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I need advice on cooking fish

I've cooked fresh wild King Salmon a few times. The butcher advises me to cook skin side down first to get skin crispy, then flip and continue stove top or in oven. (I don't like rare salmon, just cooked through) I use an All-Clad pan. Other times I've used some oil in the pan but this time I marinated the fish in a little maple syrup, soy sauce, rice vinegar, olive oil. (about 20 minutes).

I've read to use a hot pan and that proteins will release when they are ready. This time I let the pan get a bit hot, put fish skin side down and waited but it really never released. When I flipped, the skin stayed put. I put the pan in the oven to finish.

The fish tastes fine but I wonder if I should have put like grapeseed oil in the pan first. Instead, should I use my All-Clad non stick pan?

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  1. Non-Stick would solve your problem.
    Using anything sweet like the Syrup you will have no chance of the Skin not catching. If you want to marinate keep the Skin up and out of the Marinade.

    8 Replies
    1. re: chefj

      Agreed, the sugar in the syrup caused the problem..leave it out the next time and when you flip the fish, then introduce the maple syrup.
      Use your non stick pan anyway, and you might want to substitute canola oil instead of the olive oil...

        1. re: magiesmom

          With respect to the oil or sugar...
          If it is the oil, she is using the olive oil for flavor, if you are using oil to prevent food from sticking, then the canola oil, because it doesn't impart any flavor and has a higher smoke point, and would assist better in searing the surface of the fish.
          The sugar burns at a relatively low temperature crystalizes and sticks.

          1. re: PHREDDY

            Canola oil does impart an unpleasant flavor IMO.
            I sear in grapeseed oil or in un oiled cast iron pan.

            1. re: magiesmom

              To each there own. Not everyone has a problem with Canola/Rapeseed Oil.

              1. re: chefj

                No, but enough people do in my experience that it is worth being mindful for guests imo

                1. re: magiesmom

                  As I note downthread, I've been using canola A LOT in the last year and a half and noticed nothing. Made a killer somewhat spicy mayo with it the other day that I think is the best condiment I've ever had. Need to buy another big bottle.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Even processed canola oil can go rancid - I have had this happen. The unattractive flavours are much more noticeable when it is heated.

                    The other problem may be that you were using a raw/unprocessed canola (rapeseed) oil. Canola oil has a nutty flavour which is removed through industrial processing.

                    I do find that grape seed oil has a lighter, more water-like flavour to it.

    2. I would have added some oil to your hot pan to help with the release.

      But as other's have said, with the sugar in the maple syrup I would have gone for the non-stick.

      Thankfully loosing the skin doesn't ruin the fish!

      1 Reply
      1. re: thimes

        I thank everyone for the help; maybe I'll eventually get the hang of it. At least I didn't ruin $20 lb salmon (it has been as high as $32 lb at this market, my favorite place to buy fish).

      2. Been teaching fish cookery for more than 30 years,

        I always cook flesh side down first, and finish with the skin down. I don't finish salmon in the oven. I find it gets overcooked if I do,

        7 Replies
        1. re: ChefJune

          Can you get the skin really crisp when starting flesh side down. I do the majority of my fish searing on one side to develop a nice crust and quickly finish on the other side.

          Also what kind of pan do you use?

          1. re: scubadoo97

            You sure can get the skin really crisp cooking it last. Happens every time.

            I use a French steel skillet, heated and filmed with olive oil.

          2. re: ChefJune

            I only put it in oven for 5 minutes and it was just right for me. My daughter likes a bit undercooked so one of the pieces was right for her.

            I never use canola oil because of the fishy smell (w/out fish around!) but I have grapeseed oil I can use.

            1. re: walker

              I took an Asian dumpling class last year from Andrea Nguyen and she uses canola extensively. So I started doing it, keeping the oil in the fridge. No off smell at all.

              1. re: c oliver

                I think the canola oil fishy smell is maybe genetic, in the same way that some people perceive cilantro as soapy. I have no problems with canola oil, but DH does, even in the smallest amounts and he doesn't even know it is in the dish.

