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