Cooking tips

How to cook fish for a golden-crisp skin

Add this trick to your cooking repertoire to give your fish a crisp and delicious twist.

Fresh walleye with mustard-dill sauce.

Fresh walleye with mustard-dill sauce.
Photo, Roberto Caruso.

Fish is one of the quickest and healthiest dinners to throw together. But if you add in these few quick steps, your fish-cooking will vastly improve and you’ll get perfectly browned, crispy skin. (I’m convinced that the main reason most people shy away from eating the skin is because it’s often soggy and unpleasant looking.) And – as well as adding a lovely crunch – you’re getting the benefit of all those fatty acids found in fish skin.

The steps:

Choose your fish
Whether at your local fish market or at the grocery store, fish that’s sold skin-on can be prepared using the crispy skin method. Some favourites are perch, salmon, trout and snapper. (A filet is the easiest cut to use.)

Choose your pan
A seasoned cast-iron pan is the go-to pan for me. It’s naturally non-stick and adds a great colour to the fish. Stainless steel pans will work as well. If you’re nervous about the fish sticking, make your fist attempt with a non-stick pan. Just know that the fish won’t get quite as much colour or crispness . . . but at least you’ll get it out in one piece.

Dry the fish
Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Lay the fish flesh-side down on a plate and working with the grain of the fish (not against as you would if you were scaling it) run the dull-side of a knife along the skin, putting a bit of pressure on it to release any extra liquid.

Oil the fish
Rub a neutral oil that can stand high temperatures, such as vegetable or canola, over both sides of the fish and season with salt and pepper.

Get your pan hot
Heat a dry pan for 1 minute over high heat or until it’s just about to start smoking. Add 1 to 2 tbsp oil, depending on how much fish you’re cooking. Add the fish to the pan skin-side down. Gently press on each fillet with the back of a spatula to ensure all the skin is touching the pan (otherwise it will sometimes curl and the centre won’t get crisp). Cook until the edges of the skin appear very golden and the sides of the fish are opaque, 2 to 3 minutes (more if the fish is very thick). Flip and cook until the fish is cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. The majority of the cooking time will be done on the skin-side, so it will only take a few minutes to finish the cooking on the flesh side.


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