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Crisp Skin Salmon A La Ramsey

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

Followed Gordon Ramsey's instructions about cooking a piece of salmon.  Cut skin across fillet, sprinkled salt in the cuts and some rosemary leaves.   Put olive oil in cast iron skillet and let it heat till it smoked.   Placed fillets in the pan, skin side down.   There's where I left Gordon.   He says ca. 3 1/2 min on the skin side and turn over  then 30 seconds on the other side.  Skin is supposed to be crisp.  Mine was soggy like spaghetti noodles.


What am I missing?

post #2 of 16

my guess would be too much oil in  your pan....


curious though, why did you turn the fish over in the first place if the skin wasn't crispy? also, i don't use olive oil to fry fish..the smoke point is just too low...i use a 75/25 canola/olive oil blend

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne


food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

post #3 of 16

I think I know what happened. When you put the fish in the pan skin side down, you have to gently press the flesh to the skin remains in contact with the pan. The skin, in reaction to the heat, will "bow" up and curl, so while the outside edges my be crispy, the concave part will essentially be steamed. 


Put the fish in the pan, then instantly press the flesh of the fish down, essentially forcing the skin to make contact with the pan. Use the back of your hand or a spatula. Don't press too hard--you don't want to damage the fish--but push hard enough to make contact. The scoring of the skin should help the curling, but I would still press it for like 20 seconds just to make sure. 


After holding it down for about 20-30 seconds, the flesh will relax and you won't need to hold it down anymore. 


Make sure that you use a decent amount of oil--you don't want to shallow fry, but a nice coating on the pan is appropriate. 


It is also possible that you dimply didn't cook it long enough, or your pan was too cold. Nothing wrong with checking to see if the skin is crisp--if it needs more time, just leave it in. 


BTW, there is nothing wrong with using olive oil. Just don't use an expensive, finishing style of oil. A plain, run of the mill fruity olive oil would work. Also probably don't use extra virgin olive oil, though that is OK too, but not ideal. I used to work at a very nice restaurant and we would pan roast all our fish in olive oil. Worked beautifully. 

post #4 of 16

Hey Curious Mac,

Originally Posted by Curious Mac View Post

Put olive oil in cast iron skillet and let it heat till it smoked.


It's not exactly clear from that sentence how hot the pan was at the time you added the oil. My recommendation would be to thoroughly heat the dry pan first. I don't use cast iron but I heat my carbon steel pans for on medium for at least 5 minutes before adding the oil for an application like that. I would guess that with cast iron you may need even more time to get the pan hot.


Once the pan is very hot, add the oil. The oil will heat pretty much instantaneously, and you can then add your salmon.


Another thing is, make sure you make enough cuts. Like one cut every 1/2" or so. This will help the skin crisp nicely.


I also agree with Someday's recommendation to hold the fish down to avoid it curling one you. If some parts of the skin are not in contact with the pan/oil, they won't crisp up.


To sum things up:


Score the skin every 1/2". Hot, hot, hot pan. Then add oil. Then add fish and hold it down.

Best of luck!


post #5 of 16
Was the skin on the fish absolutely DRY when it went in the pan? Moist skin will not crisp.

post #6 of 16

There are indeed a lot of open questions. And even more; did you use frozen salmon instead of fresh one? How long in advance did you salt the salmon? Did you move the fish around and around in the pan or just leave it to get a nice crispy skin?

Personally I would also not use olive oil, but that's a personal choice. I prefer neutral sunflower oil.

Since there are so many modern good non-stick pans, even used in high-end professional kitchens nowadays, I question the use of a cast iron pan too. You just proved it doesn't work all that well!

post #7 of 16

For as hot as the pan should be, non-sticks are not a good choice as the coating outgases toxins at those temps. And with Cast Iron's ability to hold heat, it can really lay on a sear for the crisp skin.


I also agree with French Fries to heat the pan then add the oil.  Heating the pan with oil until it smokes, really isn't hot enough for this application, nor best practice.


I see it more often now wtih nonstick pans where cooks add the oil to the cold pan. It seems the thinking is that the oil acts as your temp gauge so you don't overheat the teflon.


But I'm still at a loss why America's Test Kitchen is so devoted to non-stick skillets. I would think they'd know better.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #8 of 16

I agree with BDL of course.  Wet protein is almost always the culprit.  When I want a wonderful crispness on any protein I keep it pressed between paper towels for at least 10 min before I cook it and then leave it sitting out to dry completely.  This is one of those simple techniques that will elevate your cooking 10 notches!

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #9 of 16
Thread Starter 

First off thank you to all who replied.


durangojo: 10" well seasoned cast iron skillet.  ca. 2 TBS olive oil.  I turned it over because it was cooked to the point it needed turning.   If you watch the end of a salmon fillet when it has turned white about 2/3 of the way up the end it is time to turn over and cook for ca. 30 seconds on the other side.  Leave it longer before turning and it drys out the fish.  I'll try the Canola/olive oil blend next time.