            2. re: ChefJune

              This is how I do it, flesh side down first. Use a Teflon coated pan, nothing sticks. I don't like olive oil with Asian/Indian seasonings, use clarified butter or a neutral oil like soybean, grape seed, corn etc. I find canola oil to be fishy tasting/smelling when heated. I don't like to eat fish skin but you can get it crispy this way too as long as there is not too much moisture in the pan from the marinade. For a fish this awesome, I'd skip this marinade altogether and just use salt & pepper and maybe a little white wine & whole butter to make a simple, quick pan sauce..

            3. Sorry you don't like it rare.

              I heard years ago that the best way to cook fish is to have it walked through a warm kitchen by a slow waiter.

              15 Replies
              1. re: Chefpaulo

                I don't like any meats rare and don't eat raw fish. I do like barely roasted asparagus but don't like undercooked green beans.

                How do I get the fishy smell out of my kitchen? I had the window open a little (I live in San Francisco near the ocean so summers are in 60's and I rarely open windows!) and ventilation on.

                1. re: walker

                  If you have a "fishy" smell in your kitchen you have cooked a fish that was not fresh enough to eat. And you have over cooked the fish by literally burning the natural oils within the fish. Period.
                  Next time set your stove to 200F NO HIGHER!
                  Put a T of unsalted or better yet ghee butter in the pan. Slide the fish skin side down onto the butter. Gently add just no more than a 1/4" of plain water NO WHITE WINE! A pinch of Kosher salt. NO OTHER HERBS at this point. Leave the lid off. Watch the fish flesh turn slightly opaque throughout. This should only take a couple of minutes.
                  Most of the water will have evaporated. Gently remove the fish. The skin may or may not remain. Take no notice.
                  Rest the fish covered up to ten minutes before serving.
                  NOW the best part: Serve with a Escoffier 'Sauce Batarde'.
                  You will have died and gone to culinary heaven.

                  1. re: Puffin3

                    Thanks for the good advice. I'm certain the fish was fresh. It did not taste at all fishy. Maybe the stuck skin overheated. I'll skip marinade next time. What's your recipe for the sauce?

                      1. re: Puffin3

                        Puff...thanks for the link...it might be on the table tomorrow night. I have most of the ingredients in house...so a trip to the fish store and I'll be good to go!

                    1. re: Puffin3

                      "If you have a "fishy" smell in your kitchen you have cooked a fish that was not fresh enough to eat."

                      I completely disagree. I have never been in a kitchen that didn't have a fishy odor after fish has been cooked. Whether it was my grandmother frying smelts she defrosted or me baking a piece of fluke I caught ninety minutes earlier, the kitchen smells like fish when you're done eating.

                      We need to put to rest the ridiculously overused, TV personality cliche that fresh fish should smell like the ocean. It doesn't. Once you pull it from the water, it's a piece of decomposing animal flesh. Hell, I use sea water to start to get the fish smell off my hands when I'm done cleaning fish at the dock. To think about it another way, if the ocean and fish really smelled the same, do you think people would actually pay millions of dollars for homes close to the sea?

                      (Whew. Thanks for letting me get that out . . . .)

                      1. re: MGZ

                        So what you're saying is every restaurant on the planet that serves fish has a "fishy smell" in the air?
                        The 'fishy smell' coming off fish when they first leave the water is not 'bad'. It's how the fish smells.
                        The 'bad' fishy smell coming off a fish too long out of the water is actually a gas forming on the skin telling the bugs in the area to 'come and get it!'.
                        This gas is easily washed away/neutralized by rinsing the fish in a bath of cold water with some lemon juice in it.
                        Some restaurants I know of use a mild solution of bleach.
                        I have caught and cooked THOUSANDS of salmon/rock cod/ling cod/halibut over many decades. I have NEVER had a 'bad' fishy smell in my kitchen/gallery........ever.
                        Of course I have never bought and cooked any fish that wasn't fresh either.

