Pan Seared Salmon with Sweet Tahini Sauce

This pan seared salmon with sweet tahini sauce is an elegant, one-skillet meal that combines tender salmon with a creamy tahini and honey sauce. To gild the lily, the crispy skinned salmon is crowned with toasted pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and fresh parsley.

Four pieces of pan seared salmon in a sweet tahini sauce, topped with pomegranate and pine nuts.

Adapted from Hanady Nabut | Mediterranea | Page Street Publishing, 2022

Tahini and fish almost always go together in the Levant. However, an uncooked tahini sauce is usually served alongside other mezze dishes on the final table. I like to simmer tahini and honey, which quickly reduce into a delicious sauce.

While I used to poach the salmon in the sauce, I now prefer to sear it to get a nice crispy, golden crust. This is a simple dish that will leave a lasting impression.–Hanady Nabut

Pan Seared Salmon with Sweet Tahini Sauce FAQs

What is tahini?

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. The paste is a staple in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

What if I can’t find pomegranate molasses?

If you’re having a hard time finding pomegranate molasses, you can easily make your own. Combine 4 cups of pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1-2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, and simmer on low for about an hour until the liquid has reduced and the mixture has a syrupy texture. Store leftovers in the fridge. You can use it for this and other recipes, or mix it with sparkling waters and sodas for a refreshing treat.

What should I serve with salmon?

A quick read of our testers’ comments should help. They suggest simple, plain, or delicately seasoned grains like white rice, couscous, or farro, with naan or flatbread, and perhaps some roasted vegetables. Nothing with strong, bold flavors that will compete with the main course.

How do I stop my salmon from sticking to the pan?

There are a couple of tips to help you get your salmon to release cleanly from the pan when it’s time to flip it.

First, let your salmon sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking. Make sure it’s fully patted dry before cooking. And lastly, don’t fiddle with it while it’s cooking; let a good crust develop, and it will release easily from the pan.

Pan Seared Salmon with Sweet Tahini Sauce

Four pieces of pan seared salmon in a sweet tahini sauce, topped with pomegranate and pine nuts.
Crispy-skinned pan fried salmon and creamy tahini sauce are a perfect match. Toasted pine nuts and sweet pomegranate seeds add delicate crunch to round out the dish.
Hanady Nabut

Prep 20 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 50 mins
Entree
Mediterranean
4 servings
554 kcal
5 from 1 vote
Print RecipeBuy the Mediterranea cookbook

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Ingredients 

For the sweet tahini sauce

  • 1/3 cup tahini
  • 1/3 cup (juice of about 2 large lemons) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/3 cup water

For the pan seared salmon

  • Four (6-ounce) salmon fillets skin on, about 1 1/4 inches (3 cm) thick
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil divided
  • 1 large onion finely sliced
  • 3 large cloves garlic finely minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

For garnish

  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Pine nuts toasted
  • Fresh parsley finely chopped
  • Pomegranate molasses

Directions
 

Make the sweet tahini sauce

  • In a medium bowl, whisk the tahini, lemon juice, honey, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and water until smooth.

Make the pan seared salmon

  • Season each salmon fillet with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of olive oil. When the oil is hot, place the salmon pieces, skin side up, in the pan. Cook the fish for 3 minutes, reduce the heat to medium, gently flip the salmon, and cook it for 4 minutes more. Transfer the salmon to a plate.

    TESTER TIP: If your salmon fillets are thicker or thinner than 1 1/4 inches (3 cm), you'll need to adjust the cooking time slightly.

  • Add 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of olive oil to the skillet and stir in the onion. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until translucent, stirring often, 10 to 12 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Pour in the prepared tahini sauce and simmer until it begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes.

    TESTER TIP: If the sauce becomes too thick, thin with water, 1 tablespoon at a time until it reaches a smooth consistency.

  • Return the salmon fillets to the skillet and cook until heated through and the fish flakes easily, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Serve with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, parsley, and pomegranate molasses.
Print RecipeBuy the Mediterranea cookbook

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Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 554kcal (28%)Carbohydrates: 14g (5%)Protein: 38g (76%)Fat: 39g (60%)Saturated Fat: 6g (38%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 11gMonounsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 94mg (31%)Sodium: 813mg (35%)Potassium: 1018mg (29%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 6g (7%)Vitamin A: 87IU (2%)Vitamin C: 12mg (15%)Calcium: 66mg (7%)Iron: 3mg (17%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This pan-fried (and briefly poached) salmon is relatively quick to make, with enough special ingredients and colorful garnishes to really make it stand out among your go-to lemony salmon recipes. The tahini provides creaminess without the heaviness of dairy.

