This salmon stir fry starts with chunks of marinated salmon that become sweetly caramelized in the oven or air fryer before being added to a stir fry of kale, zucchini, and mushrooms for a quick and healthy lunch or dinner idea.


Eating more omega-3-packed salmon during the week is always a good idea, and just one reason grilled salmon, poached salmon, and baked salmon are always part of my weekly eating goals. Today’s recipe is cooked in two stages, where chunks of sweetly caramelized salmon are cooked in the oven or air fryer then added to a quick veggie stir fry on the stove.

This salmon stir fry came about after I saw Jules Food Instagram post about her salmon candy cooked in the air fryer. I cooked the salmon chunks on high heat in my convection oven—essentially the same method as an air fryer. The result is caramelized, moist and flaky chunks of salmon you could pop in your mouth like candy. I made it a complete meal by foraging through the fridge for stir fry-friendly veg served over leftover white rice. After sharing my finished dish on my IG stories, many of you asked for the recipe, so here it is.


What’s in This Caramelized Salmon Stir Fry

Inspired by Jules’s post for sweetly marinated salmon nuggets, I made my own marinade with soy sauce, sesame oil, and Japanese barbecue sauce before sprinkling the salmon with pinched piles of brown sugar.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Fresh, wild-caught salmon
  • Soy sauce (or liquid aminos)
  • Japanese bbq sauce — Bachan’s Japanese BBQ Sauce is the brand Jules recommends and I used too
  • Sesame oil
  • Brown sugar
  • Canola oil or cooking spray
  • Lacinato kale
  • Zucchini
  • Mushrooms — I used shiitake but any mushroom works
  • Green onion
  • Sesame seeds
  • Cooked white rice

First, the Salmon Marinade

Trim the skin and cut the salmon into 1-inch chunks. Look for a thick, fleshy salmon to get the best, meaty salmon chunks.

Mix the soy sauce, Japanese BBQ sauce, and sesame oil and pour over the salmon. Using a small bowl ensures the marinade envelops the salmon, absorbing evenly.

Marinate the salmon for 10 minutes or so. Fresh salmon doesn’t take long to absorb the flavors. Plus, marinating fish for too long can make it stringy.


Prep the Vegetables

Thinly slice the kale. Remove the stems before slicing the kale or it will taste woody and tough.

Chop the mushrooms and zucchini into the same size chunks. A large dice ensures the vegetables cook at the same rate.

Slice the green onion now for garnishing later. For Asian cooking, I like to slice my green onion at an angle to make a pretty presentation.


Prep the Salmon

Remove the salmon from the marinade, but keep that sauce! Because this fish is so fresh, personally I’m okay with using the marinade as is for the sauce for this recipe. To me, it’s like eating poke. But, if that doesn’t sit well with you, place the marinade in a microwave-safe bowl and cook for 2 minutes on high to kill any possible lurking bacteria.

Pat the marinade from the salmon chunks before baking. Removing the extra moisture from the salmon ensures the salmon roasts instead of steams when cooking.

Transfer the salmon to a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle with brown sugar. Adding a few pinches of brown sugar to each cube of salmon creates a caramelized crust while the inside stays moist.


Bake or Air Fry the Salmon Nuggets

How to cook salmon nuggets in the air fryer:

  • Preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Prep the cooking basket with cooking spray.
  • Place the salmon nuggets on the basket allowing room for air to flow.
  • Cook for 10 minutes.

How to cook salmon nuggets in the convection oven:

  • Preheat the convection oven to 400°F.
  • Place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with foil.
  • Cook for 7-10 minutes or until flaky and caramelized.

Stir Fry the Vegetables

While the salmon cooks, start the vegetables.

  • Heat a generous drizzle of oil in a large skillet over medium-high. I like using these non-stick skillets for stir frys so the sauce doesn’t burn.
  • Cook the kale, mushrooms, and zucchini for 3-4 minutes. Toss every so often while allowing time for steam to build and cook the veg.
  • Add 3-4 tablespoons of the reserved marinade, and continue cooking until tender. Adding the marinade near the end of cooking helps finish the vegetables off while absorbing flavor.
  • Season with toasted sesame seeds. Taste, then add more sesame oil if desired.

Taste that Carmelized Candied Salmon!

Smaller cuts of salmon mean more surface area to caramelize and crisp. The result is a tender, flaky chunk with more candied flavor on all sides.

While the tops and sides of the salmon look golden-delicious, the bottom is where it’s at. Extra contact time with the sheet pan means a more seared bottom that’s extra delicious.


Combine the Salmon With the Stir Fry Veg

Nestle the salmon with the veg and gently toss. In order to keep your nuggets whole, don’t get too rough with your salmon toss here. Gently fold into the veg and add more reserved marinade as needed.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over rice. I like perfectly cooked white rice with this dish, but brown rice, udon noodles, or serving it all on its own is a tasty call.


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