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TIP OF THE DAY: Skin-On Fish, Pan-Seared

A tip from Paul Duncan, executive chef at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle:

When preparing salmon and other fish, keep it simple to let the great flavor of fresh fish shine.

He, of course, uses fresh, local Copper River sockeye salmon (photo #2). But even if you buy yours at the supermarket, you can use the same technique.

Chef Duncan prepares fish like salmon skin-on, which makes for crispy skin, adding a crunchy texture atop the supple flesh.

It adds plenty of omega 3-6-9 essential fatty acids, too.

Salmon has the best skin to sear to a nice crisp. Never thought of eating fish skin before? Head to the nearest sushi bar for a salmon skin roll. It’s a delight.

Good fish to sear skin-on: branzino, flounder, mackerel, sea bass and snapper in addition to salmon.

Fish skin to avoid: monkfish, skate, swordfish and tuna skin are too tough or otherwise inappropriate to be grilled skin-on.

“The only preparation required before grilling the salmon is to rub it with olive oil and season with kosher salt,” says Chef Duncan.

He finishes the fish with freshly ground pink and black pepper. “It’s all you need to make this fish into an incredible meal,” he states.

Duncan serves the fish with a seasonal salad of asparagus, green peas, radishes for bite and color, and herbs like dill and chive (photo #1).

You can garnish the plate with dots, swirls or swaths of your favorite sauce (here, aïoli [a.k.a. garlic mayonnaise—here’s the recipe]).
Ready To Cook?

  • Start by pan-searing the fish.
  • If you’re going to steam or poach it, take the skin off. Grilling isn’t great, because the skin gets a charred flavor.
  • When crisping fish in the pan, focus on the skin side, cooking the fillet with the skin side down for at least 75% of the total cooking time.
  • A skin-on fish fillet will curl as the skin shrinks while it’s cooking. So use a spatula to press the fillet into the hot skillet as soon as you put it in the pan. This will keep it flat.

    Skin-On Salmon
    [1] Skin-on Copper River salmon, alongside an asparagus, radish and pea salad, makes for a perfect summer menu item at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle.

    Copper River Salmon Fillets
    [2] Raw Copper River salmon fillets (photo courtesy Copper River Salmon).


  • Salmon is the common name for several species of ray-finned fish in the family Salmonidae. Other fish in the same family include char, grayling, trout and whitefish.
  • The speciation (division into species) was complete by the late Miocene, six million years ago or earlier.
  • The term “salmon” derives from the Latin salmo, which may have originated from salire, Latin for “to leap.” The word evolved to samoun in Middle English, from Anglo-Norman French saumoun.
  • Salmon are native to tributaries of the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. Populations have been introduced to the wild elsewhere, including New Zealand and Patagonia.
  • While salmon are farmed in many parts of the world, wild salmon are anadromous: They hatch in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce.


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