I Tried This Viral Hack for Crispy Fish Skin and Was Shocked by the Results

published Apr 13, 2023
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skillet salmon on a plate
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling; Jesse Szewczyk

The difference between a memorable restaurant meal and bland homemade attempt usually boils down to the most minor technique. Restaurant chefs make smart, yet subtle choices in the kitchen that make all the difference — like when Gordon Ramsay adds butter to the oil when sautéeing a cutlet for chicken Parmesan or Alex Guarnaschelli sprinkles a stick of butter with coarse salt and cracked black pepper to easily upgrade the bread basket. 

ChefSteps recently shared a video that showed cooking a fish fillet on top of a piece of parchment paper in a pan on the stovetop. Could this technique change the way I cooked fish forever? I tested it to find out. 

How to Use Parchment Paper for Perfectly Crisp Fish Skin  

The ChefSteps Instagram Reel doesn’t go into detail, but here are the basic steps for this hack. Place a raw fillet of fish on a piece of parchment paper. Use a knife or kitchen shears to cut the paper slightly larger than the fillet. Remove the fish from the parchment paper. Add the parchment paper to a pan then pour oil on top and heat the pan. Season the fish fillet, including the skin, and place skin-side down on the parchment paper. Cook until the skin is browned and crisp, moving around the pan as needed to avoid hot spots. Flip the fish and continue to cook until the fish is done. 

Credit: Patty Catalano

My Honest Review of the Parchment Paper Hack for Crispy Fish Skin

Perfectly cooked fish comes down to the contrast of textures. Though not every fish is sold skin-on, that is always my preference. The fish should be just cooked through, moist and flaky, and juxtaposed with a thin, crispy, salty layer of skin. I was so impressed with this technique because it was a simple way to tweak my technique to get a perfectly delicious piece of fish.

When sautéing a piece of protein, whether it is a chicken breast or a fillet of fish, I let the food tell me when it is ready to flip, patiently waiting for a crust to develop and naturally release from the pan before attempting to turn it over. Tearing and sticking is inevitable if the process is rushed. Since fish fillets are often thinner and more delicate, the heat level needs to be just right for a natural release to occur without burning the skin or overcooking the fillet. But even if you get it right and you’re cooking with an adequate amount of oil, fish skin is prone to sticking. Parchment paper solves this problem. 

This hack is simple to try since it requires just a small piece of parchment paper. Parchment paper is a heat- and grease-resistant paper that is often used to line baking sheets or to cook en papillotte. Parchment paper won’t absorb the oil in the sauté pan or stick to the fish. It allows contact between oil and the fish that allows the skin to become extra crispy without any direct contact with the pan. 

Credit: Patty Catalano

If You’re Using Parchment Paper for Crispy Fish Skin, a Few Tips 

  • Make sure to use parchment paper, not wax paper. While both parchment and wax paper are used in the kitchen, wax paper is not suited for tasks where heat is applied.
  • Cut parchment paper slightly larger than the fish fillet. A parchment paper border around the fish fillet provides space for you to move the fish around the pan without damaging the delicate flesh.