There are two schools of thought on the best way to prepare salmon, one that says it’s better skin side down and the other that says it’s better skin side up. Which is correct?
First, you should decide whether to keep the skin on in the first place – this depends on which cooking method you use. Baking salmon? You’ll want to read our article on whether to keep the skin on at all!
If you pan fry the salmon then keeping the skin on makes perfect sense – not only does this lock in all of those wonderful juices but it also prevents your fillet from falling apart during cooking. Plus you can get it crispy!
So should salmon be cooked side up or side down?
The answer depends on three things: the thickness of your salmon, whether you are cooking in a frying pan or baking it, and what else is going into your meal.
When to Cook Salmon Skin Side Down
Side down: Best for Pan Frying or BBQ
If you want crispy skin, then cooking salmon with the skin side down for the majority of the cooking time will give you crispier results. This works best if you’re pan-frying it.
If your salmon fillet is particularly thick, or is cut into steaks rather than fillets, then you should flip it to skin side up right at the end. Towards the end of your cooking time, flip the fish skin side up for a few minutes to color and seal it and let the residual heat cook the other side of the fish.
Keeping the fish skin side down for the majority of the cooking time helps prevent overcooking as well, since the skin acts as a barrier to the high heat of the pan. It’s a natural heat diffuser!
On a BBQ or grill, you should flip the fish halfway, but keeping it skin side down at the start will help keep the fish in one piece before the midway flip. If you’re using a lid on your BBQ or grill, there’s no need to flip at all.
When to Cook Salmon Skin Side Up
Side up: best for baking or broiling
If you’re baking salmon and you want moist flesh, then flipping over so the top of the fish skin is exposed to heat will help seal in moisture more effectively. Since the oven will (usually) bake the fish evenly, there won’t be any hot spots.
This doesn’t work as well when you’re using thinner cuts of salmon because they tend to dry out faster. If you have thin pieces of salmon, which side up it is won’t really matter, but skin side up might end up being more moist.
This is because the majority of the fat in salmon is next to the skin. When the fish cooks, the fat melts and seeps down into it – this can make your flesh more moist and tender. Bear in mind, though, that baked salmon skin will never get crispy – though it will make the flesh moist.
If you’re putting salmon under a broiler then sometimes it’s best skin side up. Otherwise, the flesh may burn or overcook before the rest of the fish has had its chance to cook through.
In conclusion, skin side up is best for more even-heat methods like baking, broiling or for keeping the fish in one piece on a grill. Skin side down is the go-to method for a fillet that you’re pan-frying.
All of these methods are delicious and entirely down to personal preference in the end. What’s most important is that you don’t overcook the salmon!