar is a bit too harsh – white wine vinegar is more nuanced.

And, I’ve tested my tzatziki extensively using lemon juice, but I just never like it nearly as well.

Hands-down, for this particular version, go with white wine vinegar if you possibly can.

Tip #7

Although you can serve the tzatziki right away (since there’s no harsh garlic that needs to mellow for a while), it’s best if you can let the tzatziki hang out in the fridge for a little while – even just the few minutes it takes to set the table and pan sear the salmon. It gives all those flavors a little time to mix and mingle and come together.

Serving Suggestions

Overhead photo of the seared salmon, plated with brown rice and roasted asparagus, with a napkin, fork, and a bowl of extra tzatziki nearby.
  • Roasted broccoli would be great, too!
  • Instead of rice, you could make my Roasted Potatoes (I’d skip the rosemary on the potatoes, though). Try drizzling a bit of the tzatziki over both the potatoes and the salmon.
  • Or, another alternative to the rice would be a power grain like quinoa. (If you’ve never tried that, you can check out my post on How to Cook Quinoa.) In the supermarket, you can often find pre-cooked rice and quinoa grain blends in the freezer section or in microwaveable packets in the rice aisle – that could be a super idea, too (and really easy)!

FAQs At-a-Glance

Can I Use Skin-on Salmon for This Pan-Seared Salmon Recipe?

Yes, if that’s all you can find. You’ll still start by cooking the salmon skin-up, though.

Can I Use Full-Fat Greek Yogurt in the Tzatziki?

You can, but as I mentioned above, that adds a notable amount of fat and calories.

Can I Double This Recipe?

Sure! But, to get a great sear on the salmon and develop that really flavorful golden crust on the top, it’s important not to crowd the skillet. If you need to, either cook the salmon in batches, or fire up a second skillet.

Can I Use “Regular” Cucumber Instead of Hothouse?

Yes – but as mentioned in greater detail above, you may need to peel the cuke, and you’ll definitely want to remove any seeds.

Can I Sub Lemon Juice for the Vinegar?

I don’t recommend it. Although some tzatziki recipes use lemon juice, I don’t think it’s nearly as good in this particular recipe. I’ve tested it pretty thoroughly and recommend using white wine vinegar in this recipe (not “regular” white vinegar).

With its vibrant, fresh flavors and perfect pan roasted, golden crust, this salmon has won our hearts and become a regular favorite at our dinner table.

Plated meal with the salmon on a bed of rice with asparagus spears, with a fork to the side having just flaked away the first bite of salmon.

I just bet it’ll steal your heart and earn a regular place at your table, too!

Love the Recipe? • Were My Tips Helpful?

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Please leave a star-rating in the recipe card below – I truly appreciate all your wonderful feedback!

Plated dinner with roasted salmon filet draped in tzatziki on a bed of brown rice with roasted asparagus.

15-Minute Pan Seared Salmon with Basil Tzatziki

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 6 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 12 minutes

Pan Seared Salmon is fall-apart tender with a flavorful, caramelized crust! The creamy tzatziki sauce is a unique, deliciously refreshing finish. All in less than 15 minutes!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Includes Make-Ahead Steps    Gluten Free  

Ingredients

Tzatziki Sauce

  • 1 unpeeled seedless cucumber (also called English or hothouse) – enough to make 1/2 cup of shreds
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh tarragon leaves
  • 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar (not plain white vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Salmon

  • 4 (4-ounce) boneless, skinless salmon fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • optional for garnish: additional minced chives, if desired

Instructions

Tzatziki Sauce

  1. Grate your cucumber onto two or three layers of paper towels, using the short end of the cucumber (instead of grating at a diagonal along the sides) to keep the bits of cucumber fairly short. (You will only use about 1/4 - 1/2 of a cucumber.) Gather the paper towels around the cucumber and gently press to remove much of the moisture; pat dry. Measure out 1/2 cup of the shreds (reserving any extra shreds and the remaining cucumber for another use) and set aside for a moment.
  2. In a small food processor, blend the yogurt, basil, chives, tarragon, vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper until the herbs are very, very finely minced and the sauce becomes a uniformly light green color. Scrape the sides two or three times as needed. (It's important that all pieces of herb are very finely minced into tiny specks; otherwise, you'll have unpleasantly too-large bits of herbs through your tzatziki.)
  3. Scrape the tzatziki mixture into a bowl and stir the reserved 1/2 cup of cucumber into the tzatziki. Cover and chill in the refrigerator while you make the salmon, or up to about 4-8 hours, stirring before use if needed.

Salmon

  1. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper evenly over both sides of the salmon fillets.
  2. Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and then add oil, swirling to coat the pan.
  3. Immediately add the salmon to the pan, with the "prettier" side down and the side that was skinned facing up. Cook, covered, about 3 1/2 - 4 minutes. You want a nice, golden-brown, seared crust to have formed, and for the salmon to release fairly easily from the skillet when a spatula is scraped under it. (If you have to tear the salmon away from the pan, it's not quite ready to flip.)
  4. Flip the salmon and continue cooking just another 1-2 minutes more, until it is cooked to your liking.
  5. Serve salmon topped with tzatziki. For a pretty garnish, sprinkle a few minced chives on top (optional).
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 servings Serving Size: 1 fillet + 1/4 of the sauce
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 294Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 73mgSodium: 408mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 28g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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Published on
Updated on August 16, 2021
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