Pan-Seared Salmon with Sunflower Seed Pesto
Vibrant homemade sunflower seed pesto, flaky pan-seared salmon, and crispy roasted broccoli come together in this surprisingly easy and highly satisfying meal. It's a fresh and simple crowd-pleasing take on pesto salmon, and it's ready in under 30 minutes!
This recipe was originally published in 2014. We've updated the post with some new photos and more information, but we've left the delicious recipe exactly the same.
We love the vibrant color and bright taste of fresh pesto. That's why instead of baking the salmon with the pesto, we pan-sear the salmon and then use it fresh as a topping once the salmon is cooked.
This dairy-free sunflower seed version uses two surprising ingredients; mayonnaise and sunflower seeds. Mayonnaise may seem like a strange ingredient in pesto, but it adds a lot of creaminess while keeping it dairy-free. Sunflower seeds make a tasty, nutritious, and affordable alternative to classic pine nuts while keeping the pesto nut-free. Basil, dill, green onion, and garlic give it lots of wonderful flavors and a splash of lemon juice adds acidity and brightness.
The salmon is pan-seared to make the skin nice and crispy, then finished in the oven to flaky perfection. If you've never tried pan-seared salmon, now is your chance to enjoy the crispy, chip-like skin.
Then there's the broccoli. If you've ever roasted broccoli, you'll know that it's the most delicious way to eat it. Roasting adds so much flavor and gives it the most wonderful crispy texture. It goes well with almost anything but we think it pairs especially well with this pesto salmon recipe.
It's a healthy 30-minute meal that feels fancy enough for a special occasion but easy enough to make any night of the week!
What you'll need for the sunflower seed pesto
This fresh spin on the classic uses less than 10 ingredients and comes together with a whizz of your food processor. It's also dairy and nut-free and delicious on top of pan-seared salmon! Here's what you'll need:
- Basil – a classic pesto ingredient; gives it's wonderful herbaceous flavor and bright green color.
- Sunflower seeds – adds texture and keeps it nut-free.
- Lemon juice – adds brightness and tartness.
- Olive oil – is the emulsifier for bringing everything together.
- Dill – for its fresh, citrus-like taste.
- Green onion (green part only) – adds a mild peppery flavor.
- Garlic – adds its distinct pungent flavor.
- Mayonnaise – gives the pesto a lot of creaminess and keeps this it dairy-free.
- Water (to thin) – use as needed for your desired consistency.
How to make sunflower seed pesto
Sunflower seed pesto is really simple to make in just one easy step:
- Place all the pesto ingredients into a food processor or high speed blender and blend on high until smooth. You may want to add a little water to thin the pesto if you want it a drizzling texture.
The full recipe instructions can be found in the recipe card below.
Tip for pesto lovers: This recipe yields about a half cup. If you love pesto, double or triple the batch. Leftovers freeze well in ice cube trays, so you can thaw and use a small amount when a recipe calls for it.
Tips for making perfect crispy pan-seared salmon
It's easy to make salmon with perfectly crispy skin. Here are a few tricks that will help:
- Make sure to purchase skin-on salmon, and ideally filets that are equal in size and thickness.
- Dry the salmon well and season it with salt and pepper. Keeping the skin dry is key to making it crispy.
- Use enough oil so the skin goes golden. Oil helps distribute the pan's heat evenly and will make sure it crisps up instead of burns.
- Make sure your pan is hot before adding the salmon, so it doesn't soak up any oil.
- Cook the salmon skin side down and undisturbed. Press on the filet for a few seconds to make sure the skin evenly touches the pan.
- Simply shake the pan gently a few times to help release the salmon from the pan.
- Serve it skin side up! This helps preserve it's crispiness.
Pan-Seared Salmon with Sunflower Seed Pesto FAQs
Any variety of fresh, skin-on salmon like sockeye, coho, pink, or chinook will work well. Another great alternative is steelhead trout.
Yes! The pesto will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Cooked salmon will stay fresh in the fridge for about 3 days. Store the pesto and salmon separately air-tight containers.
This is a great meal on its own but would also be delicious served with roasted mini potatoes with herbs and garlic, herb and garlic smashed sweet potatoes, or a grain salad like our summer quinoa salad with cherries and almonds.
Have fun with your leftover pesto. It tastes great as a dip to serve with your favorite raw veggies or crispy herb carrot fries, stirred into soups or stews, or spread in a wrap, sandwich, or even grilled cheese.
More delicious salmon recipes
- Cajun Salmon
- Pecan Crusted Salmon with Garlic Maple Glaze
- 5-Ingredient Pistachio Crusted Salmon
- Coconut Orange Poached Salmon
- Sheet Pan Salmon with Crispy Potatoes and Asparagus
Pan-Seared Salmon with Sunflower Seed Pesto
If you love this recipe as much as we do, let us know with a 5-star rating!
- 1 head broccoli, cut into small florets
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
Sunflower Seed Pesto
- ½ cup basil leaves
- ¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice, fresh is best
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill
- 1 green onion, green part only
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 5-ounce salmon filets
- ½ teaspoon EACH: sea salt and black pepper
- Sunflower seeds and dill, to serve
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Place the broccoli on a baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt. Put the baking sheet into the oven for 20 minutes, or until the broccoli is soft and the florets are starting to get crispy.1 head broccoli, 1 teaspoon olive oil, ½ teaspoon sea salt
- While the broccoli roasts, prepare the rest of the meal. Place all of the sunflower seed pesto ingredients into your blender or food processor and blend on high until mostly smooth. If needed, thin with a little water, starting with 1 tablespoon.¼ cup toasted sunflower seeds, ½ cup basil leaves, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon fresh dill, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 1 green onion
- Dry the salmon well then season it with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, ovenproof pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the salmon skin side down. Let the salmon cook undisturbed for 3-4 minutes, or until the skin is nice and crispy. Shake the pan a few times to help the salmon release from the pan. Once the skin is crispy, put the pan into the oven and cook the salmon for 4 minutes more.4 5-ounce salmon filets, ½ teaspoon EACH: sea salt and black pepper, 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Serve the salmon with the pesto over the top and the broccoli on the side. Sprinkle on a few sunflower seeds and dill sprigs, if you'd like.Sunflower seeds and dill