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Moist and flaky salmon with a citrusy, sugary crust is one recipe you’ll want to earmark for special occasions or dinner parties with friends — it’s that delicious!
Fresh orange zest is the star of this easy salmon rub made with coriander, cumin, fennel, and other spices readily found in your pantry!
Salmon fillets are basted with olive oil and then rubbed with the salty and sweet salmon seasoning. As the salmon cooks — either grilled on a cedar plank or baked in the oven — moisture is sealed inside and a crispy crust forms on top.
With turbinado sugar and black peppercorns in the spice rub, every bite is a flavor explosion — a little bit sweet and a little bit spicy!
Often, I prep salmon ahead of time in a brown sugar marinade for the grill. When I don’t have an extra hour, however, applying a rub is an equally tasty option. All you need is 5 minutes to prep and you’re ready to grill!
Looking for more winning salmon recipes? My teriyaki salmon and rice bowl is a quick and easy weeknight dinner chock full of roasted broccoli, bell peppers, and fresh pineapple. Or, try this honey soy salmon sheet pan dinner with sweet, flaky salmon, crisp roasted Brussel sprouts, and butternut squash.
Why you’re going to love it!
- Healthy, gluten free meal. Salmon is is loaded with nutrients and high-quality protein.
- Bursting with flavor. A blend of sweet, savory, and spicy.
- Easy to prepare. Perfect for weeknights, yet impressive enough for guests.
Citrusy Salmon Rub: behind the recipe
A few years ago, I purchased several custom spice blends at a little shop in the mountains. One of them was a salmon seasoning packet that we enjoyed so much I decided to recreate it at home.
For the real test, I used my homemade salmon rub to prepare a birthday dinner party for our daughter and her friends. These well-traveled young adults can sometimes be food snobs, so when they raved over my grilled salmon, I knew it was a big win!
Key ingredients and substitutions
- Turbinado sugar — This coarse sugar helps create the crispy crust. Instead, you may use brown sugar if that’s what you have on hand.
- Whole black peppercorns — There will be little bits of crushed pepper in the crust for a spicy bite here and there.
- Sea salt — I use regular sea salt in my rub, but I think a smoked sea salt would taste amazing as well.
- Fresh orange zest — Whatever you do, don’t skip the orange zest! Although subtle, the zest brings all the flavors together beautifully.
- Make a double batch! It’s always nice to have extra to use later. Store dry rub with fresh zest in the freezer in a ziplock bag for up to a month.
Kitchen tools needed to make salmon dry rub
- Mortar and pestle — Although I never thought I’d use one of these kitchen tools, I’ve found that I enjoy having one for recipes like this and for grinding fresh herbs as well. I even made my own Homemade Stone-Ground Mustard with the mortar and pestle!
- Microplane zester — Hands down, this is one of my most used and very favorite kitchen gadgets!
How to make salmon spice rub
STEP 1 | Crush the peppercorns
- Rocking the mortar, smash the whole black peppercorns with sea salt into the pestle. Using this technique gives you complete control over the consistency.
- Don’t smash the spices too fine as you want to leave some bigger pieces for a little texture in the rub.
STEP 2 | Add sugar and other spices
- Again, use the mortar to gently smash and blend the sugar and spices. This technique releases the oils in the spices for optimal flavor.
STEP 3 | Stir in the zest
- When zesting the orange, be sure you only remove the orange part of the peel and not the white pith, which has a bitter flavor.
- Using a fork, mix the fresh orange zest into the spice blend until no clumps are left.
- Cedar planks add smoky flavor to salmon or fish and can be used again and again. If you plan to grill fish on a cedar plank, soak it in water for at least an hour before using to avoid flames.
Frequently asked questions
I always apply a thin layer of olive oil on salmon before adding the rub. This does two things — it helps the rub stick and also adds moisture to the salmon.
Yes, indeed. Place the salmon skin side down on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and add the spice rub on the top and sides, then bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
Although many people remove the skin before cooking, salmon skin is perfectly edible and is tastier when fried to a crisp.
When baking or grilling salmon with a rub, I leave the skin on and then remove it when plating. Slide a wide metal spatula between the skin and the flesh and it should slide right off.
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First Published: January 25, 2019. Last Updated: April 20, 2021.
Citrusy Salmon Rub
- 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dill weed
- 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 6 salmon filets
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- cedar planks soaked in water for 2 hours
- Roughly grind peppercorns and salt together using a mortar and pestle, leaving some large pieces. Add fennel seeds and turbinado sugar and crush lightly.
- Add the remaining spices and gently crush. Pour the spice mixture into a bowl.
- Zest the orange and add the to rub mixture. Mix with a fork until the orange is completely incorporated and there are no clumps.
Salmon Grilled on Cedar Planks
- Soak cedar planks in water for at least 2 hours. Preheat grill to medium high heat.
- Place salmon skin side down onto the cedar planks and lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with the dry rub mixture. Place the cedar planks on the grill and cook with the lid down for 12-15 minutes.
- Carefully remove cedar planks from the grill. Slide a wide metal spatula between the salmon and skin and lift it onto a plate.
Salmon Baked in the Oven
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Place salmon fillets skin side down on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with the salmon rub.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Slide a wide metal spatula between the salmon and skin and lift it onto a plate.
About Sheila Thigpen
Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer
Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.