Fifteen Spatulas

How to Sear Salmon (and Get the Skin Crispy like the Restaurants Do)

a piece of seared salmon with crispy skin

To me, a piece of salmon without crispy skin is like a cake without any frosting.

You just can’t have one without the other.

When I see salmon fillets at the grocery store without the skin, I weep inside.

…where did the skin go?

What terrible, heartless soul decided to separate the two?

The robust crunch of the skin is truly the perfect contrast to a big fat piece of tender, juicy salmon.

And when I say robust crunch, I mean that the skin should be crispier than a potato chip.

I’m going to show you how to get that crispy skin and perfectly cooked salmon in your own kitchen.

 Let’s start by cleaning up the skin.

See the round little fish scales here, shimmering in the light?

a picture of the fish scales on salmon skin that must be removed before searing

Take your chef’s knife and run it along the skin with a bit of pressure, scraping the scales off:

Voila, no more scales.

You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:

If needed, give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales, or just brush them off.

Regardless of whether or not you rinse the fish, dry the salmon very well with paper towels.

Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear.

Soak up as much as you can with that paper towel:

Next, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn).

Let the fish sit for 5 minutes, then touch the fish skin and notice that there’s moisture there.

This is because the salt pulled out moisture from the skin.

You just set the skin up to be even CRISPIER.

Give the skin a good pat with paper towel to soak up that excess moisture, and now it’s ready to be seared.

Let’s talk about pans.

Some people like to use nonstick pans for searing fish, but I don’t.

You just don’t get the same sear.

And if the pan is hot enough, the fish won’t stick anyway.

So start with an uncoated pan, fairly close in size to the piece of fish.

Heat up your pan somewhere between medium to medium high heat (I do a 6 or 7 on a 10 scale), and let it heat up for about 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).

Next, grab some sort of high smoke point oil, like vegetable oil or grapeseed oil (no olive oil), and add enough to coat the bottom of the pan, about 1-2 tbsp.

When the oil starts to shimmer, take your piece of fish and test it by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes that hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is nice and hot, and go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan, always away from you so the oil doesn’t splash.

(and if the fish doesn’t sizzle, your pan isn’t hot enough).

Now you can season the top with salt and pepper.

Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side.

The salmon I get is usually about an inch thick, so I cook it for 5 minutes on the skin side.

Then, I flip it over so I can give it a 15-20 second “kiss” on the other side:

Since we are using an uncoated pan, you’re going to want to have a sturdy, metal turner that can really get under the fish, not one of those flimsy plastic turners. I use this OXO Lasagna Turner to do it.

Serve the salmon immediately while the skin is crispy. Enjoy it!

Copyright Notice: Fifteen Spatulas images and original content are copyright protected. Please do not publish these materials without prior permission.

Disclosure: I had no coordination with OXO about this post. I just love their turner and can’t use anything else when I sear fish.

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Comments

  1. Kate Polischuk posted on August 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm (#)

    Hello Joanne. I wanted to write to thank you for your unique and entertaining services. I receive your emails and even if I don’t necessarily want that recipe, I always read the process and descriptions as I find them highly enjoyable. I did try the peanut butter cups a few weeks ago and thought I had died and gone to heaven. They were fabulous and so simple. I loved the tips, they helped me immensely! I have always shied away from cooking salmon because I have never been able to do it well. This recipe, I will try. Maybe it will turn me back on to salmon! Thanks so very much!! Keep up the great work,
    Kate

    • Joanne Ozug replied on August 10th, 2012 at 3:47 pm

      Thank you for such a sweet comment, Kate! LOL those peanut butter cups are definitely irresistible, and I like that they are natural =) Let me know if you have any more salmon questions! It’s so much cheaper to make at home.

  2. DB-The Foodie Stuntman posted on August 9, 2012 at 2:50 pm (#)

    Thank you for this tutorial. Great info!

