Pan-searing to achieve a crispy skin is one of the most delicious and quick ways to cook a piece of a fish! To nail shatteringly crunchy skin every time, you just need dry skin, hot oil and press down lightly to help the skin contact heat as it cooks. I’m making a Crispy Skin Barramundi today, but this recipe can be used for any fish with skin that goes crispy.
Crispy Skin Barramundi (or other fish!)
Barramundi is one of Australia’s favourite fish. It’s loved over here for its meaty, juicy flesh and its wonderful skin, which crisps up to form a fantastic glass-like sheet of golden fish crackling when cooked properly.
It helps that barramundi is available everywhere these days such as all the mainstream grocery stores, and is one of the better value fish around. Of course, as with any seafood, fresher and better quality fish costs more but is always worth it!
Today, I’m sharing a recipe for how to cook barramundi with crispy skin. But the method applied in this recipe will work for any fish with skin that will go crispy (no, not all fish gets crispy skin!).
What you need to cook fish with crispy skin
Fish, oil, salt and pepper!
Fish fillets with the skin on – Yes, shocking, I know, we need fish fillets with the skin on! 😂 It should come pin boned (ie. all bones removed including the tiny ones along the lateral line), scaled, clean and ready to cook. This work is why we pay a premium for fish fillets at seafood shops, compared to buying a whole fish that we have to clean and fillet ourselves!
As mentioned above, I’m using barramundi today. For other fish, see the list here: Fish With Skin That Goes Crispy. That page also includes a list of fish that will not go crispy.
Olive oil, or other cooking oil of choice.
Anybody who tries to tell you that crispy skin is possible with butter is lying to you because butter is ~15% water, which stops the skin from going crispy. Ghee and clarified butter, on the other hand, is another story and makes a wonderfully flavoured cooking fat for fish!
Salt and pepper – Not just for seasoning, the salt also helps the skin go crispy due to its dessicating effect.
How to make fish skin crispy
Dry skin. Hot oil. Put fish in pan skin side down. Press down lightly to make the skin seal. Easy, right?
Note: If you’re cooking salmon, use this recipe instead: Crispy Skin Salmon.
Dry skin – Pat skin dry with a paper towel or clean tea towels. The drier the skin, the better the crisping. Crispy anything doesn’t like moisture because the moisture has to evaporate first before crispiness can start to happen, which takes a lot of energy.
Slit skin (recommended for thick fillets) – A recommended but not critical step to ensure more even cooking of the flesh and skin, is to cut some shallow slits in the skin. This also helps prevent skin curling and shrinking away from the sides which is a common pitfall people experience when cooking fish.
This is particularly recommended for thick fillets, such as the barramundi pictured in post.
Skin scoring is a recommended rather than must-do step because experienced cooks can likely cook almost any fish just as well without without slitting the skin. But for less experienced cooks, it definitely does help with more even cooking.
How to score fish skin – With the fish flesh side down, use your fingers to squeeze the thick “hump” of the fish fillet to tighten the skin. This makes it easier to cut the slit.
Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the skin, as follows:
– 4 cm long, 1 cm apart, 3 mm deep (1.6″ long, 0.4″ apart, 0.1″ deep)
– Cut through the skin and a tiny bit into the flesh. Don’t worry, slits will not cause the fish to lose moisture and dry out!
Season fish – Sprinkle both the flesh and skin side with salt and pepper just before cooking. Don’t season the fish ahead of cooking as it will draw moisture out of the fish skin, making it wet → compromises crispiness!
Hot oil and a light press – Heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Look for shimmering oil and little wisps of smoke as a sign it’s hot enough. As soon as you see them, place the barramundi fillets in skin side down.
Using an eggflip or spatula (flexible is best), press down lightly on the fish for 10 seconds. This forces the entire skin to contact the pan’s heat, which will soon “set” the skin and flesh benath, preventing the fillet from curling and thus promoting even cooking of the skin.
Cook skin 2 to 3 minutes until lightly crispy – Cook the fish skin side down until it’s light golden and quite crispy (lift up to peek). For this barramundi, we will finish cooking in the oven during which time the skin will get fully crispy.
Oven 10 minutes for THICK fillets – For thick fillets, transfer the fish to the oven in the skillet. Do not flip, leave the fish skin side down.
For thin fillets, just turn the fish and cook the flesh side in the pan.
General note – I don’t finish crispy skin salmon in the oven because it’s served medium-rare (50°C/122°F) as well being an oily fish which means it’s more forgiving. But for other fish, we target a slightly higher internal temperature so it’s best to finish in the oven so it cooks through more evenly.
