Food is like the weather. Experienced by all, it makes for reliable small talk, both accessible and banal. We’ve all been there. Be it with a coworker or an in-law or those friends we meet for brunch on a quarterly basis, there we find ourselves, again and again, circling that conversational cul-de-sac, dutifully providing our views about the rain or that new restaurant we tried this weekend.
So strange how for something so essential and shared, there is often so little to say! Sheds light on the human condition, in my humble opinion. Anyway, here is a recipe for crispy skin salmon and herbs. Served with some rice and green vegetables, it is so simple and nourishing and tastes particularly good as we move into spring.
- 1 skin-on filet of salmon about an inch thick or so, descaled (you can either remove the scales yourself by running a knife against the grain of the salmon skin under running water or you can ask your fishmonger to remove them)
- Herbs, roughly chopped (Thai basil, cilantro, dill, scallions, and mint are a winning Southeast Asian combination but you don’t need all of them for this to be delicious. Note that if you use mint (recommended), you just need a few leaves.)
- 1 red chili, sliced (optional)
- Lime wedges (optional)
- Oil, salt, pepper
- Make sure the salmon is really dry. You can do this by patting it down with paper towels. If you want to go the extra mile, stick it in the fridge for a bit, skin-side up, which will allow moisture to evaporate. The more dry the skin, the crisper it’ll be.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat and coat generously with a neutral oil (I like peanut oil). Any pan will do, but I tend to use non-stick to make sure the skin doesn’t stick. Medium heat is good because you want it hot enough to crisp the skin but not so hot that it will burn before you’re done cooking.
- Make sure the oil is hot (you can tell when a drop of water in the pan sizzles and sputters). Season your salmon with salt and pepper on both sides and gently lay it in the pan, skin-side down. It should sizzle and sound delicious.
- Let the filet fry, untouched for 4-5 minutes depending on how thick your filet is. You can follow how the salmon is cooking by watching the side of the filet, which will gradually turn more opaque. Resist the temptation to mess with the filet too soon–the skin takes a few minutes to set and if you move it before then, it can wrinkle and cook unevenly.
- Once the filet is about 3/4 cooked through, flip it using a spatula. At this point, check to make sure the skin is crisp–it should be browned and beautiful and when you tap it with your finger, it should feel firm and crispy. Keep monitoring the side of the filet for doneness. If you want it medium-rare with a velvety sashimi-like center, take it off when the side just turns completely opaque (this will take about 1-3 minutes). If you want it medium with a more consistent (but still juicy) flake throughout, give it another 1-2 minutes after that point before taking it off. There is a time and place for both, it is really just up to you and how you happen to be feeling.
- Put the salmon on the plate skin-side up to preserve the crispiness. Do not put it skin-side down–that will make the skin steam and get soggy and it would be sad to have had all this work be in vain. Shower with herbs and chili and serve with a lime wedge or two.