Salmon is a delicious and nutritious fish that—at least in my book—makes for a great meal for lunch or dinner on any day of the week.
Some salmon fillets at the store have already been skinned before being packaged. And, if you buy your fish from the local fishmonger, I’m sure they’d be glad to skin it for you if you ask them politely.
Though skinned salmon has its merits which, for the sake of brevity, I won’t go into, cooking your salmon with the skin on is just as good of a (dare I say a better?) way of preparing it. Skin-on salmon comes out salty, crispy, and offers an advertisement-worthy crunch as soon as you bite into it.
But is it safe to eat?
Experts unanimously agree that salmon skin is safe to eat. It’s a source of omega-3 fatty acids that your body needs for various functions, from muscle activity to cell growth, but which can’t produce on its own.
Not only is salmon skin edible, but crispy-skinned salmon fillets—whether baked in the oven or pan-fried on the stove—are arguably the most delicious way to enjoy this fatty fish.
That deliciousness comes from something called “the Maillard reaction,” which television chefs and cookbook authors often refer to as “browning.”
A chain of chemical events that take place at temperatures between 284°F and 320°F, the Maillard reaction happens when the sugars and proteins in your food collide and fuse with one another, creating hundreds of new aromatic and flavorful compounds as a byproduct.
The Maillard reaction is also the reason why browned steak, toast bread, and roast coffee smell and taste so good. Heat food to that temperature and keep it within that range for a few minutes, and it practically makes itself tastier!
So here’s how to make the crispiest, most delicious salmon fillets on your stovetop or in the oven.
How to Make Crispy-Skinned Pan-Fried Salmon
To make restaurant-style salmon on the stove, reach for a heavy, thick-bottomed carbon steel, cast iron, or stainless steel skillet. You’re looking for a piece of cookware that’s capable of retaining heat and distributing it evenly, without cold spots.
Avoid the teflon or ceramic frying pans lying around in your cabinets. These thinner, lighter, and non-stick cooking vessels are great for eggs and such, but they won’t brown salmon fillets as well as an old-school skillet with a bare-metal cooking surface.
Take the salmon out of the fridge 10-15 minutes before cooking to bring it to room temperature. Doing so helps you prevent sticking and promotes even cooking.
Preheat your skillet for 2-3 minutes over medium heat, then add a tablespoon of cooking oil and spread it evenly to keep your food from sticking. To keep the oil in your skillet from smoking, go for an oil with a high smoke point. My favorites are avocado oil and rice bran oil.
It’s important not to use excessively high heat when pan-frying salmon, which is why I recommend setting the heat dial on your stove to medium. Otherwise, by the time the fillets cook through on the inside, they will have burnt and turned acrid on the outside.
Salt the salmon on both sides—I like to do so rather generously with kosher salt or fleur de sel—and place it in the center of your hot skillet. It doesn’t matter which side you pan-fry first, as long as you let it sizzle undisturbed for a good few minutes.
You only need to flip the salmon once. When the side of the fillet facing your skillet has released itself from the cooking surface and has an even browning, that’s when you know it’s time to flip it over to the other side. (A good fish spatula, by the way, is a must-have tool for the job.)
After a good few minutes on each side, your salmon will be done. Rest it for 2-3 minutes to allow the fish to finish cooking in its residual heat and serve. Salmon, though I probably don’t have to tell you that, tastes best when eaten shortly after it’s cooked.
How to Make Crispy Baked Salmon
For crispy-skinned baked salmon, use the broiler section of your oven. Located at the top, it acts as a source of high, direct heat that browns the fish fillets, much like cooking them on the grill would.
Adjust the rack to the second-to-top position and preheat your oven on the broil setting for 30 minutes.
Most ovens give you a single broil option, in which they heat up to 500-550°F. Some have multiple options and, if that’s the case with yours, go for the medium one that should be around 450°F.
Salt the salmon fillets generously on both sides, place them skin-down on a lightly-oiled baking sheet, and bake for 10-12 minutes. A casserole dish, typically made of ceramic, porcelain, or glass, will take longer to get up to heat and yield less crispy skin, so I don’t recommend it.
Take the salmon off the heat, rest for 2-3 minutes, allowing it to cool down, then plate and serve.
Why You Can Trust Us
To understand experts’ stance on whether salmon skin is safe to eat or not, I took to a number of medically-reviewed articles at some of the best health advice websites on the Internet, including Healthline and Medical News Today.
The general consensus was that salmon with the skin on was indeed safe to eat. The skin had more or less the same nutrients as the fish fillet itself, the professionals said, and was actually a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Still, you can have too much of a good thing.
All of the above is true only if you eat salmon in moderation and as part of a healthy and balanced diet that’s tailored to your nutritional needs.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that Americans eat 2-3 servings of seafood, which includes anchovies, catfish, cod, herring, salmon, and sardines, per week. So plan your shopping—and your meals—accordingly.
The cooking advice comes from personal experience. My wife and I enjoy eating salmon so much, we’ve dedicated a day of the week to it (we call it “Salmon Sunday.”) My rough calculations are that, since we’re together, I’ve cooked a few thousand salmon fillets.
The same applies to my cookware tips. My great-grandma, bless her soul, taught me how to cook before I could even reach the top of her cast-iron, wood-fired stove. Over the years, I’ve cooked on every kind of range and cooktop, from gas to radiant electric and, more recently, induction.
And, in recent years, thanks to Home Cook World, I have had the privilege of owning and testing virtually every type of pan, pot, and sheet on the market. So you can count that every piece of advice you get has been informed by much reading and plenty of hands-on experimentation.