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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51 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • avatar Kate Polischuk August 9, 2012, 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

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug August 10, 2012, 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.

      Reply
  • avatar DB-The Foodie Stuntman August 9, 2012, 2:50 pm

    Thank you for this tutorial. Great info!

    Reply
  • avatar Sarah from 20something cupcakes August 9, 2012, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug August 10, 2012, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar mallory @ totalnoms August 9, 2012, 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 :)

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug August 10, 2012, 3:48 pm

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

      Reply
  • avatar Suzanne Perazzini August 9, 2012, 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.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug August 10, 2012, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Joan Nova August 9, 2012, 5:48 pm

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

    Reply
  • avatar Gene August 10, 2012, 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!

    Reply
  • avatar Platanos, Mangoes and Me! August 11, 2012, 10:52 am

    Perfect!

    Reply
  • avatar Anika (Dogs, Dishes, and Decor) August 11, 2012, 1:22 pm

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

    Reply
  • avatar Raymund August 12, 2012, 5:01 am

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

    Reply
  • avatar Mindy @ Too Many Jars in My Kitchen! August 17, 2012, 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

    Reply
    • avatar Vince January 14, 2013, 11:09 pm

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

      Reply
      • avatar Joanne Ozug January 15, 2013, 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.

        Reply
  • avatar SALLY TEWS January 29, 2013, 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.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug January 30, 2013, 11:36 am

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

      Reply
  • avatar Amanda February 2, 2013, 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.

    Reply
    • avatar Shawn March 22, 2014, 6:50 pm

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      Reply
  • avatar Kristina March 7, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug March 8, 2013, 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 =)

      Reply
  • avatar Scott March 18, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug March 18, 2013, 5:07 am

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

      Reply
  • avatar Fred Botz April 26, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug April 26, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Carolyn Torres April 30, 2013, 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:)

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug May 1, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Maia May 27, 2013, 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.

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug May 27, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar sean June 1, 2013, 8:23 pm

    this was perfect – live long and prosper

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug June 2, 2013, 8:23 pm

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

      Reply
  • avatar Christine June 13, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug June 13, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Daniel July 16, 2013, 2:47 pm

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

    Reply
  • avatar MJ July 27, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug July 29, 2013, 12:26 pm

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

      Reply
  • avatar Joanne - Inspired Taste August 27, 2013, 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 :)

    Reply
  • avatar Lexi R September 7, 2013, 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?

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug September 8, 2013, 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.

      Reply
  • avatar matiamou October 15, 2013, 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

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug October 15, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Loree December 9, 2013, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug December 10, 2013, 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!

      Reply
  • avatar Mina February 1, 2014, 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!

    Reply
  • avatar Dagny February 26, 2014, 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!

    Reply
    • avatar Joanne Ozug March 1, 2014, 9:45 am

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

      Reply
  • avatar ball March 5, 2014, 4:15 am

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

    Reply

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