Weeknight Cooking

Russ Parsons' Crisp-Skinned Salmon

May 22, 2014

Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: A weeknight salmon recipe with a secret trick (and the crispiest skin).  

Shop the Story

The life cycle of a salmon is the sort of incredible, Upworthy-ready story that you find in picture books, not textbooks: a fish that survives in fresh and saltwater; that commutes home against a raging current; that somehow returns, guided by a mere memory of a smell, to its natal home to give birth. This is more than a story. It’s mythology.

But like all heroes, salmon has a tragic flaw: It is pink. (Or according to the literal minds at Pantone, it is salmon.) It is cute. And as with everything we find cute, we have mauled it to death. 

I will not argue that salmon is not uniquely delicious -- that fat, that mouthfeel -- but I will argue that it has been uniquely victimized by its hue. This is especially true of our heartless children, for whom salmon is always that red fish. My children are irredeemably child-like and so they love salmon, and I confess to always feeling vaguely disappointed by this love, the way parents sometimes feel when the dreaded Princess Phase begins. Really, I think, despite myself: You have to like the pink fish the most? You fell for that? I am raising a couple of suckers. 

What do I want? This is America: I want competition. Couldn’t bluefish be more blue? Is that too much to ask? 

But as Donald Rumsfeld famously said, you go to dinner with the fish you have, not the fish you might want or wish to have at a later time.

So here we are, alone with our defrosted salmon. Which is sustainably caught, if only for reasons of Rawlsian fairness: Life as a salmon is hard enough already. It would be unjust to rig the odds against salmon any more than they are already rigged. You’d think leaping up waterfalls would be enough, really. 

You know that this column is not long on weeknight dinner tips. On the other hand, it is long on being really unsure what to have for weeknight dinner, which sometimes means that the column ends up feeding its children stale toast points for dinner. (Bonus points: If you dip them in milk, you have two courses.) Which is totally a weeknight dinner tip, now that I think of it. 

But that’s the recipe for the next column. (Check back!) For this week, we have an actual shiny, beribboned, weeknight dinner hack and it is this: Squeegee your salmon. 

Really. I blame Russ Parsons, who in turn blames Thomas Keller. Here’s the thing: You take your salmon fillet and a chef’s knife, and with the dull side of the knife, you squeegee the skin, running the knife firmly along it until moisture appears, wiping off the moisture, repeating until the moisture no longer appears. You now have a salmon with skin that is about to be extremely crispy. And perfectly cooked, once cooked how Parsons advises: hot pan, vegetable oil, skin side-down, until the flesh lightens a third of the way up -- then flipped it and taken off the heat. That’s it. 

This comes from Parsons’s How to Read a French Fry and I’ve included the recipe he serves it with, a luxurious leek-cabbage side. (The leeks are not squeegeed. Sorry.) It’s fantastic, but more time-consuming. Consider saving it for the weekend. But squeegee your salmon tonight. 

Russ Parsons' Crisp Skinned Salmon (Plus Creamy Leeks and Cabbage)

Serves 4

The Salmon

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

The Creamy Leeks and Cabbage

2 large leeks
1 cabbage (roughly 3 pounds)
1 slice of bacon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup whipping cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.  

Photos by Mark Weinberg 

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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    Nicholas Day
I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


Chef D. November 22, 2015
looks good
Rebecca June 3, 2015
You, sir, are a fabulous writer. For that I must hunt down all your recipes.
Scott C. May 29, 2014
I tried Parson's salmon-squeegie trick last night and it worked like a dream. Fantastic, crispy skin, exactly has advertised.
Marian B. May 22, 2014
The coolest part about the salmon lifecycle is the bit where they reenter fresh water and immediately start decomposing, even before the women lay their eggs. And then there are just salmon carcasses everywhere! Which smell bad but get absorbed by the soil! (Why didn't you write about the decaying carcasses? Wouldn't that help to sell the recipe?)
Nicholas D. May 23, 2014
I love this so much. There's so much good material! I had to cut myself off. Also, I got distracted thinking up Upworthy-style headlines for the salmon lifecycle. (This Fish Was Ready to Die. What It Did Next Will Amaze You.)
Nicholas D. May 23, 2014
Also, the thought of those delicious decaying carcasses made me think of surströmming, which made me think of what would surely be the best contest ever: Your Best Recipe with Surströmming. Am I right or am I right?
Marian B. May 23, 2014
You know, I've identified as a vegetarian for about 3 years now, but I think that Surströmming might be just the thing to turn me back.
Nicholas D. May 24, 2014
It's the new bacon.