Lucky for me I recorded an episode of America's Test Kitchen on PBS that happened to be about fish. They demonstrated a salmon preparation (albeit with a sugar/soy glaze) that achieves what I was looking for. The technique is a quick sear on the stovetop followed by a short bake in a low oven. It's kind of foolproof and I realized my error had been trying to cook it with too much heat.
I made this twice over the weekend and it turned out beautifully each time (and my skin is just glowing from all the fatty acids). Simple, once you know how - clean and perfect before the holiday indulgences commence.
Pan-fried Salmon with Arugula SaladServes 4
2 lbs salmon with skin (see note)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Really whatever you like, but the salmon is delicious with the peppery arugula, thinly sliced cabbage and a few shavings of Parmesan. Dress with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of olive oil.
2. Cut the salmon into 4 even sized fillets (about 2" wide), pat dry and lightly salt.
3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick, oven-safe, skillet over medium hear until shimmery (or until a drop of water sizzles).
4. Place fillets flesh side down (not skin side down - another mistake I had been making) into pan so they're not touching. Sear for 2 minutes until lightly browned. Flip and cook another minute with the skin side down. Move skillet to oven and cook for 8 minutes or until opaque*. If you see white blobs, you've gone too far.
Note: What kind of salmon you purchase is a whole other discussion. America's Test Kitchen recommends farm-raised Norwegian but I've read other sources that recommend only wild caught Alaskan.
*I first learned what opaque was selling clothes at Ann Taylor when I was just out of college. Opaque hosiery was kind of a new thing back then - most women were still sheathed in sheer black or taupe. I loved saying the word which I thought sounded so chic even though they seemed identical to what I had always known as "tights". So wait until your fish appears opaque or "tight". Both words are apt.