                        1. re: Puffin3

                          THOUSANDS of fish and not NEVER one bad apple? Come on....however, I do agree with the thought that a fish doesn't have to smell fishy. I have them throw it on the counter so I can smell freshness. For me, having grown up in a seafood culture, I don't identify "fishy" smells with anything other than compromised fish.

                          I just don't like fish skin unless it is deep fried separately.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            That's right.
                            I can count the number of times I have bought any type of 'fresh' fish at a grocery store on two hands.
                            When I have, say when I was visiting relatives in Ontario and I was doing the cooking I went to the fish market and was VERY picky about the fish I bought.
                            I freeze rock cod/halibut/ling cod fillets in 1 litre waxed cardboard milk containers. I half fill the container with the fillets and pour in cold water, to which I have added some Kosher salt, to the top of the container. I staple the containers closed and put them in the freezer. When I want some fish I just thaw the contents of the container. The fish is always fresh smelling and has a firm texture.
                            I freeze salmon/trout wrapped in tin foil. Never in water.
                            99.9999% of the fish we eat is 'same day' caught then eaten that day or stored in the fridge for the next day or as I said frozen.

                          2. re: Puffin3

                            "So what you're saying is every restaurant on the planet that serves fish has a "fishy smell" in the air?"


                            Please note, I never said bad, just discernable. Like you, I've spent a lifetime eating fish caught by myself, family, or friends, as well as being in and on the water; however, there is simply no way that I'll ever subscribe to the notion that fresh fish smells like the sea.

                            1. re: MGZ

                              Well you never heard that claim from me.
                              I said every fish species has it's own smell. I can catch a rainbow and bring it along side the boat and lift it out of the water and it will have a certain smell. Two minutes later in the same lake I can catch a cutthroat and do the same and it will have a different smell.
                              I think some people have had negative experiences around cooking eating fish that was too old in the first place.
                              I'm sure we all have been some where where someone had cooked a 'bad' smelling fish and the place stunk. Or they burnt the fish/skin and the place stunk.
                              Properly handled/cooked fish only smells like the fish it is. That's different.

                              1. re: Puffin3

                                Puffin professes a proficient proboscis for pescatarian preparations ;-)

                        2. re: Puffin3

                          i still remember back in the day, i went cat fishing. came back and filleted 20 live catfish and fried them up. It was fishy in the apartment for days. so not always an issue of freshness. some fish tend to be more fishy and i think salmon / catfish are in that category.

                          1. re: FattyDumplin

                            IME, it's the frying that's the issue. Even with shallow-frying or sauteeing, droplets of oil - in this case, containing fish/fish oil - are in the air and settling on surfaces that aren't part of the typical post-cooking wipe-down. I generally bake my fish, and find that the odor of the cooked fish dissipates as quickly as that of anything else I've cooked in the oven.

                        3. re: walker

                          Use the bowls of vinegar trick mention in this older yet still relevant thread

                      2. This is how i get perfect crispy skin using a regular stainless steel all-clad skillet. Cut 2-3 diagonal slits in the salmon skin (this helps the skin stay flat on the pan, reduces curling and it gets crispier). Season the fish with s&p and rub it with olive oil. Pre-heat the pan (no oil in the pan) and then put the salmon in the pan skin-side down. The skin will become brown and crispy and release naturally in about 3 minutes. Then you can flip and finish in the oven or on stovetop according to your preference. I've tried various different methods for salmon, but for me this is the only method that reliably creates crisp skin that does not stick to the pan.

                        If you want to use some kind of marinade, you end up sacrificing the skin, at that point it is easier to just oven roast it skin side down, no flipping, or use the same method with a covered grill if you don't want to turn on the oven.