  3. Sarah from 20something cupcakes posted on August 9, 2012 at 3:01 pm (#)

    Great post! Super-informative. I’ve always been afraid of the skin but I was intrigued when I saw it done in the oven. The skillet also looks like a good way to go!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on August 10th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      Yeah I’ve heard of people doing it in the broiler but my broiler really sucks LOL so I just do it in the pan!

  4. mallory @ totalnoms posted on August 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm (#)

    Num num num num num I usually broil my salmon to get it crispy, but this is another technique I gotta try :)

    • Joanne Ozug replied on August 10th, 2012 at 3:48 pm

      You must have a good broiler! Mine is so uneven and terrible.

  5. Suzanne Perazzini posted on August 9, 2012 at 5:06 pm (#)

    This is a great tutorial and most useful. I usually cook salmon without the skin because my son complains about having to remove it but he will just have to cope because I am going to try it your way. It is such a healthy fish and you don’t need much to feel full.

    • Joanne Ozug replied on August 10th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      So glad to hear it Suzanne! If you can get that skin super crispy like a potato chip maybe he’ll change his mind…fingers crossed!

  6. Joan Nova posted on August 9, 2012 at 5:48 pm (#)

    Love the analogy of cake without frosting. I so agree. Very good tips here. I’m tweeting it.

    • Joanne Ozug replied on August 10th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      Thank you Joan!

  7. Gene posted on August 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm (#)

    Well, OK! Thank you, I’ll just have to go get a fresh salmon fillet and try it again. Maybe this time, I’ll like it!

  8. Platanos, Mangoes and Me! posted on August 11, 2012 at 10:52 am (#)

    Perfect!

  9. Anika (Dogs, Dishes, and Decor) posted on August 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm (#)

    This post is fabulous — and thorough! If only I could get my steak to sear this well….

  10. Raymund posted on August 12, 2012 at 5:01 am (#)

    Nice tips! Thanks for sharing this, I love the crispy salmon skin

  11. Mindy @ Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! posted on August 17, 2012 at 12:10 pm (#)

    I found your blog from the RFM network forum. Glad I stopped by. : )

    I recently launched a new real food blog carnival called Fill Those Jars Friday. I’d love to have you come stop by and share this on it: http://toomanyjarsinmykitchen.com/2012/08/16/fill-those-jars-friday-august-17-2012/

    See you there!
    Mindy

    • Vince replied on January 14th, 2013 at 11:09 pm

      My Salmon came out kinda raw in the middle. I actually cooked it for 8 mins too.

      • Joanne Ozug replied on January 15th, 2013 at 1:32 pm

        Vince, when searing fish and meats, the cook time varies quite a bit. The temperature output on stoves varies tremendously. Are you using gas or electric? Also the thickness of what you’re cooking makes a big difference.

  12. SALLY TEWS posted on January 29, 2013 at 8:17 pm (#)

    Thank you so much for this recipe on searing the skin on salmon.
    My hubbie and I started just eating salmon,so any hints that I get is Very
    Helpful.I have one question~do you eat the skin?I never have,isn’t it Fishie tasting?
    Thank-you sure do enjoy your recipes.

    • Joanne Ozug replied on January 30th, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Hi Sally, the skin is the best part! Shouldn’t taste fishy at all if it’s seared and crispy.

  13. Amanda posted on February 2, 2013 at 7:37 pm (#)

    Impeccable attention to detail! Really loving this post (I’m a huge salmon fan and I too feel saddened when I see the skin removed)! I have been searching for a simple technique to pan fry my salmon, and I finally found it! Thank you! And nice touch with the MANY pictures! You can’t go wrong.

