Cold Salmon Salad

Cold Salmon Salad

For ages, I’ve wanted to make Salmon Rillettes and this year I finally got around to it. It’s a great time right now, during Lent to buy any fish or seafood! So I tried a few recipes and realized that Salmon Rillettes (at least the recipes I’ve tried) were nothing more than a fancy French name for Cold Salmon Salad!

Cold Salmon Salad

Cold Salmon Salad

If y’all follow me, you know I grew up in Iowa and am not one to put on aires. So Cold Salmon Salad it is! No Rillettes for me! It’s gotta be Cold Salmon Salad, although it is still a little fancy.

About Cold Salmon Salad:

It took a couple of tries to get there but I have just fallen in love with this little appetizer (or sandwich filling if you wish.) There was a bit of tinkering (and a lot of eating) along the way.

This salad has some salty, briny smoky flavors all balanced by the lemon. A little mayo (just a dab) holds this together but doesn’t overwhelm the salmon flavor. A light mix and toss leave the salmon chunky and distinct. If you would rather have the Salmon Salad more cohesive, you can add more mayo and stir more aggressively to break it up and help it to stick together.

The most important thing about this recipe, I think, is that you tinker a bit with the flavorful components until you get the balance that is perfect for you. That’s going to take it from “oh, this is good” to OMG THIS IS GOOD! Also know that whatever you do, it tastes even better the next day.

Salt Curing Salmon

Cold Salmon Salad being salt cured

Salt Curing the Salmon:

There is one step that I highly recommend but it’s not a requirement. That is to salt brine your salmon. It’s going to add a little flavor but mostly it’s going to give an amazing texture to your Cold Salmon Salad. Some of the Salmon, mostly from around the edges will be a little drier and so flavorful. The pieces from the center are soft, luscious, and moist. I pay attention to texture (I think a lot of people do) and the curing process makes that salad texture so appealing.

When salt curing, the amounts and ingredients aren’t super set in stone. You have some leeway to fudge if you need to, or to improvise as you wish. Just make sure you have about equal amounts of salt and sugar and use the lemon zest.

  • As far as the salt, almost any salt will work, no worries about trying to convert measurements from one kind or another. It’s just not that particular. There is one thing that DOES matter. If you use tables salt with iodine do not cure it for over an hour.
  • I used white sugar, brown would be amazing, too. As far as the spices/herbs, don’t sweat them. Use what you have or you like rather than running out and spending your money on something you might not use again.
Cold Salmon Salad

Cold Salmon Salad

Making Cold Salmon Salad:

After the Salmon has cured, rinse it, pat it dry, and bake it. Don’t overbake, though. Let it cool and then cut/break it into small pieces.

Set it aside and mix together the remaining ingredients, toss it all together, and taste. Add more mayo if you want it more cohesive, and adjust any of the flavors to your own taste.

I would like to note that this salad, although very good when first mixed, tasted better after it sat for an hour (in the fridge) and was even better the next day. Make ahead if possible.

Options for Cold Salmon Salad:

Many of the recipes I’ve seen for Salmon Rillettes called for both baked or poached salmon along with smoked salmon. Hence the liquid smoke, and it is on my list of Top Secret Stealth Arsenal of Ingredients. (Yeah I’m full of it sometimes!) If you want to, you can add smoked salmon, an ounce or two, to the Cold Salmon Salad recipe and omit the liquid smoke.

I do use capers; I think they are perfect in this recipe. Other briny ingredients can work, too. Think maybe finely diced gherkin pickles. Diced Olives might be good.

If you go with capers, they keep just like pickles (which is just about forever, it seems) because they are pickles, and they are great in all kinds of “salads” like this. My fave recipe using capers though is the classic Chicken Piccata.

You could make this recipe a spread by using canned salmon; the canned salmon is so soft it will pretty much automatically be spreadable when mixed. Watch how much of any of the liquid ingredients go into it.


capers – photo from food network

Storing Cold Salmon Salad:

There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of both fish and relatives need to go after three days! Now I’d say, if you’ve properly refrigerated and handled the Cold Salmon Salad, it should be fine from 3 to 5 days.

Store in a tightly covered container in the fridge. Just don’t let it sit around for long periods of time at room temperature.