                        1. I may be in the minority, but I like the skin to come off. A bit of oil and skin side down first allows the skin to crisp up. I season the flesh side in the pan, then the fish is flipped, skin peeled away, and seasoned on the fatty side. The flesh side, being the most attractive visually, is served up on the plate at home. The skin goes to the cats. But some people like the skin; to me, it can develop an acrid flavor when charred a bit.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: rudeboy

                            The acrid taste is the result of burning the natural oils in the skin.
                            Burn any oil and get a burnt oil taste.

                            1. re: Puffin3

                              No, I don't have the heat up that high to burn fish oil. I just don't like the taste of the skin, especially crisped up. Or especially flaccid. I think that's the reason why so many fishmongers take the skin off in preparation for sale - people do not want it.

                          2. I grew up in the mid west USA and feel comfortable cooking beef, pork or poultry. And do pretty good for the most part.
                            Now I live elsewhere, fish is abundant and I have always loved eating fish. Pure heaven. But I really don't know much about cooking fish so I end up eating out which is not a bad thing.
                            This posting and replies have taught me nothing. Skin down, skin up. Non stick or SS? No Cast iron?
                            The post so far has produced nothing.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: genoO

                              I guess it means people can get great (according to their tastes) results using different methods. I think I won't marinate in the future.

                              1. re: genoO

                                Well give us your best geno0. Did you just fall off the truck? If fish is abundant, you are lucky. Try a few things and report. Many of us have to pay a lot for fish, so I hereby declare you to be our test kitchen.

                                1. re: rudeboy

                                  Yes you are right, I should be more daring to just go ahead and cook the damn fish.
                                  My current excuse is that I have components coming to build a curing box for hams, salami and other dry cured meat. They should arrive with a week or so.
                                  This has been a dream for many years so I am finally going to make the leap.

                                  1. re: genoO

                                    Sounds fun - I love salami and charcuterie as much as I love fish......

                                2. re: genoO

                                  Do you think it would be any different if someone asked "how do you cook beef?" You could do it on the grill, you could do it in a skillet, you could start in a skillet and finish in the oven . . . .

                                  There isn't one way to cook anything.

                                  If you're new to cooking fish, the most "failsafe" method IMO is to cook it in a hot oven/broil. That method works with almost any thickness of fish and any type of fish. It is slow enough to allow you to easily slide it out and see if it is flakey and if not, just slide it back in - so less likely to really overcook the fish. But the method has its limitations if you're trying to get crispy skin - or if you like a crust on the outside of the fish - etc.

                                  Fish isn't "hard" to cook. I think people are overly afraid of cooking it for some reason. Just like the first time you cooked . . . say chicken breasts . . . it took a little trial and error and you may have had to cut into a few before you were sure they were done all the way through.

                                  Don't be afraid of the fish! :D

                                  1. re: genoO

                                    if you have a bbq grill, an easy way is to use a fish basket (literally a wire basket that is thin profile and big enough to hold a fillet / steak / whole fish). then marinate whatever fish you want and throw it on the grill. depends on the fish / crust you want / temperature of the flesh, but you can usually tell when to take it off. iIt's pretty easy and never failed me.

                                  2. It's about high heat. Here's how I do it.

                                    Put a cast iron pan (dry, no oil) in a 475 degree oven and heat the pan for 20 minutes at least.

                                    Rub a bit of olive on fish, and season it.

                                    Take screaming hot pan out of oven, and put it on the stove on high. Put fish flesh side down. Let it smoke and don't worry. Don't touch it for at least 3 minutes. After that time just gently giggle the pan and see if the fish wants to release. If so, you can then flip it over to the skin side (flesh side up).

                                    Do so, and put the pan in the oven and finish it for however long it takes to cook through. You can typically tell on salmon by the side of the piece of fish: if it gets opaque its done or close to done.

                                    1. My experiences - and in comment in part to other posters:

                                      1: If frying is the method of choice, flesh side down first is better for crisp skin. Skin side down first means that when it's flipped, rising steam through the fish de-crisps the skin. Better to do after it's flipped.

