Pan-fried Salmon with Onions, Garlic, Capers, Rosemary and Lemon

This is a dish that I threw together while we were staying in Bonnieux during our long vacation in Provence and the Côte d’Azur in France. I bought the salmon and most of the other ingredients at the weekly market in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. The rosemary was growing in a pot on the terrace of our apartment in Bonnieux.

Like many cooks, I suspect, I have unintentionally overcooked fish and ended up with a dried-out and unappetizing mess. Somewhere along the line I learned (I certainly didn’t invent it) a relatively foolproof method that works for thick filets of fish, whether cooked in a pan or on the grill. First, use butter or a mixture of half butter and half oil: the fish will stick less, brown quickly, and taste better. Second, cook the fish on one side (if the skin is on, not the skin side) on high heat just long enough for it to brown and get a little crispy. This shouldn’t take more than 3 – 5 minutes, depending on the heat and type of fish. Then, reduce the heat, turn the fish, and continue cooking until the fish has reached the desired level of doneness. If you are cooking in a pan, it’s OK to put a cover on after the fish is turned, especially if you have added vegetables to the pan and are going for a sort-of braise. I have had good results using this method, even when making relatively well-done fish for friends who prefer it that way. Enjoy.

My Recipe

Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
Yields: 2 servings


  • 1 12-oz salmon filet, skin on
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 medium lemon, sliced medium
  • 4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt
  • Ground black pepper


  1. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and a liberal amount of pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, add the onion and cook until the onion is soft but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the lemon slices and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, capers, rosemary, and a little salt and pepper, and cook and stir for a minute or two, until the garlic and rosemary become fragrant. Remove the onion mixture from the pan to a plate and set aside.
  3. Add the butter to the pan and turn the heat to medium-high. After the butter melts, add the salmon filet, skin side up. Cook without disturbing the fish for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the fish is browned and a little crisp on one side. It should release from the pan easily at this point.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low, turn the fish over, and add the onion mixture back into the pan around the fish and nestled against it, but not on top of it. Cover and cook until the fish is done to your liking.
  5. Remove the fish from the pan (leaving the skin behind if you prefer) and serve the fish over the onion mixture, skin side down.

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