This Cajun Salmon Pasta is a smoky, creamy pasta topped with a seared salmon fillet. Easy to make in under 20 minutes, it will be a new family favorite.
My father, originally from Louisiana, loved to blast Cajun music at every family dinner while I was growing up...to which I still have no idea what the lyrics were. Tony Chachere's was a staple seasoning that was put on everything. And he loved crawfish season! It's only natural that I create a recipe he would be proud of, but with a homemade Cajun seasoning.
Most recipes would have you use a pre-made mix, but I find it fairly easy to whip one up with cabinet spices. Plus it's nice knowing exactly what goes into the seasoning, especially if you have an onion sensitivity or need to control the amount of sodium. A lot of pre-made cajun seasonings are very high in sodium. And even with a simple mixture like Slap Ya Mama, the smoked paprika adds an extra layer of flavor that's really nice.
Why You'll Love This Cajun Salmon Pasta
- It's fast! Ready in just about 20 minutes total.
- The creamy sauce is smoky with just a hint of spiciness, but not overpowering.
- It's a lightened up version of most cajun pasta alfredo recipes, using broth and pasta water to cut the heavy cream.
- This cajun salmon alfredo is easy to edit, using shrimp or another seared fish to compliment the pasta. Or leave the salmon out entirely for a vegetarian dish.
- The homemade cajun seasoning is low sodium compared to store-bought options, which contain over 15% of the daily value.
- Salmon - Fresh or previously frozen but full defrosted salmon works best. I prefer the flavor of a good quality farmed salmon, like verlasso, but use whatever you like best. Center cut, even pieces are easiest to sear. Plan on 4-6oz per adult serving.
- Pasta - I went with linguine for this recipe, but fettuccine would work as well. Use whatever you have on hand!
- Vegetable Broth - Chicken broth would also work in this recipe. This provides a flavorful base to the sauce while helping to cut down on the overall calories. Make your own or use a low sodium version - I like Trader Joe's Hearty Vegetable.
- Heavy Cream - Ones without carrageenan always cook and taste best, plus are more migraine-friendly. Some good brands are Horizon and Organic Valley. Because this needs to be simmered at a high heat, I don't recommend substituting this with regular milk, which curdles at higher heat.
- Cajun Spices - Smoked paprika, regular paprika, oregano, garlic and cayenne make up this homemade cajun seasoning. I would not substitute the smoked paprika for regular paprika. The smokiness provides a really great flavor.
- Cream Cheese - Gives the sauce an extra creamy texture. I use a brand without carrageenan like Philadelphia, Whole Foods, or Publix Greenwise.
Step By Step Process
Step 1 - Prepare the pasta. Start by boiling the pasta in salted water, according to package directions. Drain the pasta, but retain about 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce.
Step 2- Sear the salmon. In a large, non-stick or carbon steel pan, spray olive oil and turn to medium hight heat. Once warmed, add the seasoned salmon, skin side up, and turn the heat down to medium. Sear for 4-5 minutes and don't touch it! The salmon will release naturally from the pan when it's got a nice brown sear. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes for medium doneness, or until cooked to your liking. Remove salmon from pan and set aside.
Step 3: Make the Cajun cream sauce. If there's a lot of excess oil, drain it out of the pan or wipe with a paper towel, but there should just be enough to sauté the garlic on medium low heat, stirring frequently so it does not burn. Add in broth and spices, whisking till combined. Turn heat up to bring to a boil, reducing the broth by about half. Turn the heat back down to medium low and whisk in heavy cream. Simmer till the sauce has thickened - about 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cream cheese on low heat till smooth and creamy.
Step 4: Mix in the pasta. Add in cooked pasta, tossing till well-coated, then adding about ⅓-1/2 cup pasta water to thin out the sauce a little bit, if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Place the pasta in a bowl and top with a whole salmon fillet or break apart to incorporate pieces throughout. The whole thing tastes like a creamy cajun salmon pasta alfredo.
