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swirl and savor

Real Crispy Skin Salmon, For True

Beth Ribblett

I admit that I am a bit obsessed with Salmon. Grilled, seared, plank roasted, baked it in parchment, topped with chermoula; you name it, I've cooked it!  It is a weekly item on our menu, especially when I need something quick, healthy, delicious and easy to pair with either red or white wines.

But my latest obsession has been crispy skin salmon, which I was never successful at until now!  I found a recipe a few months ago, which I'm sorry to say I could not find again to reference in this post, that I've modified a bit to create the perfect salmon.  The big crunch of the skin is truly the perfect contrast to a fat piece of tender, juicy salmon.  And when I say crisp I mean like a crunchy potato chip!

I will also admit that as beautiful as the Coho and the wild salmon looks, I love the fatty North Atlantic and King Salmon.  Much richer and more flavorful, I select which ever fits into my current budget.  The new Whole Foods on Broad has a really nice fresh selection and is easy to just pick  up a piece after work.  

So here it is, just a few simple tricks to create the perfect crunch:

Trick #1:  You have to descale it.
Take your salmon fillet ( I get about a pound to split between Kerry and I and we usually eat the whole thing!) and put it on a cutting board.  Then grab your chef's knife and run along the top of the skin with a bit of pressure, scraping the scales off.  You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:
Give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales.

Trick #2:  Water is the enemy 
Dry the salmon very well with paper towels. Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear so soak up as much as you can. Next, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn) and 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've just set the skin up to be even CRISPIER.  Give the skin a good pat with paper towel again to soak up that excess moisture, and now it’s ready to be seared.

Trick #3:  Cut the salmon into even pieces.
The more evenly the meat is distributed the better it will sear.  With a large fillet you usually get the thick piece of the body and then the thinner part of the belly.  Cut off the thin part - you'll just cook it a little less.

Trick #4:  No non stick pans!
You just don't get the same sear and if your heat is high enough it 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 (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).  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 spatulas.

Trick #5:  You need a high smoke point oil.
Olive oil or butter won't work here.  My preference is ghee or coconut oil but the ghee really helps to brown it evenly.  You could also use grape seed oil.   Add enough to really coat the bottom of the pan.

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, skin side down, 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 meaty side with salt and pepper.

Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side. You need about 5 minutes per 1" thickness of salmon.  With the fillets I get I usually end up doing 7 minutes on the skin side.

While the skin is cooking, take a lemon and zest about half of the skin.  Take the rest of the lemon and cut into quarters to squeeze on the fish before serving.

When it is time, flip it over and give it a about a minute or so on the other side. Remove it, put a few pats of butter on it and the lemon zest and serve immediately with the lemon quarters on the side. Fantastic!!

Ok now what wine to serve?  The reason I had to make this was to give me an excuse to open the 2012 Terre Nere Cuvee delle Vigne Niche from Macrco de Grazia.  We just received our very very small allocation and half of it has come home with me!

Etna White Cuvée delle Vigne Niche 2012
Wine Spectator Score: 92

Aromatic, with floral and spice notes. There's power to the racy acidity and smoky minerality of this finely meshed white, which is elegant overall, offering flavors of creamed apple, almond skin, apricot and preserved lemon. A vanilla-tinged, leesy overtone echoes on the finish. Drink now through 2025. 250 cases made.