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How to Get Crispy Skin on Salmon

how to get crispy wild salmon skin

Crispy skin is the crown jewel on a perfectly cooked piece of wild salmon. 

The extra texture and flavor that you get from crisped salmon skin is so satisfying! First, of course, you need to start with premium wild salmon.

Choose your wild salmon carefully

Wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is considered by many to be the best fish you can buy and eat. These invitingly red and shimmering fish come from the pristine waters of Bristol Bay. Flash frozen to retain their nutrients, they are rich in high quality protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Wild salmon yields delicious, healthy results.

Choose individual-size serving portions, skin on, to fry up. 

Salmon skin-crisping tips

  • Pat dry the salmon skin.
  • Don’t skimp on oil.
  • Fry in medium hot oil.
  • Heat skin side a second time just before serving
  • Serve skin side up - no sauce on top.

Now the details: How and why to dry salmon and skin

Thoroughly pat dry the salmon and the salmon skin with a paper towel, or wrap it in a paper towel for five to ten minutes to absorb moisture. You can also put your unwrapped fish in the refrigerator for a half hour, skin side up, so the circulating air in the fridge can dry it out further. 

If wild salmon skin has any moisture, it won’t crisp up well. Do not salt your salmon (or the salmon skin) until just ready to cook it. Salt sucks the moisture from the fish and dries it out, but it also leaves beads of “sweat” on the skin. Trust us. Salt your fish just before frying it.

Pan choice

We’re still sitting on the fence about the best pan to use. Some swear by a stainless steel copper-bottomed pan, like Revereware, while others love a non-stick pan - and some are faithful to the old-favorite, a cast iron skillet. We’ve had success with all three, but will go with the stainless steel pan this time. We like the looks of silvery skin shining in a stainless steel skillet!

Side dishes

Decide before frying your fish what you’ll be serving it with (salad? vegetables? rice?), and prepare in advance. You want to dish up your hot fish immediately after removing it from the pan. If you are serving any sauce with your fish, consider putting the sauce on a bed of greens first so that you lay the fish on top of the sauce. If you add sauce on top of your crispy-skin salmon, that will immediately soften the crunch. That’s not what you’re after.

Preheat oil

Preheat about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil in your pan to medium high. (If the oil starts smoking, it’s too hot.) When the butter bubbles, it’s just right, and ready for your prepared fish. If cooking several pieces of salmon at the same time in a large pan, add more oil and butter.

Prepare your wild salmon

Rub, or brush, olive oil over all surfaces of your salmon. This helps your seasonings adhere. Generously sprinkle salt and pepper (and other spices, as desired) on the top and bottom of your fish. This not only flavors your salmon, but also adds a bit of extra texture and crunch to the crust.

Fry the wild salmon

Place prepared salmon, skin-side down, in heated pan on top of the bubbling oil and butter. Turn down temperature to medium hot. With a spatula, gently press down on fish for about ten seconds to help the skin conform to the flat surface of the pan and not curl.

Check fish as it fries

You don’t want the skin to burn, so use a spatula to peek at the skin to see if it’s just browning nicely. It’s easy to tell how your salmon is cooking: just look at the sides, which are windows to the world of doneness. When the flesh changes from translucent to opaque about three-quarters of the way up the side (or a little more, depending on thickness of the fish), it’s time to flip the salmon over.  

Flip over 

Cook flesh-side down for about a minute and a half (or as needed) to finish off the last of the uncooked side. Your fish should look a bit moist and flaky.

The fish frying finale flip

Then, for the fish frying finale, flip your salmon one more time so the crispy side is down. Sizzle the skin another sixty seconds so it’s super hot and crisp when you serve it. That last blast of heat ensures palate pleasing crunchiness from the first bite. 

Learn how to get perfect crispy skin on salmon with Alaska-based chef Kaylah Thomas.

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