While sautéing on high heat is the most common form of cooking fish, one would naturally think that the same technique to cook a fillet would apply if the skin was still intact or removed from the filet.
Quite the contrary.
When cooked correctly, crispy skin may earn the award of being named “best” part of the fish – in terms of flavor and texture. So how does one accomplish one such feat?
Begin with fresh, clean filets (boneless if possible… otherwise, be sure to remove bones with fish tweezers. With the back of the knife, be sure that all fish scales have been removed (simply run the back of your knife in the opposite direction that fish scales would usually run… then rinse with water in order to guarantee that no “runaway” scales are still intact. Thoroughly dry entire fish filet with paper towel (if the fish is too moist, it will actually start to “boil” in its juices, as opposed to getting a nice crisp skin and sear.
Pour a layer of kosher sea salt on a plate and place the fish, skin side down, atop the salt. This process will not only season the skin of the fish, but aid in drawing as much moisture as possible from the fillet. Leave fish atop salt until ready to cook (no more than one hour).
Scrape away all salt when ready to cook and lightly season the top of the fish with smoked sea salt, as well as other desired herbs (herbs de Provence, rosemary, dill, cayenne pepper, smokey paprika, etc.) Sprinkle a touch of lemon juice onto the fish. Heat oil (I prefer almond or walnut… even avocado oil is delicious with salmon) on MEDIUM heat (just enough to have a light coating on the bottom of the pan). Why is Medium heat important?
Most searing of meat/fish is done on high heat (at the “smoke point” - when the fat from the pan actually beings to generate smoke). However, if one were to place the skin of the fish on a smoldering pan, it would indubitably burn.
Yes, I just said, “indubitably” when describing culinary techniques. Sweet life, sb.
Medium heat will absolutely do the fish skin justice – as it will have the opportunity to cook, then crisp. After placing the skin side of the fish on the medium-heat oil, simply place a small plate or pan atop the fillet as it is cooking. This will help to “flatten” the fish skin and cook evenly (if not, the ends may curl upwardly during the cooking process and the skin would be cooked to different degrees of doneness).
Remove the top plate after about 1 minute… but continue to cook the fish for about 2-4 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillet). When the fish has cooked through the middle, it will begin to “flake.” At that point, flip the fillet over, but remove the sauté pan from the heat. The residual heat from the pan will cook the other side, to the appropriate amount, since the fish was basically cooked through on the first side. Allow to remain on second side for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (again, the thicker the filet, the more time needed to cook). Serve skin side up immediately!
In terms of plating, I will generally try to have all elements of my dish already plated whilst my fish is cooking… this prevents the fish from overcooking, as the fish is served immediately (as opposed to having to continue to cook from its own internal heat while waiting to be plated).
Pictured, I served seared salmon (skin on) with edamame puree (“wonder food” and great for you!), Marcona almonds, roasted cherry tomatoes, celeriac puree, pomegranate seeds and micro-greens.
“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living.” - Dione Lucas
Love y’all! ♥