Somday: I did press the fillet down with my fingers so it did lay flat. Did use ca. 2 TBS of olive oil and perhaps could have used less and will next time.  Don't think the skillet was cold, the olive oil was smoking, don't know what temp that happens at but it is darn hot.


French Fries:  I put the olive oil in the cold skillet and turned on the heat.  I'll try heating the skillet and adding oil next time.  I did cut the skin side about every 1/2". 


boar_d_laze:  There you got something.  The skin was wet, this may have been my main problem.  See Koukouvagia's comments above.


ChrisBelgium:  I live in the middle of North Carolina.  It is not impossible but it is sometimes difficult to get salmon here that hasn't been frozen.  This side had been frozen.  Put sea salt in the cuts about 15 min. before it went in the skillet.  Gordon Ramsey insists that you put the effing salmon in the pan and don't effing touch it until it is time to turn over,  "Leave it effing alone."  I am not going to knock cast iron cookware.  A well seasoned cast iron pot or pan is as good as any modern non-stick pan will ever be.  Folks have been cooking in them for many centuries. I don't think I proved that cast iron doesn't work, I think I proved that I did something wrong with the preparation or execution of the cook.  And I agree with the post after yours by phatch, overheating non-stick pans.


phatch:  Thank you for the comments. I'll put them to use.


Koukouvagia:  I think what you advise will go a good way towards correcting my way of cooking a salmon fillet to get a crisp skin.  Thank you.





post #10 of 16
Originally Posted by Curious Mac View Post

French Fries:  I put the olive oil in the cold skillet and turned on the heat.  I'll try heating the skillet and adding oil next time.  I did cut the skin side about every 1/2". 

OK definitely try heating the pan first. Heat the pan on medium hot so it heats slowly and evenly. Toward the end of the pan heating process you can turn up the heat if necessary, then add the oil. 


If you start with a cold pan, by the time the oil starts smoking, the pan hasn't had time to heat properly and evenly, and the instant you put the salmon in, the temp of the oil drops, so it won't crisp up. 


This along with the (excellent) observation about making the sure the salmon is perfectly dry when you put it in the pan should help a lot. 


A cast iron pan is the best tool for this application, as it will retain the heat better than any other pan even when you drop the cold salmon in the oil - and that's the key to a crispy surface. 

post #11 of 16

I agree, cast iron is best. Nothing can really beat a good cast iron pan for pan-roasting protein. 


Definitely blot the salmon skin dry with a paper towel, or use the Keller trick of taking the back of your chef's knife and kind of squeegie-ing the moisture off. Fresh would be best, of course, but you SHOULD be able to get crispy skin on a previously frozen salmon. 

post #12 of 16

Mac, there's nothing wrong with using frozen salmon, but it needs to be thawed, so it will inevitably release a lot of moist. Moist seems to be indeed the problem in this case. Also, salting the salmon 15 minutes before cooking will draw extra moist out of the fish, not a good idea imo!


I would suggest to thaw your salmon slowly (maybe overnight) in your fridge, remove the liquid that it has released while thawing, dry the fish with paper towel and put it back in the fridge, uncovered. Leaving the fish uncovered in the fridge for at least half an hour or preferably more, will dry the fish nicely. In this case, personally I would salt only the inner side of the salmon when it's just put in the pan (on the skin side first). Ramsay is right,.. as you quoted "Leave it effing alone". Also, no need to cut the skin in this case, fish curls up mostly when it's very fresh and fillets are really thin, the problem occurs less when it has been frozen. Just keep the fillet down a few seconds if it tends to curl up.


I certainly agree that a cast iron pan can be very useful, but I have really excellent experience in searing fish, searing meat, searing scallops(!), resulting in a nice caramelization, in using a Demeyere Multiglide pan. It's stainless, clad with a non-stick surface and it has a very thick heavy bottom. You don't need to overheat these pans at all. Simple high heat will do it. Perfect for home cooking.

post #13 of 16
I don't season the skin side, until the fish goes on the plate.

Before we bought new cookware in February, I used a cast iron griddle, a Calphalon aniodic (but definitely not non-stick) aluminum pan, and an ordinary restaurant grade aluminum pan. They all worked fine. Now I either use the same Lodge griddle, a cast iron pan, a carbon steel pan or a copper pan with a stainless liner. They all work just fine too. Ramsay has an endorsement deal, you don't. The right size is more important than anything else. You want is something heavy enough to handle a fair amount of heat without warping; something that will spread the heat fairly evenly; and if you're using non-stick, something heavy duty enough to handle metal utensils without scratching. Don't use a plastic spatula. I'm not kidding, don't use one for this.

Ramsay uses non-stick pans, they do work. I don't like them, but let's be grown up. If that's what you like, knock yourself out.

