Chef Thomas Keller explains that the key to achieving crispy-skinned fish lies in the preparation and drying of the skin prior to cooking it. To do this, make sure that your fishmonger removes all of the scales from the skin and then carefully follow Chef Keller’s instructions for removing the moisture from skin without damaging the fish’s delicate flesh.
Crispy-Skinned Fillet of Atlantic Salmon
2 skin-on salmon fillets cut from the thick part of the fillet, about 6 oz. (180 g) each, pin bones removed
Kosher salt, to taste
1/3 cup (3 fl. oz./80 ml) canola oil, or as needed
4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) (2 oz./60 g) unsalted butter, cubed
Coarse finishing salt such as Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel
Place a salmon fillet skin side up on your work surface and run your finger along the skin from the head end to the tail end several times. You will notice that when running from tail to head, the skin seems slightly rough and when going from head to tail the skin feels smooth. Starting at the tail end of the skin, place the back (dull) edge of a long knife perpendicular to the skin, then tilt it forward at a slight angle toward the head end. Gently but firmly run the knife from the tail end to the head end to squeeze out as much moisture from the skin as possible. Rinse and dry your knife, then run the knife back from the head end to the tail end and again rinse and dry your knife. The key here is to be gentle and not damage the flesh of the fish. Make as many passes as necessary until the skin no longer releases any liquid. Once you are satisfied that the skin is dry, make one more pass from head to tail to smooth out the skin. Store the fish in the refrigerator with the skin side up with plenty of air circulation around it until you are ready to cook it.
To cook the salmon, season the flesh side only with kosher salt. Heat a 10-inch (25-cm) fry pan over medium-high heat. Add enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/8 inch (3 mm). When the oil begins to shimmer and release wisps of white smoke, carefully lay the salmon skin side down in the hot oil and turn the heat down slightly. Very gently shake the pan or use a thin spatula to scoot the fish a little bit to ensure that the skin is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat again to medium and cook until the bottom third of the salmon’s flesh has been cooked through as indicated by its opaque appearance, about 3 minutes. Use a thin metal spatula to tilt the fish and check to see if the skin is golden brown and crispy. If it needs more crispness, increase the heat for a few seconds and check again. Remove the salmon from the pan and set skin side up on a plate. Pour off the excess fat from the pan and return to medium-low heat. Add the butter to the pan. When it is completely melted and has begun to foam, place the salmon in the butter flesh side down. Turn off the heat and let the salmon sit in the butter for about 1 1/2 minutes, then remove the salmon from the pan to a paper towel–lined dish to remove any excess butter.
Transfer the salmon to a serving dish or individual plates and sprinkle the skin with the finishing salt. Serve immediately. Serves 2.
Recipe by Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner, The French Laundry