Have you ever eaten a salmon (or other fish) fillet at a great restaurant and enjoyed the delectable, crispy skin? Well, you can easily recreate that at home by following just a few easy techniques!
Depending on where you purchased the salmon from, the scales should already have been removed. However, if there are any scales on the skin it is an easy process to remove them. Simply scrape them off with a knife then quickly rinse the skin under running water. Afterwards – and this is VERY important – wrap or pat the salmon dry with paper towels or a kitchen towel. The reason? Moisture is the enemy of a crispy sear! Let me repeat here, moisture is the enemy! Fish (not surprisingly) holds a lot of moisture, and you will need to remove that surface moisture to get a really good sear.
Next, you need to use a very hot stainless steel or ceramic skillet.* You’ll know if the skillet is hot enough when the oil begins to shimmer. At that point, lay the salmon fillet skin-side down in the middle of the skillet, and using a fish spatula, press down on the fillet for about 15 seconds until the skin adheres to the pan. Don’t worry, it will release after 4-5 minutes.
The final step is to let the salmon cook undisturbed skin-side down for 5 minutes before flipping and very briefly cooking the flesh side. This is the hardest part for many aspiring chefs, as there’s a tendency to want to flip early or to try and lift the fillet from the pan to check the underside. Resist the temptation, and don’t do it! Patience is the key here. The skin needs time for the moisture to evaporate and the Maillard reaction to occur.
And that’s essentially all there is to getting that perfect crispy skin on a salmon or other fish filet – remove the moisture, use a hot skillet and let it sear undisturbed. Adhering to those three principles will help you achieve that admirable crispy skin every time!
* Note: I don’t like to use teflon (or similar) coated non-stick skillets on high heat, as there’s concerns of the coating breaking down and releasing toxins.
Crispy Pan-Seared Salmon
- 4-6 ounce skin-on salmon fillets
- 2 Tbsp canola oil (or ghee)
- Yuzu salt, to taste (can substitute kosher salt)
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- Preheat a pan or cast iron skillet heat over medium-high heat.
- Meanwhile, pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Then, using a sharp knife, score through the skin at a diagonal between 1/8″-1/4″ deep.
- Season both sides of the salmon with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Add oil to the pan, and when oil is shimmering place the salmon in the pan skin-side down.
- Press the salmon down with a flexible spatula for about 15 seconds to allow the skin to adhere to the pan. Let sear for about 5 minutes or until medium-rare (or desired doneness).
- Flip and cook flesh-side down for about 30 seconds.
- Remove from pan and serve skin side up.