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Crispy Fish Skin

Asked by Beats196. Answered on 5th October 2012

Full question

Whenever I'm cooking fish I can never get the skin to go crispy. I always turn the heat right up, but the skin just sticks to the pan or is all soggy. Help!

Our answer

The crisp skin on a pan fried fish fillet can, for some, be seen as the best part of the dish. There are a few steps that can be taken to help to get the skin crisp.

First make sure that the skin is thoroughly dry, as excess moisture will turn into steam and soften the skin. Pat the fish dry thoroughly with paper towels, if you like you can also carefully scrape across the skin with the back of a kitchen knife to remove any droplets of water. Some chefs suggest salting the skin with sea salt flakes or a coarse salt, such as kosher salt, and leaving the fillets for 15 minutes. The salt will draw any moisture up to the surface of the skin. After 15 minutes scrape away the salt and moisture and pat the fish thoroughly dry with paper towels.

Dusting the fish skin with flour can also help to give a crisp finish. Use plain (all-purpose) flour, or some chefs recommend using the "instant" type of flours that are also known as sauce flours (Wondra is the best known brand in the US). Use just a light dusting and shake or brush off any excess as you don't want there to be a batter-like coating on the fish skin.

Make sure that the pan and oil are hot enough as if they are cold then the fish skin will sweat and stick rather than sear. Use a flavourless vegetable oil and heat a thin layer in a frying pan over a medium heat until it is shimmering, but not smoking. The fish should sizzle as it goes into the pan. Don't overcrowd the pan as this will also cause the fish to steam and cause a soggy skin. Put the fish in skin side first and after a minute or so turn down the heat a little so that the skin doesn't burn. Keep watching the heat and turning it up or down as needed to keep the fish sizzling gently. When the skin is crisp it will release easily from the pan, so don't try to move the fillets too soon.

You can flip the fish and finish it in the frying pan, or for thicker fillets you can gently transfer them to a baking sheet and finish cooking them in a hot oven.

If you still can't get the skin crisp then perhaps consider fish with a crisp coating, such as the Golden Sole from Kitchen (p70), or Goujons of Sole from Nigella Express (see related recipe link).

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