                                      2) Also if frying is the method of choice, use plenty of oil, enough to have a layer, not just a film, on the bottom. It doesn't have to be swimming in oil but you need enough that it's not just resting on top of a film. (That you didn't use any oil, and furthermore had a sugary coating, as other posters have noted, is the reason you got sticking)

                                      3) Non-stick is good for easy release, and particularly good if you want to cook the fish gently. But it's not good if you want crisp skin because in the first place you can't heat it nearly as hot, and in the second, the lower heat conductivity of the non-stick coating reduces the heat transfer and hence crisping. (As mentioned by others again, for best heat transfer for crisp skin, cast iron is the pan material of choice)

                                      4) If using cast iron you can use a searing method as opposed to frying; this requires little to no (if the pan has been well seasoned) oil. The skin can be crisp, but in a slightly different, drier way. Same with the flesh. With salmon, I must admit, I'd prefer searing because it's such an oily fish to begin with.

                                      5) You want the pan to be really quite hot; just below the smoke point of your oil. (if frying) For this reason oils with high smoke point are best. Lard and suet are well-known for this property. Some types of sunflower oil (but not all) are also good at high heat. If searing, then you can turn the pan up higher, but most fish doesn't need nearly the heat you might use for a steak (excepting tuna and swordfish).

                                      6) In actual fact, with salmon I find broiling yields the very best results, with crisp skin and flesh tunable to your ideal of doneness. It also tends to cook more evenly. To get it as crisp as in the frypan you do need to put the fish very close to the broiler indeed, but as long as this is done you can indeed get a crisper outside, particularly with salmon, than with any other (indoor) method.

                                      7) Make sure your fishmonger descales your fish. Scaly skin is close to inedible. If they've not, and it's easy to tell because if it has a shiny look and rough feel the scales are still there, you can remove them yourself by scraping forwards from the tail with a sharp, thin-bladed knife; keep it almost parallel with the side of the fish. Scales will fly everywhere, so put down plenty of newspaper to catch them.

                                      2 Replies
                                        1. re: AlexRast

                                          Re scaling: Jacques Pepin demonstrated, in one of his shows, working inside a clear plastic bag, in the kitchen sink. It virtually eliminates flying scales, though you must have bare forearms as you'll be rinsing scales off them! The side of a metal soup/serving spoon is also a good scaling tool. The concave face of the spoon faces the same direction as you are moving your hand.

                                        2. I like crisp skinned salmon, but my wife does not eat fish skin. I developed a method that suits us both. I spray my cast iron pan with spray oil for grilling (can I say Pam?) and heat it on the burner. I put the salmon in when the pan is hot, skin side down. After half the fish is half cooked, I move the pan to the broiler and cook the top. I then cut the piece in half with a spatula. My wife's half is served skinless by slipping the spatula under the fish, above the skin, and my piece comes off the pan easily with the spatula below the skin. Plus I get the skin my wife won't eat!

                                          1. There is nothing mystical about cooking fish. All you need to do is heat it to a desired temperature by any method, pan fry, grill, bake, poach. It's not unlike cooking chicken, just more delicate. I think most everyone would agree the biggest sin is overcooking fish. Now that it is trendy many restaurants serve fish what used to be considered undercooked. I prefer most fish that is just opaque with tuna and salmon being the exceptions. The key is to plan for "carry over" cooking by removing the fish from the heat before it cooked to your desired temperature and letting the heat internalize for a few minutes.

                                            1. Wow! A lot of great suggestions here since I first posted 2 days ago...All to help Walker make a piece of King Salmon..."My compliments to all of the chefs herein"!

                                              1. Have you tried that non-stick foil they sell these days? It's a bit pricey, but it works really well - especially for stuff that's got sugars in it, such as marinades and dry rubs. I would have suggested just broiling the fish on a baking sheet lined with the non-stick foil.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Atomic76

                                                  Yes, I have some of that foil; I used it for baking marinated chicken wings. So, if I broil the fish, do I turn it over to do both sides?

                                                  1. re: walker

                                                    Thin, no. Thick enough to turn without breaking, optional.