A piece of pan seared salmon with sweet tahini sauce, garnished with pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, and parsley on a white plate.

It is a meal of delicate flavors, but don’t be afraid to ramp up the cumin, and/or garlic a bit more to your liking. Enjoy with your favorite flatbread, served warm.

This pan seared salmon is perfection!

The sauce is seemingly weird at first, very thin, with equal parts water and tahini. Skeptics beware though, the fat from the sesame mixed with all the olive oil in the pan yields a thickened sauce full of flavor once cooked. The sweetness of the honey and the savoriness of the garlic and cumin, along with the tang of the lemon gives you full-bodied flavor and mouthwatering delight.

I absolutely love the way the salmon turned out, it was cooked to a perfect medium temperature. I will note that I raised my temperature to medium while cooking my onions as I felt my onions weren’t cooking enough at a setting of medium-low. This is a simple, no-fuss dish that will make family and guests ooh and ahh in unison. I can’t wait to make this again!

This is a very tasty and quick salmon supper if you like tahini; I served the fillets over a bed of spring mix greens for a delicious meal.

The only change was to add 1/4 cup of additional water to the sauce as it became quite thick while it was set aside. There was enough sauce to drizzle over and dress the greens, and I topped the salmon with parsley and toasted pine nuts for a delightful supper. I always have tahini in the pantry so this salmon will be made again.

I served my salmon with rice and the tahini sauce drizzled around the outside of the rice. The recipe is a good way to use up an opened jar of tahini. The finished sauce is sharp and lemony with hints of sweetness from the honey and crunch from the pomegranate.

This pan seared salmon with sweet tahini sauce was truly a memorable dish, fit for family and special guests! Not only was it a simple recipe to execute, the flavors of the dish just captured that traditional Eastern Mediterranean essence.

As to the execution of the recipe, a beautiful, crispy golden crust was easily achieved on the salmon using the recommended cooking times and temperatures.

I found that after cooking the salmon, I had about 2 tablespoons of oil left in the pan. Instead of adding the additional 3 tablespoons of olive oil to it, I wiped out the old oil and started with a fresh 3 tablespoons to sauté the onions. This worked well and the onions were soft and translucent in about 10 mins.

After adding the garlic, cumin and then the tahini sauce to the pan, the mixture thickened and reduced by about a quarter at 5 mins. on simmer. Because I wanted a slightly thinner sauce, I added a touch of water and only cooked the salmon for another minute after it was returned to the pan. Perfect consistency in the end.

My garnishes included all that were suggested and I wouldn’t skip any of them when I make it again.

My first bite was a definitive WOW! A perfectly cooked piece of salmon with a crispy exterior, bathed in a slightly sweet, earthy, nutty tahini/pomegranate molasses sauce. And the added crunch from those pomegranate seeds and toasted pine nuts, along with the fresh parsley really pushed this already amazing dish over the edge.

I did serve this dish with a side of lemon Israeli couscous, which was delicious. I found, however, that it competed somewhat with the array of flavors in the sauce and from the salmon. Hence, I would recommend a simpler side dish such as plain white rice, quinoa, couscous, or just some flatbread to soak up every bit of that wonderful sauce.

Everyone needs a ‘go-to’ salmon recipe and this pan seared salmon with sweet tahini sauce might just fill that need for many. It’s simple and straightforward, but packs heightened flavors and brings along a robust sauce to pull it all together. (Hint: The sauce is lovely in all manner of uses such as roast veggies, sandwiches, roast chicken, etc.)

If you use the toppings as suggested, including the red pomegranate seeds and the fresh parsley, this recipe also offers a beautiful presentation. And did we talk about how quick and easy it is?

What a stunner of a recipe! I had never had a dish like this, so I decided to give it a chance. The guests I served it to raved about it! I think the salmon could be cooked however you prefer–grill, oven, etc–and the results would be lovely.

As noted in the description, “this is a simple dish that will leave a lasting impression.”

We followed the method and timing of this recipe as written, and had a pretty-to-present main dish with a combination of flavors new to us. We’d never prepared or eaten a dish with tahini, pomegranate, and salmon. The cooking times for the fish were just right, and the meal was lovely to behold and delicious to eat.

There are two adjustments we’d make for next time: first, we’d be sure to salt the fish more liberally, and next time we might double the sauce to spoon over steamed vegetables.

Originally published August 5, 2022

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