Saving Money:

  • There are specific times you can count on Salmon going on sale. Of course, when they are considered in season is one, but all types of salmon in different areas will be in season at different times. Other great times to buy salmon (as well as other fish and seafood) are before the Christmas holiday and during Lent, right before Easter. Check out my page, Win at the Grocer to see what might be on sale around other holidays.
  • This salad would be a fabulous way to utilize leftover salmon (the texture may be a bit different than starting this recipe with uncooked fish.)
  • In my case, I used a cheaper frozen wild-caught pink salmon. There were mostly odds and ends, so I used what looked like the tail portion. The salt curing helped a lot with the texture which was pretty soft after thawing.
  • Specialty ingredients like capers can often be found pulled off the shelf and sitting in a discount bin, cart, or on a shelf at a reduced price. There is really no hard and fast date for items that are pickled like this despite what the producer stamps on the bottle.

I hope you have all been having a wonderful St. Paddy’s day extended weekend! How fun that it fell on Friday; so many celebrations were able to be on Saturday or Sunday. I think this little Cold Salmon Salad has some Irish flair and would be fabulous on some toasted Irish Soda Bread. Maybe if you have some left and want to take a break from your Corned Beef and Cabbage? If you’re American, that is, and served it!

Erin go Bragh!


Cold Salmon Salad

Cold Salmon Salad


Cold Salmon Salad

  • Author: mollie kirby
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: about 2 cups 1x
  • Category: Appetizer



For the Cured Salmon:

  • 1 pound salmon with skin
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • zest from one lemon (zest the lemon for the salad, below, and use the juice in the salad)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

For the Cold Salmon Salad:

  • prepared salmon
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • juice of one lemon (zest first for the cured salmon (above)
  • 1 tablespoon each of capers and caper brine
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • about 10 to 12 drops of liquid smoke
  • 2 dashes hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (maybe a little more)
  • Crackers, toast, or bread for serving



For the Cured Salmon:

Mix salt, sugar, lemon zest, and herbs. Place salmon on rimmed plate or container. Cover and pack the salt mixture on the salmon and refrigerate for one to three hours. Rinse, pat dry.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Bake for 10 to 14 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon; on a piece of sprayed foil placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet until just done. Do check often and don’t overbake.

Once cooled enough to handle, remove skin and cut and/or break the salmon into small pieces.


For the Cold Salmon Salad:

Set aside the Salmon until cold. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add Salmon and toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add additional Mayo if a creamier more cohesive mixture is desired. Best if refrigerated for at least an hour and preferably overnight.

Serve with crackers, toast, or bread as an appetizer or sandwich.


Keywords: Appetizer, capers, Fish and Seafood, hot sauce, leftover fish, Lemon, liquid smoke, Salmon, Sandwiches, shallot

Did you make this recipe?

Share a photo and tag us — we can't wait to see what you've made!

Cold Salmon Salad is fabulous as an app or a sandwich. It's salty, briny smoky, and addictive! It's a great make-ahead recipe for a party. #SalmonSalad #Fish #Salmon #SalmonSpread #Appetizer #SandwichFilling

13 thoughts on “Cold Salmon Salad

  1. Liz

    I love the discussion in comments. I have some frozen salmon in the freezer that might be a few months past prime time. This looks like a good way to save it.

  2. It sounds very tasty, but as you say, it’s not really rillettes, which are pieces of meat cooked slowly in fat and then preserved in it, like duck confit. Fish would fall apart cooked that way. The closest thing I can think of, would be fish preserved in olive oil – en escabeche.

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Interesting about the fish in olive oil! I had forgotten that I made pork rillettes once – so delicious, but the dog got into it after my first taste. I don’t know how he managed but Labradors are determined when it comes to food!

  3. Yeah, I get why you’re using that name. But rillettes are different in that they’re almost 100% meat, like duck rillettes, – no mayo. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t taste yummy! When I’ve made salmon rillettes I used little cream cheese, I think!

    • FrugalHausfrau

      Yes I have had duck rillettes before. Silkey. Unctuous. I was so disappointed by the salmon ones… not rillettes at all IMHO. Just salmon salad. All recipes I found: serious eats, nyt, food & wine & on and on were salmon salad.

      I even tried to use oil from salmon as it cooked and mixing w butter. If you have a recipe For salmon rillettes that is truly
      a rillette I would love to hear it!

      • Nope! Mine were good, but not what I was after. I’ve even made pork rillettes at home – really soft and spreadable and flavorful. Not sure why we can’t do the same with salmon. Maybe when cooked it’s just not as spreadable, without adding something. But whatever we made is good, which is important! I love all salmon dips and spreads.

        • FrugalHausfrau

          I had hopes for a salmon rillette because salmon’s a little bit of a fatty fish. But I like you I just love salmon almost anyway!!!

Hearing from you makes my day! Comment below.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.