Wednesday, July 10, 2013

To Skin Or Not To Skin

Seared Onaga
When it comes to the question of whether to leave the skin on a fish fillet before cooking or take it off, the results prove to be very polarizing.  There just doesn't seem to be much middle ground.  The pro-skin eaters (and I am one of them) will reason that this is where the flavor is, where the fatty goodness and omegas hide, especially in salmon.  The non-skin eaters will argue that if the fish has swam in any questionable water ways, the skin is where the pollutants will accumulate.  Even if this would be true though, if you limit your intake to only one or two small servings a week, the benefits would still far outweigh any of the negatives.  Another important factor that I believe will help alleviate any worry stemming from the 'pollution theory' is that there are farmed tasty skin-on fish fillet options in which the species swim in perfectly clean, closed tank operations, such as VA Black Bass, MA Barramundi, and Icelandic Arctic Char.  There are also populations of wild fish such as striped bass (smaller fish are better), Mid-Atlantic tile fish, and North Atlantic black bass that are not known for carrying heavy traces of contaminants.  Once you have sourced healthy fish fillets, it is my recommendation that you try searing them with the skin on, unlocking all the rich flavor and crispy texture that the fish has to offer.  Here are some tips that may help you get that perfect, brown crust on your fish.  This also works with scallops, just reduce the time frame.

First, here are some types of fish that have great tasting skin: red snapper, salmon, black bass, striped bass, bronzino, tilefish, rockfish, dorade, onaga, char, and trout.

1.  Begin by taking your fillets out about 20-30 minutes ahead of time so they can reach room temp.  Sprinkle salt and pepper on the skin side.  Also take out one tblsp of butter if you wish to use it so that it will soften.

2.  Get your pan hot before hand, setting the temp to med-high to high.  Use a cast iron or steel pan for best results.

3.  Pat the fish dry, the entire fillet, with a paper towel to remove moisture.  I have also seen it recommended to use a butter knife to scrape excess moisture.
Crispy Black Bass

3.  Make 2 or 3 scores in the skin to help with keeping the fillet flat, be careful not to cut too deeply.  You will need a sharp knife for this.

4.  Pour oil into the center of the pan.  Let it get hot, but if it starts to smoke remove the pan from the heat until it stops smoking.

5.  Once the pan and oil is hot, place the fish skin side down in the oil.  Move the pan around once the fillet is flat so that the fillet does not stick.  You just want to give it an initial jiggle to prevent sticking.

6.  Season the fish fillet with salt and pepper.  The heat should be on medium-high for thinner fillets, medium for thicker fillets.

7.  Seconds after putting the fillet in the pan you will want to give it a gentle, yet firm press with a fish/metal spatula to keep the fillet flat to the pan.  It will want to curl on you, so be sure to do this quickly and hold it for about 30-45 seconds, or until the fillet relaxes.  You want to keep it flat so that your skin will crisp evenly.

8.  Let the fish cook, depending on the thickness of the fillet, for about 5-8 minutes.  When you see that the sides of the fish are beginning to cook and you can shake the pan and the fillet moves, it is about time to turn the fillet.

9.  Using the spatula, scrape the fillet from the bottom of the pan to dislodge it and gently turn the fillet over so the flesh side is touching the pan.

10.  The flesh side will not take as long to cook usually only about 2-3minutes depending on the thickness.  As soon as the you flip the fish, get your softened tblsp of butter and place it in the hot pan.  As the butter melts, tilt the pan and spoon the melted butter over the fish.  Repeat this process until the fish is entirely cooked.

If you are serving the fish with any sauce, place the sauce under the fish so the skin is not saturated.  You want to serve it immediately, so don't let it sit too long.  And of course, you want to serve it skin facing up, so you can show off your super culinary skills!        

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