    • Shawn replied on March 22nd, 2014 at 6:50 pm

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  14. Kristina posted on March 7, 2013 at 9:44 pm (#)

    I’ve never eaten the skin on before and this was great! Best of all my husband and teenage son thought it was awesome. I can’t recall the last time I have heard ‘thank you’ so many times at the table and after! I tend to overcook fish, but this was easy and cooked perfectly. Thanks!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on March 8th, 2013 at 7:51 am

      Hi Kristina, what a wonderful comment, I’m so glad your salmon came out so well and your family enjoyed it so much! Happy cooking =)

  15. Scott posted on March 18, 2013 at 12:50 am (#)

    Thanks for the tutorial! I might have skipped de-scaling the fish if I didn’t check your website, which probably would not have made for a delicious supper. That was the most time consuming part of the recipe but obviously needs to be done. I topped the fish in pesto sauce so instead of flipping it for the “kiss” I just finished it in the oven for a few minutes, so it was really moist on top and crispy on bottom. It was great!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on March 18th, 2013 at 5:07 am

      Hi Scott, so glad the fish turned out so well and the tutorial was helpful! The pesto on top sounds delicious.

  16. Fred Botz posted on April 26, 2013 at 8:19 am (#)

    I love… I mean LOVE salmon. I could eat it for dinner six nights a week and for the seventh night, have salmon. But I have always removed the skin. I suppose that is from my very first experience with salmon where it was not prepared properly; the skin and layer of fat beneath was slimey and tasted bad. But I will give this method a shot, as I think the grey slime skin trauma has passed :)

    Hopefully, I can sear it like you did and enjoy my salmon without the hassle of cleaning the skin and fat from the meat. Thamks for the article!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on April 26th, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Hi Fred, that’s great you love salmon! It is a great fish and very healthy. Slimy skin is unpalatable, I agree, but when it’s crispy it’s so delicious! Like a super crispy potato chip. Hope you get to try it and enjoy!

  17. Carolyn Torres posted on April 30, 2013 at 6:49 pm (#)

    Thank you so much for the tips and education! I just made this for dinner and it was absolutely delicious. What a neat trick to salt the fish to draw more moisture out. I’ve never eaten a tastier piece of skin. I’m a newbie when it comes to cooking but didn’t feel like it tonight! Thanks again. Cannot wait to read your other posts to get more great ideas:)

    • Joanne Ozug replied on May 1st, 2013 at 8:10 am

      Hi Carolyn, Go you!!! I’m so happy to hear that you cooked an awesome salmon tonight. I just love crispy salmon skin, it’s such a treat! I hope you are inspired to keep cooking outside of your comfort zone, happy cooking!

  18. Maia posted on May 27, 2013 at 12:00 am (#)

    Best piece of salmon I’ve ever cooked, with just salt and pepper. If I had been served this in a restaurant I would have commented on how perfect it was.

    • Joanne Ozug replied on May 27th, 2013 at 8:32 am

      YAY! That’s fantastic, Maia. I’m so happy to hear that. Sounds like you did an awesome job cooking that fish!

  19. sean posted on June 1, 2013 at 8:23 pm (#)

    this was perfect – live long and prosper

    • Joanne Ozug replied on June 2nd, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks Sean, I’m so glad to hear that!

  20. Christine posted on June 13, 2013 at 12:05 am (#)

    Joanne, hi! Just found your blog via Pinterest and how to cut up a watermelon. I have one staring at me from the kitchen counter as I write. Signed up for your emails. Your blog is just what I need since my doctor has me on a no/low salt, from scratch lifestyle now. Look forward to your emails!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on June 13th, 2013 at 9:19 am

      Hi Christine, welcome!! I hope your new cooking lifestyle goes well. I think you will find there are plenty of easy yet delicious recipes to cook that way. Happy cooking!

  21. Daniel posted on July 16, 2013 at 2:47 pm (#)

    Thanks you sound like my kind of cook giving it a try.

  22. MJ posted on July 27, 2013 at 8:02 pm (#)

    Wow! My salmon turned out great. My favorite part was the skin. I didn’t even know skin was edible. Your instructions were so clear and simple. Thanks!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on July 29th, 2013 at 12:26 pm

      Hi MJ, that is fantastic news! Yes, isn’t the skin wonderful? So crunchy!

  23. Joanne - Inspired Taste posted on August 27, 2013 at 7:28 pm (#)

    This is such a helpful post, Joanne! Thanks so much. I absolutely love extra crispy skin on fish — now I know how to make it at home :)

  24. Lexi R posted on September 7, 2013 at 7:00 pm (#)

    Loved it! I always wanted to do salmon like this and I used a fresh filet and it turned out awesome! Which kind of oil did you use? Canola?