Remove from oven – Cook the fish in the oven for 10 minutes or until the internal temperature is 55°C / 131°F at the thickest point. This is when the fish is fully cooked but at optimal juiciness. If you don’t have a meat thermometer (but you should, it’s the 20th century! I use a Thermapen), check to see if the flesh flakes easily.
Rest 3 minutes – Place the barramundi on a rack skin side up to rest for 3 minutes. Resting allows the juices in the barramundi to redistribute throughout the flesh so it’s juicier when eating. If you skip the rest, the juices will run everywhere when you cut into it rather than staying in the flesh and ending up in your mouth … sad!
Resting done, time to eat! See below for suggestions for sides.
What and how to serve with Crispy Skin Fish
There’s two big rules here:
Always serve crispy skin fish with the skin side up; and
Only sauce it just before serving! Fish skin is actually quite delicate, it won’t hold crispiness for as long as, say, crispy baked chicken or chicken wings.
I like to serve crispy skin fish with “saucy” sides that do double duty as a sauce and side dish. And sometimes, they cover my starch + vegetable quota too, such as the Lentil Ragout pictured throughout this post!
French Lentil Ragout (as pictured in post)
Easy no-stir Lemon Herb Risotto (as pictured in post)
Pea Puree – vibrant green colour looks terrific against the fish!
Creamy mashed cauliflower – Very fine dining restaurant worthy. Blitz thoroughly to get it as smooth as possible. You could even pass it through a fine mesh strainer!
Sauces for Crispy Skin Fish
And here is a selection of sauces for fish
Lemon butter for fish (Beurre noisette)
Lemon Cream Sauce (use slider to scale recipe down)
Dill Garlic Herb Sauce* for fish (scale recipe down)
* Make these in the same pan while the fish is resting.
If you try this recipe, tell us what you made in the comments section below! What fish you used, what sides and what sauce. Other readers love getting new ideas – as do I! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
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Crispy Skin Fish
- 180g/6oz x 2 barramundi or other fish fillets , skin on, pin boned (Note 1)
- 2 tbsp olive oil (or vegetable, canola or grapeseed oil)
- 3/4 tsp cooking/kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt, Note 2)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Sauces and sides – see Note 7 below
- Thick Fillets definition: Fish > 2.5cm / 1" thick at the thickest point. Best finished in the oven. (Note 3)
- Pan type: Non-stick pan, an oven proof one if you have Thick Fillets. (Note 4)
- Preheat oven (for Thick Fillets): Preheat oven to 200°C/390°F (180°C fan).
- Dry skin: Pat skin dry with paper towels. For extra precaution, leave the fish fillets in the fridge skin side up, uncovered, for an hour. (I rarely do this)
- Scoring skin (Note 5): For Thick Fillets, score the skin by cutting slashes into the skin as pictured in post. 4cm slashes 1cm apart, 2 – 3mm deep, through the skin and ever so slightly into the flesh (1.6" long, 0.4" apart, 0.1" deep)
- Season fish: Sprinkle the flesh and skin with the salt and pepper just before cooking.
- Heat oil well: Heat oil in a non stick pan over medium high heat until you see the first small wisps of smoke.
- Press fish down: Place one fillet into the pan skin side down, then use your fingers or spatula to press down lightly for 10 seconds to allow the skin to seal flat against the hot surface. Repeat with the other fillet (PROS: Do both at the same time!).
- Cook skin 2 – 3 minutes: Cook the skin side for 2 to 3 minutes until it's crispy in the centre and golden. Lift up to check.
- Transfer Thick Fillets to oven: Transfer to oven for 10 minutes (do not flip, keep skin side still down – goes crispier!) or until the internal temperature is 55°C/131°F. (Note 6)
- Thin fillets: Turn and cook the flesh side in the pan.
- Rest 3 minutes: Transfer fish to a rack with the skin side UP. Rest for 3 minutes.
- Serving: To serve, place on a plate skin side UP. Do not pour sauce on the skin until just before serving else it will soften the fish skin. See ingredients above for suggested sauces and sides!
- Barramundi – as used in this recipe
- Blue eye cod / trevalla
- Ocean perch
- Orange roughy
- See Bass
- Salmon – see Crispy Skin Salmon recipe
- Trout – Ocean trout and river trout
- French Lentil Ragout (as pictured in post)
- Easy no-stir Lemon Herb Risotto (as pictured in post)
- Pea Puree – vibrant green colour looks terrific against the fish!
- Creamy mashed cauliflower
- Creamy white wine sauce*
- Bearnaise Sauce
- Garlic butter for fish*
- Lemon butter for fish (Beurre noisette)
- Lemon Cream Sauce (scale recipe down)
Love fish as much as I do? Here you go!
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