Salmon Skin Scales: Can You Eat or Cook Them?

Waste not, want not, right? You might be wondering if you really need to hack away the scales on some fresh salmon. You don’t need to remove the scales on salmon, but depending on how …

Waste not, want not, right? You might be wondering if you really need to hack away the scales on some fresh salmon.

You don’t need to remove the scales on salmon, but depending on how you cook your fish, it could be best to get rid of them. As long as your fish is clean, there’s no reason why you have to remove them.

We’ll guide you through when to keep the scales on your salmon, and the best way to enjoy it. 

Can You Eat Salmon Skin With Scales?

You can eat salmon with the scales on it.

If you buy fresh salmon from a fishmonger you might not feel like removing them.  Many people like the texture of the smaller scales, but the big ones can be a little unpleasant for some. As long as the salmon is fresh and clean, the only reason you would need to remove them would be depending on personal taste or your preferred cooking method.

In fact, the scales could have some additional health benefits. Studies have suggested that the mucosal layer within the skin contains additional protein (source: Molecular Biosystems).

Fish scales also contain collagen (source: SpringerLink). This type of protein can help to build strength and muscle mass (source: The British Journal of Nutrition).

Collagen is best known for its purported skincare benefits, as it’s believed to help keep aging skin youthful and elastic (source: JDD). Consuming collagen has also been linked with maintaining strong healthy joints and bones (source: Nutrients).

fresh salmon with scales in the market

Does Salmon Skin Always Have Scales?

Salmon skin does not always have the scales, but more often than not, it will still be scaly when you buy it.

Generally, if you buy your salmon in a supermarket, it will probably have been descaled already – especially if you’re buying salmon fillets, rather than the whole fish. A wholesaler or fishmonger will probably leave the scales on. 

Do You Have to Scale Salmon Skin?

You don’t have to remove the scales on your salmon. Most of the time, salmon scales are so small, you’ll hardly notice them when cooked. But, they can be pretty easy to take off after the cooking process. Once cooked, the skin can just be peeled off.

Whether they stay on or not can depend on the cooking method. Anecdotally, people seem to find that when frying salmon, if the scales are still on, it will not get crispy. It’s also best to remove the scales if boiling or steaming your salmon for the same reason. The skin and scales can become soggy, which is unpleasant. 

If you’re baking the salmon, it doesn’t matter. As for sushi, it’s pretty much unheard of to leave the scales on. Salmon sushi is typically served as nigiri (which is a thin slice of raw salmon over some rice), or in a roll. In both cases, the fish has been cut up small and is completely skin and scale-free. 

fresh salmon fillets grilled in a pan

Can You Fry or Cook Salmon Skin with Scales On?

You can technically fry salmon with the scales on, but it doesn’t seem to yield the best results if you want crispy skin.

While the skin is great for helping to keep your fish intact and moist, the scales – especially the larger ones – can impact how long it takes for the heat to travel through the fish, or as mentioned earlier, the cooking oil can just make it soggy. 

With that said, some people will cut their salmon into fillets where the skin and the scales are around the edges of the fillet, rather than on the top or bottom. This way, you can enjoy crispy fried or grilled salmon with the scales and skin intact. 

Alternatively, you can bake or broil salmon with the scales on. It doesn’t seem to matter as much in this instance as the goal is to have the fish nice and tender. The lack of oil should prevent it from getting soggy too, if it is being cooked scale side up.

If you don’t like the scales (or the skin) it’s much easier to peel it off at this stage, rather than attempting to descale it raw. 

I hope this helped you determine the best way to cook salmon with scales!