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Bright green basil pesto is a natural fit with baked fish! This pesto salmon is an easy weeknight meal that also works to impress guests.

Pesto salmon

Ready for the perfect zingy sauce to add life to baked salmon? Try this pesto salmon! Bright green pesto goes hand in hand with tender baked fish to make a stunning dinner. Because really: what isn’t better with a little pesto on top? It’s mid-summer here and we’re making all the pesto with our overactive basil plant. The savory, garlicky sauce makes the flaky fish pop: you’ll already be taking your second bite before finishing the first. It’s easy enough for a weeknight, but impressive enough to serve to guests. This one went over very well in our house. Here’s what to know!

Use homemade pesto if you can…but purchased works

This pesto salmon is best with…you guessed it, homemade pesto! Now, we know it’s not always that you have access to loads of fresh basil. But the flavor of freshly made basil pesto is so good, you’ll want to make it if at all possible. Here are a few things to know:

  • Make a half recipe of our basil pesto. This way, you don’t need as much basil: just 1 cup of basil leaves.
  • You can use cashews or walnuts. Traditional pesto is made with pine nuts, but they can be expensive or hard to find. Using other nuts works too! Our favorite is cashew pesto, or try this walnut pesto.
  • Or, find the best quality purchased brand. Here’s the thing about storebought pesto: the quality varies widely. Some pestos taste flat and dull, some are overly salty. So experiment until you find one you love! Using homemade pesto makes this an easy 3 ingredient recipe.

Tip for baked pesto salmon: brine it first!

Here’s a little trick we’ve used to great success. Brine your salmon before baking! What’s brining? Brining is letting your salmon sit in a brine solution before baking. This makes for perfectly moist salmon, and it helps the salmon come to room temperature which makes it cook more evenly. It also cuts down on the white stuff (see below). Even better: it doesn’t take any extra time! You can do it while the oven preheats. Here’s how to brine salmon:

  • Mix up a salt water solution. In a large dish, stir 4 cups of water with 3 tablespoons salt to make a salt water solution.
  • Place the fish in the water for 15 minutes. You can do this in the time it takes to preheat your oven: so there’s no time lost!

What’s the white stuff on cooked salmon?

What’s that gooey white stuff that sometimes appears on the surface of the fish after it’s cooked? Good news: it’s perfectly normal! The white stuff is coagulated protein that seeps to the surface while baking, called albumin. The amount of albumin varies greatly depending on the fish, so it’s not something you can control. (Read more here.) It’s safe to eat, but it does look less than appetizing on top of a beautiful fillet. Here are a few ways to reduce the albumin when you cook salmon:

  • Cook it at a lower temperature to cook it more gently (325 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Brine the salmon in a salt and water solution before baking
Pesto salmon

How to garnish pesto salmon

The presentation is the fun part, right? This pesto salmon looks just lovely on a plate. Here’s what to know about the presentation:

  • Add the pesto after baking. This keeps it beautifully moist and bright green.
  • Add chopped and toasted pine nuts as a garnish. These look lovely, and they have a unique flavor. Make sure to toast the pine nuts before using them: it accentuates the flavor in a way where you’ll taste the difference.
  • Lemon zest adds brightness. Zest helps brighten the flavors; you’ll already have a lemon onhand if you make homemade pesto. If using storebought pesto, it can be a nice way to revive the flavors.

Buying sustainable salmon

Want to buy the most sustainable fish you can? Here are a few pointers when you’re looking at salmon at the grocery store:

  • Look for wild-caught fish if possible. Wild-caught fish is more sustainable than farmed.
  • Find US caught (if you’re in the US). 90% of the seafood we eat in the US is imported. Imported seafood runs the risk of being overfished, caught under unfair labor practices, or farmed in environmentally harmful ways.
Pesto salmon

Sides to serve with pesto salmon

This pesto salmon makes an easy, healthy dinner recipe: great for weeknights in and when you’re entertaining guests! How to make it into a meal? Because you’ll have the oven occupied for the salmon, here are a few ideas for side dishes that are oven-free:

This pesto recipe is…

Gluten-free and pescatarian. For dairy free, use Vegan Pesto.

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Pesto salmon

Easy Pesto Salmon

  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x


Bright green basil pesto is a natural fit with baked fish! This pesto salmon is an easy weeknight meal that also works to impress guests.


  • 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets or a large 1 ½ pound fillet, wild caught if possible
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for brining
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade preferable)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted and chopped pine nuts
  • A few grates of lemon zest, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Brine the salmon: While the oven preheats, in a shallow dish stir together 4 cups room temperature water and 3 tablespoons kosher salt until it dissolves. Place the salmon in the water and wait for 15 minutes (this should be about the time it takes to preheat).
  3. Bake*: Rub the bottom of a baking dish with olive oil. Pat each piece of salmon dry and place it on the pan. Sprinkle the salmon with ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt for each of the 4 fillets and fresh ground pepper. Cover pan with foil and bake the salmon for 10 minutes. Then remove the foil bake again for 3 to 6 minutes, depending on thickness, until just tender and pink at the center (the internal temperature should be between 125 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the center). A 1-inch thick fillet should cook in about 15 minutes total.
  4. Serve: When the salmon is done, spoon the pesto over the salmon. Sprinkle it with chopped pine nuts and if desired, a bit of lemon zest. Serve immediately. (Leftovers can be stored refrigerated for 3 to 4 days.)


*You can also pan sear or broiled the salmon to make a quicker recipe. Go to Pan Seared Salmon or Broiled Salmon.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Seafood
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Keywords: Pesto salmon

More recipes with pesto

Got lots of basil? Let’s make everything pesto! Here are some of our favorite meals starring this bright green sauce:

  • Pesto Spaghetti or Pesto Cavatappi The trick to getting the creamiest pesto pasta evenly covered in silky sauce! Make it with homemade or purchased basil pesto for a fast dinner.
  • Shrimp Pesto Pasta An impressively fast and easy dinner recipe! Cover the noodles in glistening green basil pesto for a meal that pleases everyone.
  • Pesto Cream Sauce This 5-minute pesto cream sauce is genius: just simmer pesto and cream until a thick sauce forms!
  • Easy Pesto Shrimp A dinnertime win! Savory basil pesto is a natural pairing with juicy shrimp; serve with pasta or rice for an easy dinner idea.
  • Pesto Aioli Full of incredible basil and Parmesan flavor! Use it for dipping fries or to slather on a burger or sandwich.

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you’ll want to make again and again.

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  1. Delicious and easy salmon recipe. I brined it for about an hour beforehand and baked for 12 minutes at 325. It was a small piece and was cooked perfectly. Topped it with warmed Costco pesto and my husband and I loved it! Will definitely be repeating.

    1. Hi, Kelli, what did you brine it with?
      Just curious. I have a ton of basil this summer in my garden and am wondering what to use it with in cooking. I have some walnuts and salmon too so now just gonna figure out how to make that pesto sauce. It’s my first time trying to cook something with basil. It smells good on its own.