Lauraine Jacobs

Food & Wine Writer

Lauraine’s blog

1 June 2020

SKIN PLEASE

If there’s one mystery about delicious fresh fish, it’s the inability of the industry and retailers to offer fish fillets with the fish skin attached.

I’m extremely lucky as much of the fish I get to cook is fresh catch delivered to my kitchen by my very keen fishing husband. He’s been hard done by over the past eight weeks of lockdown as there was the largest sequence of perfect fishing days in row in living memory. He’d high hopes that some sensible rules would be set in place, such as two boats venturing out side by side, keeping close to the shore, in calm waters with perfect weather, would have been allowed. But no, rules are rules, and all he could do longingly was gaze at the balmy calm seas.

There have, however, been just two ideal fishing days since he’s been allowed back on the water and yesterday he returned with four medium sized snapper and a kahawai. He scales and fillets his fish neatly, always leaving the skin attached. Those snapper will last us for a few days, and will also feed others.

Immediately I seized the kahawai fillets and smoked them. Friends came over and devoured half of this savoury, tasty fish while it was still warm and juicy – a simple snack. All that’s needed is a quick and liberal coating of sugar and salt, ten minutes in a little portable smoker and then some accompanying mayonnaise with a teaspoon of wasabi paste stirred through. Serve with hot toast. The remainder I made into smoked fish cakes.

But back to the skin on fish. By keeping the skin on any fish, the flavour and moisture are retained in the cooking process, and if it’s a slightly fatty fish, the thin fat layer between the skin and the flesh melts and enhances flavour too.

If I purchase fish it’s generally in the supermarket and apart from John Dory fillets and whole flounder, I have yet to find any other fish offered with skin on. I ask, and I ask, and I ask, but to date it’s made no difference. It can’t be that hard. The skin must be cooked to a crisp for best results. The photo above is not particularly attractive, but serves to illustrate just how to pan fry fresh fish.

Dust the fish fillets very lightly with flour on both the upper side and the skin, shaking all excess off. Add a little salt and pepper. Heat the frying pan with both good olive oil and a knob of butter until hot. Place the fish fillets, skin side down and cook for three to four minutes until the skin is crisp and golden and opaque around the edges. Flip the fillets carefully with a fish slice and immediately turn off the heat if you’re cooking on a gas hob, or remove the pan from the element. It will cook enough to be almost rare but truly delicious, and importantly, still very moist.

Have everything else ready, place the fish on a warmed plate and serve at once. And please start asking for your fish supplier to LEAVE THE FISH SKIN ON THE FILLETS!