I'm admittedly not a huge fan of fish and don't cook it much, but salmon is the exception to that rule. It's much more flavorful than your average sea creature - that is if you do it right. I've had conversations with friends who are dumbfounded by the complexity of cooking salmon. Why is it dry? Why is it undercooked? Why isn't the skin crispy? It can be a bit temperamental, but you have my word: follow the steps below and you will get perfect crispy skin salmon.
PS: this is a guide, not a recipe. I find salmon delicious with just a fresh lemon squeeze and some Maldon salt, but use whatever marinade, spices or acid you prefer.
1)Dry your salmon: You know that ol' expression about oil and water? Yeah, well it comes in to play here. If your salmon is wet (and they come wet - it's nothing that you've done!) two things will happen. A) Oil will splatter everywhere and B) your skin won't be crispy. I like to pat them really well with paper towels. This sometimes means using a couple different paper towels to make sure it is extra dry. (Sorry, environment)
2) Bring your salmon to room temperature before cooking: To get that crispy skin you need a super hot pan. The minute you drop in that 35-degree salmon, you're bringing the temperature of the pan down and there goes your crispy skin. Leaving the salmon covered on the counter for an hour should do it, but if it's really cold in your kitchen, store it in the microwave with the microwave turned off. (It's warmer in there! Also, a great place to let your bread rise!)
3) Make sure your pan is hot: Ideally you'd use a cast iron or stainless steel pan, as these tend to do better with high heat. Preheat your pan on medium high and add in an oil that can withstand high heat (I like refined coconut, link below.) Wait until the first wisps of smoke start to come off the pan, and only then is your salmon ready to go in.
4) Hold the fish down as you put the salmon in the pan: I use my hands to transfer the salmon from the plate to the pan, making sure my hands are completely dry. As you place the salmon into the pan, press down on either side of the fish to ensure the skin of the salmon is making contact with the heat of the pan. You'll want to hold this for about 5-10 seconds. Proteins shrink as they cook and often this means the skin will shrivel and won't make complete contact. Holding it down prevents this shrivel and yields a crispier skin. If you don't like the idea of your hands in a pan, hold down the salmon with a spatula at either end of it.
5) Patience is a virtue: Resist the urge to keep checking, poking, prodding. The skin will do its best crisping if you leave it alone. The salmon will do the majority of its cooking on the skin side; in fact, it will only cook on the reverse side for about a minute, so let it be.
6) Cooking time will vary based on your desired level of doneness: I like my salmon medium rare, so I cook it about 3-4 minutes on the skin side and flip and cook for about a minute on the reverse side. Use that as a guide. A rare salmon will be closer to 2-3 minutes on the skin side, and a medium salmon will be closer to 5-6 minutes on the skin side. Either way, it should cook almost exclusively on the skin side. Once you flip the salmon, you'll cook it for only a minute.
And that's it! You're on your way to perfect pan salmon. Questions? Shoot me a note: email@example.com