When cooked properly fish skin can be one of the best parts of a filet, not unlike how you secretly want to just eat the skin off a piece of fried chicken. Aside from a crunchy, chip-like texture, the benefits of keeping the skin on the fish is that it has doses of omega 3’s and its helps lock in the moisture when cooking over high heat. Here are a few tips on getting an even, caramelized texture when searing a piece of fish, skin-on.
Pat it Dry
Before cooking, take a paper towel and pat down the entire fish to remove any excess moisture. The most common problem home cooks have when cooking fish is that the skin sticks to the pan or becomes soggy. This is because when the skin is wet, the water turns into steam, steaming the skin rather than crisping it up. Placing a wet filet on to a hot oiled pan will also result in tiny droplets of hot grease jumping off the pan and on to you (remember, water and oil don’t mix). You can also sprinkle some salt or dust a bit of flour on to the skin to further remove moisture.
Heat it up
Much like last week’s omelet tip, make sure the oil in the pan is hot enough to prevent the food from sticking to the pan. Use flavourless oil that can withstand high temperatures such as vegetable or avocado so that it won’t overshadow the delicate flavours of the fish. Olive oil will smoke under high heat and turn bitter, so save it for the salad dressing. When the oil is hot enough over medium-high heat, it should shimmer and become less viscous.
Place the fish skin side down on to the pan. If the oil is hot enough, the fish should sizzle upon contact. Let the skin crisp and slightly harden for a minute as flipping it too soon will tear the skin. When the skin gets crispy, it’ll easily slide around the pan. Once that’s achieved, turn down the heat down a bit so that the skin doesn’t burn. Flip the filet over and continue to finish cooking the fish.
Let it Rest
Once the fish is opaque and no longer translucent, take if off the heat and let it rest on the plate for a few minutes. Cutting into it immediately would make all the juices leak out.
Make the Sauce
As the fish is resting, pour in two or three tablespoons of chicken stock (or vegetable stock) into the pan and scrape it down with a spatula over medium-low heat. If you’re cooking salmon, add in a splash of maple syrup. If you’re cooking a milder fish like cod or tilapia, add in a few squeezes of lemon juice. When the sauce has slightly thickened, pour it over the fish, or some steamed vegetables on the side.
Karon Liu is a freelance food writer based in Toronto who is slightly lactose intolerant but will otherwise eat and cook anything.