“I’ve never heard of people eating fish skin. I’m a bit scared to try it.”
I love eating some kinds of fish skin—especially salmon—when it’s seared to a nice crisp. I can’t get enough of it. Plus, fish skin is packed with all the good-for-you omega oils you could spend big bucks to buy at the health food store. But when I saw Linda’s comment followed by, “My thoughts exactly. I just didn’t know. Is it not scaly or weird?” from Brea, I realized it was high time we talked about fish skin.
This is how Linda responded to my post about how to cook crispy-skinned salmon on our Epi Facebook wall the other week.
The thing is, I used to be scared of fish skin too. So, Linda and Brea and anyone else who might be freaked out by fish skin—I get it. Here are some of the things I learned on my journey to becoming a fish-skin believer:
Fish Skin is Only Really Good If It’s Crispy
Chef Mark Usewicz, co-founder of Mermaid’s Garden, a sustainable seafood market in my neighborhood, is a fan of eating fish skin. But only when it’s prepared in certain ways. “I’d rather eat crispy fish skin,” he says. “If I’m steaming or poaching I’m most likely going to take the skin off.”
You have to think of fish skin like chicken skin, and then it’ll all make sense. You wouldn’t want to eat soggy chicken skin, right? Ditto for fish. Fish skin is slimy and weird, just like Brea and Linda imagine…unless it’s cooked to a crisp.
Usewicz says a good rule of thumb is to cook a fish fillet with the skin side down for at least 75 percent of the total cooking time. He notes that a skin-on fish fillet will curl up while it’s cooking, as the skin shrinks, but if you use a spatula to press the fillet into the hot skillet as soon as you put it in the pan, you can keep it flat.
You Don’t Want to Eat All Kinds of Fish Skin
Salmon, branzino, sea bass, snapper, flounder, and mackerel skin are all delicious when cooked until crisp. But Usewicz says you should forget about ever trying to eat tuna skin (it’s way too tough) or skate skin, which has thorn-like barbs in it (fortunately most skate is sold already cleaned). Swordfish skin is edible, but not that tasty. Same goes for monkfish.
The Scales Are Usually a Non-Issue
But what about Brea’s question? Is fish skin “scaly or weird”? Not after it’s been cleaned, and most fish is cleaned and scaled before it’s sold. It’s always a good idea to double-check, however, by running your hand over the skin to see if you feel any scales. Or, as Usewicz explains, “You can flip your knife over and scrape the back side along the fish from the tail towards the head. If there are any errant fish scales it’ll pick them up.
Another way to ensure crisp-skin success: make sure the fish is nice and dry before you cook it. “The drier your fish is,” says Usewicz, “the crisper it’s gonna get.”