Use a very high quality salmon; the best you can find (and afford); one with a high fat content. More fat = better skin. Ordinary, farmed "Atlantic salmon" is marginal. If you're using frozen (as you are) defrost gently, overnight in the refrigerator. Don't let the defrosted salmon sit around too long before cooking. Older fish skin won't perform nearly as well as fresher. Depending on the fish, "day two" is pushing it.

Remove the salmon from the refrigerator. Dry with paper towels or napkins. Get the fish as dry as possible. Paper towels are good enough. You don't have to hold a fan over it, or air dry it in the fridge; but attention to detail and taking the extra step won't hurt either. Don't season. When the salmon is dry, put it skin side down on a couple of layers of paper towel, and give it a few minutes to temp.

Meanwhile, thoroughly preheat a dry pan to just below "smoking hot." A medium-high flame is about right. You're not trying to blacken.

Add a very small amount of a neutral, high-smoke point oil to the pan. The pan should be hot enough for the oil to thin and run like water. If not, wait until it does and the air above it shimmers.

The idea is to allow the skin to crisp the skin in the salmon's own fat as it renders between the flesh and skin, and to crystallize the skin's proteins. The process has more in common with searing than frying or a saute. Let me repeat -- NOT SAUTE, NOT FRY. It's not exactly a sear either -- so you can get away with non-stick.

While you prep and preheat, leave the salmon skin-side down on a paper towel.

Use your hand to put the salmon in the pan, skin side down. Season the top. You may use your spat or fingers to press the top of the fish at this point to make sure the contact between pan and skin is flat and even. Don't try to move the salmon sidewise or lift it; it will tear the skin off. After that single touch, let the salmon cook without disturbing it.

As the skin crisps, keep your eye on the side of the piece. The flesh nearest the skin will slowly turn opaque. DO NOT TOUCH the fish until the opaque band is at least 1/3 of the way up the fish. Only move the pan to make sure the heat is centered beneath the fish.

Shake the pan, and if the fish moves easily -- you can gently lift it to check the skin. If the skin is as done as you like it, you may turn the fish. If not, give it a bit longer -- but only a bit. If it does not move easily, give it 30 seconds and try again. Then another 30 seconds and a shake before resorting to loosening it with your spat. Try knocking the fish sidewise with the edge of the spat (or your tongs) before trying to lift it. Lifting is the last resort.

A slotted "fish spatula" is your best bet -- partly because it's slotted, and partly because it's thin. (If you're left-handed you might find it worthwhile to buy a left-handed fish spat. No kidding. Fish spats are angled across the front edge, which makes them "handed.") Be very careful lifting the fish from the pan with a spatula or tongs. You already know the skin is sticking.

Turn the fish over and cook the second side only as long as necessary to get a bit of brown on it. This should take less than 60 seconds. Keep your eye on the side of the fish -- you want the middle 1/3 - 1/4 to be mostly translucent. Touch test the salmon for doneness.

Salmon cooked this way should be served mid-rare shading towards rare; or rare shading to mid rare; or mid rare. Not very rare, not medium rare, not anything else; unless, of course, at your guest's, spouse's or lover's request. If you slightly overcook to mid-mid-rare, that's okay but not ideal. It sounds very critical, but between the touch test and the appearance of the salmon's built-in thermometer you should be able to hit the right degree of mid-rare very consistently.

Hot, too-rare salmon will make you gag. Overcooked salmon is dry and flaky. You don't want to learn how to hit your temps that way -- but everyone does. So allow yourself the room to learn.

Turn out the salmon, skin side up, onto a plate which has already been garnished. Finish seasoning with a light dusting of very coarse salt. If you're saucing, use restraint as to type and amount. You may further garnish the fish with herbs, citrus slices, ultra-thin slices of shallot, etc.

A skilled variation would have you adding butter, a sprig of rosemary and a whole garlic clove when the skin side is about halfway done, and speed-basting the top of the fish with the butter while the skin finishes. After the fish is cooked, rest it, and pour out the pan -- butter, garlic, rosemary and all. Then return the pan to a very high flame, add shallots, toss them while they pick up a little color, deglaze with white wine, let it reduce a little, mount some butter, pour over the fish, and sprinkle with a chopped parsley, a bit of dill, and some micro-planed lemon zest. I suggest waiting until you can get consistently crisp skin before trying this.

Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/13/11 at 9:08am
post #14 of 16
Thread Starter 

BDL, Sounds like a plan. And a good one at that!

post #15 of 16

BDL, your cook book is almost done and you don't even know it. Go back to all the incredibly useful posts you've written on this forum, including that last one, print them, send them to a publisher, and you have one of the best cook books ever published. No need to go much further than that.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing. Your information is gold.

post #16 of 16

Not to be Captain Obvious or anything, you do realize that salmon have scales? If you are planning on crisping the skin, make sure you scrape off all the scales from your filet or pieces (it is much easier when the filet is whole or even easier when the fish is whole).


Then do all of the above things, hot pan, little oil, pat dry with paper towels, etc....


I think cast  iron or a seasoned steel skillet are the best tool for the job.

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