If you think crispy skin salmon is too hard to make at home, this post is for you!
I took an unofficial poll of about 20 people (not a scientific sample size I know), and determined that about 80% of people don’t cook fish at home as often as they would like to. Why is that? Is it the smell? The scales? The fear of choking on bones?
I think it’s a combination of these things that scare most of us off. I must admit, I don’t eat as much fish as I would like to either. But when I do eat fish at home, I often go with salmon, and I almost always cook it this way because I LOVE crispy skin.
Cooking fish at home can be easy!
Cooking fish this way is easy, but there are a few steps involved before the skin hits the pan.
- Turn on the fan. Your kitchen fan should be on full blast. This will help with the smoke caused by the skin crisping. It will also minimize the aroma that fish cooking often leaves behind.
- Buy a pair of fish tweezers. I know, this sounds daunting already. The truth of the matter is, salmon have lots of tiny little pin bones. Pin bones are really thin and easy to miss (and easy to choke on). The beauty of pin bones, is that they are all neatly aligned in a single row within the salmon fillet. Once you’ve found one, you’ve found them all. Just feel along the row of spikes through the thickest part of the fillet with your index finger. Then grab them one by one and yank them out with your fish tweezers. You can absolutely get the folks at your fish counter to do this for you.
- Beware of scales. Although most grocery store fish are already scale-free, it’s always worth double checking. Chomping through scales is not pleasant. The safest bet is to confirm the scale status with the folks at your fish counter.
De-scaling fish is a bit of a task. Just ask my mom who was still discovering fish scales on the under-sides of the kitchen cupboards for months after I got a little carried away on a piece of salmon one day. I think I was about 12.
Crispy skin salmon for the win
There are a million great, low effort ways to cook fish at home, but this is the one I most often use. It’s a sure fire method that gives you the least amount of clean up and delivers a totally foolproof crispy skin.
If there are only one or two of you, this method is especially good. One or two pieces of salmon fit nicely into the pan which means you won’t have to use multiple pans–or cook multiple batches, as you would for a larger group.
If you are cooking for a larger group, the simplest approach is to first crisp each skin individually. Then, rather than flipping them to cook on the second flesh side, arrange the fish pieces skin-side-up on a baking sheet and finish them in a 400 degree oven for 3-4 minutes.
What about other kinds of fish?
Although there are many close competitors, salmon is my favourite skin-on fish. That being said, this method can be used on other fish like mackerel and trout too. These are delicious with the crispy skin treatment too. When making your selection, the rule of thumb is always to the freshest fish possible.
Preparing your salmon
Once you’ve got your boneless, scale-free piece of salmon, crank your burner to medium low–about a level 4 on most electric stovetops. (I see a lot of recipes calling for medium high heat, and I find this to be too high. We want crispy skin, not burnt skin.)
Properly preheating pans is a lesson in patience. Let the pan heat up for a good 5 minutes or so before putting the salmon in. I like to use a cast iron pan for this, but any heavy bottomed pan will do.
Pat the skin dry with some paper towel, drizzle/rub with some vegetable or olive oil, and sprinkle with plenty of salt.
How to get salmon skin crispy
Place your piece of salmon skin-side down onto a square of parchment paper. (This step isn’t necessary if you really trust the non-stick capabilities of your pan, but it’s a great hack.) Then, drop the whole darn thing–paper-side down, right into your hot pan.
Hold the fish down with a fish spatula for the first 15 seconds of cooking to ensure good contact with the pan. This is important for even crisping.
Cook the salmon for 6 minutes on the skin side. You might stop it at 5 if you have an especially thin piece, and you might leave it till 7 if it’s a real thickie.
While you’re waiting for the skin side to cook, season the flesh side with salt and pepper.
After 5-7 minutes, flip the salmon over and let it finish cooking for about 30 seconds on the flesh side.
How to serve your crispy skin salmon
Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy the most perfectly cooked pan seared salmon you’ve ever had. If you’re like me, you’ll spend about 3 minutes just tapping on the skin and marvelling at the crispy sound. You can eat this with just about any side dish, but my favourite is usually a herby yogurt sauce and a crunchy salad.
A few salad recommendations:
Wondering about the green sauce in the photos? It’s a quick spinach pesto yogurt sauce using my favourite spinach pesto recipe.
Give this crispy skin salmon a try next time you want to impress yourself. You’ll be glad you did!
How To Get Salmon Skin Crispy
- Cast-iron pan
- 2 salmon fillet portions–scaled and de-boned
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Preheat a cast iron pan to medium low heat, level 4 on an electric stovetop.
- Drizzle the skin side of the salmon portions with oil, and season liberally with salt.
- Place the salmon skin-side-down onto a square of parchment paper and lower into the pan, paper side down.
- Hold the salmon down firmly with a fish spatula for 15 seconds to prevent it from buckling.
- Cook the salmon on the skin side for 5-7 minutes depending on thickness. Season on the flesh side.
- Flip the salmon over and finish cooking on the flesh side for 30 seconds.