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Etta’s “Rubbed with Love” Salmon

June 8, 2015

By Kath Dedon


Back in 2001 Tom Douglas wrote in his Seattle Kitchen cookbook that “Etta’s Pit-Roasted Salmon with Grilled Shiitake Relish” had become a classic at his third Seattle restaurant, Etta’s. Etta’s opened in 1995. Today, 20 years later, you’ll still find Etta’s “Rubbed with Love” Salmon on the menu and it is still served with Etta’s Cornbread Pudding and Grilled Shiitake Relish.

Tom uses salmon fillets that have had the skin removed and he uses the spice rub on both sides. My Copper River Sockeye fillet still had the skin so I only used the rub on the flesh side. I don’t find it necessary to try to remove the skin because after the salmon is cooked it slips right off.

In the cookbook’s version of the recipe, Tom grills the salmon over a charcoal fire. But he also has a video showing how to start the salmon on the stovetop. Because the rub contains sugar, you need to keep the pan at a medium to medium-low heat so it doesn’t burn. Just a couple of minutes in the pan will beautifully brown the fish. At that point it can be turned and finished in a preheated 350 degree oven. To watch the video to see how he applies the rub (since I failed to get a photo of the rub on my fish) and to see how he cooks it click here.

When Tom wrote the cookbook it wasn’t that easy to find smoked paprika. He said you could buy Rub with Love Salmon Rub which uses the ingredient, or you could make the recipe in the book which calls for regular paprika. So if you want to make the rub yourself you can go either way. I had some Penzey’s Smoked Paprika so that’s what I used. (Since writing the book, Tom has added his own apple-smoked Smoked Paprika to his Rub with Love collection.)

Laura joined us for dinner last night. I cut the fillet into three 6.5-ounce portions and used Tom’s stovetop method. We all agreed that Etta’s “Rubbed with Love” Salmon is outstanding! The cookbook has the recipes for Etta’s Cornbread Pudding and the Grilled Shiitake Relish but I decided to keep it simple for a hot summer night. We enjoyed the salmon with corn on the cob and a salad made with lettuce from our garden. Delish!


Etta’s “Rubbed with Love” Salmon (photo by Laura)

This photo illustrate’s how easily the skin slips off once the salmon is cooked. 😉

Etta's Rub with Love Salmon


Etta’s “Rubbed with Love” Salmon

(Adapted from the recipe in Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen)


(print the recipe)


I made the full recipe of the spice rub but only used half of it since I only had 3 fillets instead of 6. I saved the other half in a small jar for a future meal.


Serves 3


Salmon Spice Rub

3 tablespoons maple sugar (or use firmly packed brown sugar as Tom does)

2 tablespoons smoked paprika (or regular paprika if you can’t find smoked)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme


Three 6 or 7-ounce salmon fillets

Oil for the pan (I used grapeseed oil.)


1. Preheat the oven to 350˚.

2. Combine the five ingredients for the spice rub. Set half of it aside for another meal.

Tom Douglas' Salmon Spice Rub


3. Preheat an oven-proof skillet over medium-low heat.

4. Just before you’re ready to cook (not more than 5 minutes before), sprinkle half of the recipe of the spice rub over the salmon. Gently press it on with your fingers so it will adhere well.

5. Heat the oil in the pan. Add the salmon, flesh-side down. Cook for a minute or two until the spice rub has caramelized.


Note the thin tail portion of the fillet on the upper right. After caramelizing, I turned the tip under the fillet so it would cook more evenly as you’ll see in the next photo.

Start on the stovetop


6. Flip the fillets over and put the pan into the preheated oven and cook for about 8 minutes, until the salmon is done to your liking. (Timing will depend on the thickness of your fillet. The general rule of thumb is about 10 minutes for every inch of thickness.)


Ready to go into the oven. I turned that thin tip under the rest of the fillet before I put the pan in the oven.



Thanks to Laura for this photo!

Etta's Rub with Love Salmon 2


9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 15, 2015 5:10 am

    Cannot WAIT to try this! Salmon is a staple here, and I’m always looking for new ways to cook it. Looks like a winner 🙂

  2. June 15, 2015 7:37 am

    Oooo !!! That looks so good!

  3. Mark permalink
    June 16, 2018 8:19 am

    I have had this at Etta’s in Seattle and it is arguably the best salmon you will ever eat.

    • June 16, 2018 8:26 am

      Yes, it is, Mark! I don’t think I’ve ever ordered anything else at Etta’s. 🙂

  4. July 11, 2019 5:23 pm

    Thanks so much for this recipe. I became a fan of Etta’s while on a consulting engagement in Seattle in the early 2000’s. Since then, my oldest son has moved to Seattle. On every trip to the Northwest we’ve stopped by QFC to buy a half dozen containers of “Rubbed with Love.” It’s terrific of Tom to share his recipe…I’ll try making my own now.

    • July 11, 2019 5:31 pm

      This is still one of my favorite ways to cook salmon. Thanks for your comment! Enjoy!


  1. Quick Rub for Roast or Grilled Chicken | In the kitchen with Kath

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