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Unbeatably Crisp-Skinned Salmon

July 10, 2014

Unbeatably Crisp-Skinned Salmon

July 10, 2014

Every other Thursday on Food52, we bring you Nicholas Day — on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: A weeknight salmon recipe with a secret trick (and the crispiest skin).  

The life cycle of a salmon is the sort of incredible, Upworthy-ready story that you find in picture books, not textbooks: a fish that survives in fresh and saltwater; that commutes home against a raging current; that somehow returns, guided by a mere memory of a smell, to its natal home to give birth. This is more than a story. It’s mythology.

But like all heroes, salmon has a tragic flaw: It is pink. (Or according to the literal minds at Pantone, it is salmon.) It is cute. And as with everything we find cute, we have mauled it to death. 

I will not argue that salmon is not uniquely delicious — that fat, that mouthfeel — but I will argue that it has been uniquely victimized by its hue. This is especially true of our heartless children, for whom salmon is always that red fish. My children are irredeemably child-like and so they love salmon, and I confess to always feeling vaguely disappointed by this love, the way parents sometimes feel when the dreaded Princess Phase begins. Really, I think, despite myself: You have to like the pink fish the most? You fell for that? I am raising a couple of suckers. 

What do I want? This is America: I want competition. Couldn’t bluefish be more blue? Is that too much to ask? 

But as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, you go to dinner with the fish you have, not the fish you might want or wish to have at a later time.

So here we are, alone with our defrosted salmon. Which is sustainably caught, if only for reasons of Rawlsian fairness: Life as a salmon is hard enough already. It would be unjust to rig the odds against salmon any more than they are already rigged. You’d think leaping up waterfalls would be enough, really. 

You know that this column is not long on weeknight dinner tips. On the other hand, it is long on being really unsure what to have for weeknight dinner, which sometimes means that the column ends up feeding its children stale toast points for dinner. (Bonus points: If you dip them in milk, you have two courses.) Which is totally a weeknight dinner tip, now that I think of it. 

But that’s the recipe for the next column. (Check back!) For this week, we have an actual shiny, beribboned, weeknight dinner hack and it is this: Squeegee your salmon. 

Really. I blame Russ Parsons, who in turn blames Thomas Keller. Here’s the thing: You take your salmon fillet and a chef’s knife, and with the dull side of the knife, you squeegee the skin, running the knife firmly along it until moisture appears, wiping off the moisture, repeating until the moisture no longer appears. You now have a salmon with skin that is about to be extremely crispy. And perfectly cooked, once cooked how Parsons advises: hot pan, vegetable oil, skin side-down, until the flesh lightens a third of the way up — then flipped it and taken off the heat. That’s it. 

This comes from Parsons’s How to Read a French Fry and I’ve included the recipe he serves it with, a luxurious leek-cabbage side. (The leeks are not squeegeed. Sorry.) It’s fantastic, but more time-consuming. Consider saving it for the weekend. But squeegee your salmon tonight. 

Russ Parsons’ Crisp Skinned Salmon (Plus Creamy Leeks and Cabbage)

Serves 4

The Salmon

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

The Creamy Leeks and Cabbage

2 large leeks
1 cabbage (roughly 3 pounds)
1 slice of bacon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup whipping cream

  1. Trim the leeks, leaving only the white and pale green parts. Slice lengthwise into quarters and rinse well, until any sand and mud are gone. Thinly slice crosswise.
  2. Cut the cabbage into quarters, remove the tough core, and thinly slice. Slice the bacon into thin strips.
  3. In a large skillet, cook the bacon and 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the leeks and cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the leeks soften. Add half the cabbage and cook, stirring, for another 10 minutes, or until the cabbage softens. Add half of the remaining cabbage (not all of it) and cook for another ten minutes, until that softens.
  4. Meanwhile, squeegee the salmon: Rub the back of a knife across the skin of the salmon, not cutting it, but firmly rubbing it, until moisture collects on the knife. Wipe dry the knife and the salmon and repeat, until moisture no longer forms. Cut the salmon into four pieces and season with salt on both sides.
  5. Add the remaining cabbage to the leeks and cabbage, along with the cream. Stir and cook until any liquid is no longer visible when the pan is tilted. Salt to taste. Add the last two tablespoons of butter to the pan and cook for another minute, just until the sauce thickens. Keep warm.
  6. While the cabbage is finishing, heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the fillets skin side down and cook until the skin is very crisp and the flesh is lightened only about one-third of the way up the side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Then turn the fillets and remove the pan from the stove; it will finish cooking off the heat while you serve the leeks and cabbage. Then serve the salmon immediately.

Save and print the recipe on Food52

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

This article originally appeared on Food52.com: Russ Parsons’ Crisp-Skinned Salmon