    • Joanne Ozug replied on September 8th, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      Hi Lexi, that is great to hear! I believe at the time of posting this I used vegetable oil, but I now prefer to use grape seed oil.

  25. matiamou posted on October 15, 2013 at 9:03 am (#)

    I’m a great salmon lover too!!!’-)
    Was wondering if the same applies if one is cooking salmon in the oven?Because sadly mine didn’t turn out half as crispy as I”d hoped (even thou I had it skin up)
    PS……cant wait to try out more receipes

    • Joanne Ozug replied on October 15th, 2013 at 7:18 pm

      Hello! I’m confused, did you try the recipe in the stovetop or the oven? I’ve never done it in the oven before, and it would definitely change the cooking since heat comes from all sides. Happy cooking!

  26. Loree posted on December 9, 2013 at 10:15 pm (#)

    Tried this tonight. Used grapeseed oil and ended up cooking this a total of 4 min. since I hate overcooked salmon. I generally grill my salmon but it’s cold cold cold! This was perfect and so fast!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on December 10th, 2013 at 10:26 am

      Hi Loree, that is wonderful!!! I have begun using grapeseed oil as well as my high-heat oil and I absolutely love it. Happy cooking!

  27. Mina posted on February 1, 2014 at 2:07 pm (#)

    I was about to remove the skin from my salmon and just throw it away.
    So thanks for the article, it was very informative!

  28. Dagny posted on February 26, 2014 at 2:22 pm (#)

    I just want to thank you for this post. I was always afraid to cook salmon, or any other fish, but decided to give it a try. I followed your steps and it was perfect! I will now be fixing salmon on a regular basis.

    Again, thank you!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on March 1st, 2014 at 9:45 am

      Hi Dagny, I’m really happy to hear that you cooked up some fantastic salmon!!

  29. ball posted on March 5, 2014 at 4:15 am (#)

    Thank you for share.It very nice.I like to eat Salmon.

  30. Kevin posted on June 10, 2014 at 5:46 pm (#)

    How do I get signed up for your emails? I like the instruction level in this one.

    • Joanne Ozug replied on June 13th, 2014 at 10:11 am

      Hi Kevin, there’s a box in the upper right part of the page, or if you want me to add you manually, I can do that. Glad you liked the post!

  31. MAndre posted on June 29, 2014 at 11:13 pm (#)

    I’d all but given up cooking salmon…I’d either under/overcook it…or it just came out flat. Decided to give it another go & came across your technique….total stunner. Followed it to a T & it was easily among the best I’ve had. Together with a side of couscous & some sautéed Broccolini w/garlic…can’t wait to make it again. Thanks for dialing this in & sharing!

    • Joanne Ozug replied on June 30th, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      SO so happy to hear that! Your pairings sound awesome =) Enjoy!!

  32. V posted on July 21, 2014 at 11:17 pm (#)

    Hello,

    Big ups to this recipe, I literally have never cooked a piece of salmon at home and it came out near perfect…great tip on the skin and overall I thought your details and descriptions made it super easy to carry out.

    Thanks!
    V

    • Joanne Ozug replied on July 28th, 2014 at 6:42 pm

      So happy to hear that!!

  33. Caroline posted on August 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm (#)

    I your blog while searching for salmon recipes and tried this out for dinner today. It was a hit with the family, and my four year old son kept asking for more. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite grasp the part about laying the fish away from you and splattered a few drops of hot oil on my chest and neck. Now I understand what you meant and the blisters are a painful reminder to pay more attention.

    • Caroline replied on August 30th, 2014 at 10:35 pm

      Whoops, that should say I *found* your blog

    • Joanne Ozug replied on September 2nd, 2014 at 10:11 am

      Hi Caroline, that is wonderful your family enjoyed the salmon!!! I’m sorry to hear about the oil. I know how much it hurts.

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