Salmon is one of my favorite fish to cook and eat. There’s something about that tender, flaky texture and rich flavor that keeps me coming back for more. But when it comes to preparing salmon, one question always comes up – should you remove the skin or leave it on?
The skin debate is a controversial one in the culinary world. Many chefs and home cooks argue the merits of leaving the skin on to retain moisture and add flavor. However, there are some instances when skinning your salmon is necessary.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through the step-by-step process for how to properly skin a salmon fillet. With a sharp knife, a steady hand, and the right techniques, you’ll be skinning salmon like a professional in no time.
Setting Up Your Work Station for Success
The first step in learning how to skin a salmon fillet is making sure your tools and work area are prepared for the task. Here are some tips:
- Use a whole salmon fillet if possible. It’s much easier to skin a whole fillet than trying to skin smaller individual portions. The uniform shape and size helps with handling.
- Set the fillet on a clean cutting board or work surface skin side down. This keeps the skin flush with the board so your knife can glide smoothly across.
- Make sure your work station is clean and clutter-free to allow for easy maneuvering of the fillet.
- Have a sharp, thin-bladed boning knife ready for optimal control and cutting.
Making the Initial Cut Between Skin and Flesh
Once your prep station is organized, it’s time to make the first incision between the salmon skin and flesh.
- Grip the tip of the salmon fillet firmly with one hand to keep it steady. Use a pinch grip right on the edge.
- With your knife in the other hand, make a small horizontal cut through the membrane attaching the skin to the fish. Insert the knife tip about 1 inch.
- Cut at an angle, blade facing downwards. Apply gentle but firm pressure as you make this initial incision.
- This initial cut will give you the entry point to cleanly separate the rest of the skin from the fillet in the next steps.
Slowly Slicing Off the Skin
Now comes the actual skinning process. With a delicate touch and the right angle, you’ll be able to remove the skin in one continuous piece.
- Start by grasping the loosened skin at the cut tip. Use your fingers to get a secure grip.
- Gently pull back the skin, holding it taut away from the flesh. Go slowly to avoid tearing.
- With your knife, begin slicing downwards at a 45 degree angle, following the contours of the fish. Apply light pressure.
- Work from the thickest part of the fillet towards the tail. Let the knife do the work as you slowly pull the skin up and slice down.
- Try to remove the skin in one full piece for the best results. Minimize the amount of flesh attached to the skin as you work your way across.
Adapting the Technique for Smaller Portions
If you are skinning individual salmon fillet portions, the technique needs to be adapted slightly:
- Lay the fillet lengthwise on the board instead of horizontally. Position it so the skin edge is facing you for easy access.
- Start at the thickest section and make your initial cut into the membrane just like with a whole fillet.
- Grip the loosened skin at the tip tightly with your fingers. The piece will be smaller, so you need total control.
- Saw downwards using your knife, using a firm back and forth motion. Follow the contour of the fillet while pulling the skin up and back with your other hand.
- Take care not to tear the thinner tail end of the fillet as you skin.
Removing Pesky Pinbones for a Smoother Fillet
Once the skin is removed, there’s still another important step before cooking your salmon – removing any bones.
- Salmon fillets often have a row of thin, almost transparent pinbones running down their center.
- Feel gently down the flesh side to locate these small pinbones. Be careful, as they can be hard to spot.
- Use tweezers or needle nose pliers to grab and pull out each pinbone in the direction it’s facing.
- Work slowly and carefully to remove all the pinbones for a smooth, bone-free fillet ready for cooking and eating.
Now that you know the proper techniques, you can skin salmon like a total pro. Let’s go over some common skinning questions home cooks have.
Salmon Skin FAQs: Should It Stay or Should It Go?
When it comes to salmon skin, the question of whether to skin it or not comes down to personal preference, intended cooking method, and diet. Here are some key points to consider:
Should you always remove the skin from salmon fillets?
- If grilling, broiling, or pan frying: Leaving the skin on helps hold the flesh intact. The skin crisps up for added texture and flavor.
- If poaching, steaming, or baking en papillotte: Removing the skin allows even heat penetration to the flesh. Skin can make the salmon waterlogged.
- If watching saturated fat intake: Taking the skin off eliminates some of the fat grams per serving.
- If you simply don’t like the taste or texture of salmon skin, skinning is the way to go.
What are the benefits to leaving the skin on during cooking?
- The skin helps lock in moisture and fat to keep the fillet tender and prevent overcooking.
- When the skin gets crispy and browned, it adds delicious flavor and crunch.
- The skin on wild salmon contains high levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
What can I make with a skinned salmon fillet?
- Poached or grilled salmon salads benefit from the lighter texture of skinless fish.
- Pacific salmon curries and chowders don’t depend on crispy skin for flavor.
- Skinless sushi-grade salmon can blend smoothly with rice and seaweed.
Creative Uses for Leftover Salmon Skin
After skinning your fillets, don’t throw the skins out! You can transform them into a crave-worthy crunchy snack with a few simple steps:
- Pat the skins dry thoroughly with paper towels and season with salt.
- Lightly brush both sides with olive or vegetable oil and lay them out on a baking sheet.
- Bake at 400°F for 10-15 minutes until deeply golden brown and crispy.
- Let cool and enjoy these salmon chips on their own or dip them in mayo, creme fraiche, or other sauces!
Choosing Your Salmon – Go Wild or Go Farmed?
When selecting salmon fillets for skinning, the choice between wild vs. farmed salmon comes down to a few key factors:
- Wild salmon is leaner with a more concentrated, complex flavor. It has a darker pink-red hue.
- Farmed salmon contains higher fat content. The milder flavor and lighter pink color stems from its grain-based diet.
- Sustainability favors wild salmon, while farmed salmon comes with higher environmental concerns.
- Contaminant and toxin levels tend to be lower in sustainably farmed salmon. Wild salmon faces pollution.
- Price, availability, and accessibility are generally better with farmed salmon. Wild salmon costs more and is seasonal.
Both types have their merits. Choosing salmon from well-managed, ethical sources is ideal for quality and sustainability.
So in summary, learning how to properly skin a salmon fillet takes finesse. Follow these steps for success:
- Set up your cutting board, knife, and fillet oriented correctly.
- Make a shallow cut between skin and fish to start.
- Gently yet firmly slice the skin off in one piece if possible.
- Adjust the technique for smaller portions.
- Remove pinbones for the perfect skinless fillet.
- Consider cooking method and preference when deciding to skin or not.
- Get wild or farmed salmon from reputable sustainable sources.
- Transform leftover skins into crunchy snacks.
With the right tools and techniques, you can master salmon skinning like the pros. Then it’s off to enjoy your skinless fillets in some delicious recipes! What’s your favorite way to prepare salmon without the skin?