Should You Eat The Skin On Salmon?

Whether or not to eat salmon skin is a rather divisive issue, with heated opinions on both sides. For some, salmon skin is just too weird, too fatty, tastes too fishy, or has an otherwise overpowering flavor. When prepared incorrectly, salmon skin can be unappetizing both visually and texturally, looking and tasting like a soggy, limp, and rubbery mess.

On the other end of the spectrum, fans of salmon skin know that it's one of the best parts of the fish, and love it for its concentrated salmon flavor. A perfectly crispy salmon skin provides a wonderfully crunchy textural contrast to the soft and flaky salmon flesh and can be a delicious snack all on its own. Salmon skin fans also know that cooking salmon with the skin on can help keep the fish moist, and provide additional nutritional benefits when compared to eating salmon without the skin. Assuming you can prepare the salmon skin correctly, and with just a few caveats, you should absolutely eat the skin on salmon.

Nutritional information about salmon skin

One of the main health benefits of eating salmon is that it's a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which our bodies cannot produce on their own, and which may help with heart, brain, skin, and eye health, reports Medical News Today. Turns out, salmon skin contains the highest concentration of omega-3s in the entire fish, and cooking salmon with the skin on helps retain oils and nutrients that would otherwise be lost. Salmon skin is also a good source of protein, vitamins B and D, collagen, and essential minerals like selenium. Recent studies also suggest that salmon skin may also offer antioxidant benefits that help in the treatment of type-2 diabetes and in the prevention of cancer.

There are some concerns to be aware of when it comes to eating salmon skin. Fish, including salmon, can easily absorb pollutants from the water. Of particular concern are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and methylmercury, which have been linked to cancer and birth defects. If you're not confident your salmon comes from clean waters, it may be best to skip the skin, especially for those in a sensitive group like pregnant and nursing women and young children, warns Healthline. Farmed salmon has been found to contain more toxins than wild salmon, with Atlantic farmed salmon generally considered to be the most contaminated and wild-caught Pacific salmon the safest.

How to cook salmon skin

The proper way to serve salmon skin is crispy, which can only be achieved by certain cooking methods, such as frying, grilling, and searing. Before cooking, it's critical to remove as much of the moisture from the skin as possible. Otherwise, the excess moisture will cause the salmon skin to steam rather than crisp up when cooked. 

You should always pat your salmon dry with a paper towel and bring it up to room temperature before cooking it, but there are a few other tricks to get it extra dry: Chef Thomas Keller recommends "drawing a knife blade firmly back and forth over the fish, the way a wiper blade moves across a windshield" (via the LA Times); Recipetineats likes to place the salmon skin-side up in the fridge for an hour to get it extra dry before cooking; and Chef Emma Bengtsson uses a multi-step process that involves seasoning the salmon with a 50-50 mix of salt and sugar, letting it chill in the fridge for a few hours before washing off the rub with water, and returning the salmon, skin-side up, to the fridge overnight to further dry out the skin.

How to get the skin extra crispy and keep it that way

For extra crispy skin, you should always cook the salmon skin-side down. Use a really hot pan, and an oil with a high smoking point to cook your salmon, but be careful that your oil isn't so hot that it's smoking, warns Thomas Keller to the LA Times. Once your salmon has gone in the pan, reduce the heat to medium and leave it alone until the fat has rendered out of the skin, making it nice and crispy. The salmon should also release easily from the pan at this point. Flip it to the other side briefly to finish cooking. You can also sear the salmon in a pan and finish it in the oven.

Even if you manage to cook salmon with perfectly crispy skin, you can still ruin that crispiness by serving it wrong, such as by serving the salmon skin-side down over a portion of pasta or puree, so remember to always serve salmon skin side up to keep it crispy from pan to plate.

Salmon skin on its own

Although salmon skin is delicious when left on the fish, it can also be enjoyed on its own, inside a sushi roll, or as a salad topping or garnish — Chef Nyesha Arrington likes to serve crispy salmon skin chips as a sustainable garnish to her confit salmon. One option is to fry strips of salmon skin in oil so it becomes salmon bacon (similar to pork rinds). Another option is to bake the skin until crispy. 

To easily remove salmon skin, try this boiling water hack that makes skinning salmon a breeze — place salmon filets with the skin-side up on a mesh rack, and slowly pour boiling water over the filets; the hot water will cause the skin to soften and curl away from the flesh, making it easy to peel the skin off. If you do remove the salmon skin for making salmon bacon or otherwise, you should consider poaching the rest of the salmon instead, since poaching is a gentler cooking process that won't dry the skin-less salmon out. You should also remove the skin if you're planning to cook a piece of frozen salmon as it simply won't crisp up: remove the skin either by running it under cold water before cooking, or start cooking it with the skin on, and remove once the fish heats up and the skin starts to separate.