Tips for Perfect Seared Salmon
- Plan on 4-6oz of salmon per person.
- Don't touch the salmon while it's cooking and try to move it around. This will give you the best sear.
- If the salmon comes without skin, don't worry. This recipe will work for skin-on or skin off.
- Pat the salmon dry on both sides with a paper towel. Season with salt and pepper right before cooking (like less than a minute). Using salt earlier in the process will draw out moisture and you want it to be dry before you sear it.
- Farmed salmon has a lighter, buttery flavor and wild has a more potent, fishy flavor. Both would work for this recipe. Go with your preference.
- For gluten free Cajun salmon pasta, use a certified gluten free pasta.
- For dairy free, substitute oat milk creamer or coconut cream for heavy cream and use your favorite dairy free cream cheese (this will not work during a migraine diet phase, but could for a reintroduction phase).
- If the sauce doesn't thicken the way you'd like I strongly recommend giving the sauce time to simmer, especially after the pasta has been added. The starches from the pasta should help the sauce thicken and coat the pasta thoroughly. Usually I find that people cut the timing too short when reducing broth for sauces.
- Seafood substitutions - If you're not a huge fan of salmon, try halibut, shrimp, cod, or scallops.
Side Dish Suggestions
This pasta is truly a complete dish on it's own, but if you'd like to incorporate more vegetables, I would suggest the following as a pairing.
- Add in 1-2 cups of fresh, torn spinach or kale when you whisk in the heavy cream. It will soften as you simmer the sauce and stir in the warm pasta.
- Serve with a side salad and simple dressing. I suggest a lighter vinaigrette to cut the richness of the pasta and sauce.
- Easy Grilled Vegetables for something light and healthy. Red peppers would go very well with this!
- For a low carb option, switch out the pasta and place the cajun salmon and sauce on top of this roasted mashed cauliflower.
If you're in the mood for another Cajun fish recipe I highly recommend the Blackened Cod. But for more pasta recipes like this Cajun salmon pasta, you'll love these ideas.
Cajun Salmon Pasta
- 12 oz pasta (I used linguine)
- olive oil spray or about 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 4 4-6oz salmon fillets
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon oregano
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces cream cheese
- Start by boiling the pasta in salted water, according to package directions. Drain the pasta, but retain about 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce. Pat salmon fillets dry with a paper towel, and season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile in a large, non-stick or carbon steel pan, spray olive oil and turn to medium hight heat. Once warmed, add the seasoned salmon, skin side up, and turn the heat down to medium. Sear for 4-5 minutes and don't touch it! The salmon will release naturally from the pan when it's got a nice brown sear. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes for medium doneness, or until cooked to your liking. Remove salmon from pan and set aside.
- If there's a lot of excess oil, drain it out of the pan or wipe with a paper towel, but there should just be enough to sauté the garlic on medium low heat, stirring frequently so it does not burn. Add in broth and spices, whisking till combined. Turn heat up to bring to a boil, reducing the broth by about half over 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat back down to medium low and whisk in heavy cream. Simmer till the sauce has thickened - about 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cream cheese on low heat till smooth and creamy.
- Add in cooked pasta, tossing till well-coated over low heat, then add about ⅓-1/2 cup pasta water to thin out the sauce a little bit, if needed. If the sauce is too thin, simmer over medium low heat with the pasta in the sauce - just for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Use defrosted or fresh salmon fillets that have been pat dry. Season at the last second before searing. Salting the salmon early and letting it sit draws out moisture which you don't want before searing. Also don't touch the salmon when searing, it will release from the pan naturally when ready - usually within 3-5 minutes. Moving it around the pan won't give you that nice, brown crust.
- Use a cream cheese and heavy cream without carrageenan.
- Salmon can be substituted with shrimp, halibut, cod or scallops for this recipe.
- To make this low carb, I suggest using my roasted mashed cauliflower recipe and using the salmon and sauce on top.
- Nutritional information is for one large serving of pasta (about 3oz per person) and 6oz of salmon.