As most people around the world are now aware, fish is a beautifully healthy and nutritious food item. There are plenty of reasons to start adding fish to your diet if you haven’t already, but what about consuming the skin of the fish? Curiosity over the consumption of the skin usually starts when you order a fish at a restaurant, and it is served with the skin on unbeknownst to you. Maybe you were adventurous, and you went right in for it. Cheers to you, I like your spirit. Hopefully your taste buds were rewarded. But maybe you were timid, and were apprehensive that the skin would ruin your meal, so you picked at the flesh, ignoring the real jewel. Now before we go any further, I know that opinion is opinion and I know that some people will never eat the skin of the fish, regardless of this article or not. But I also know there are people who would like to try new things, and maybe this will push them to do so, which is all I can try to do.
The real key to eating a fish with the skin on is the freshness of the fish. Between the skin of the fish and the meat there is usually a layer of fat and a layer of oil. To anyone who has had to swallow fish oil pills, you know how potent fish oil is. The freshness of the fish determines how potent that taste is. I always tell my customers, fat is the part of the fish that is delicious, just like the best part of a good steak is the fat. Fatty sections of fish will give a very savory taste. The oil is the part of the fish that gives it that classic “fishy” taste. There are oilier species of fish such as bluefish, kingfish, mackerel, later-season striped bass, sardines, anchovies and tuna and swordfish. Most of these species are characterized by a darker hue of meat, swordfish and striped bass being some of the exceptions. There are many people who love this oilier fish, and some who cannot stand the scent of it. If you are eating one of these species of fish, you may want to avoid eating the skin just because of the sheer strength of the oils in these fish. Fish like the tuna and the swordfish have very thick skin due to their size, and it is very unpalatable. But mackerel. sardines, and fresh striped bass are typically oilier fish with edible and very flavorful skin.
Less oily (tasting) species such as branzino, hake, charr, salmon, red snapper, flounder and other lighter colored fish tend to have flavors that are much more mild. The skin on some of these mild fish are not just enjoyable, but when prepared correctly can be downright mouth watering. The skin on these fish is usually thinner, and it tends to be easy to get mild fish at a higher freshness level than some oilier fish.
Usually when a customer has had a bad experience with fish skin, it was because the piece of fish they used was previously frozen. Because the freshness of the piece of fish is paramount to the taste of the skin, I typically only eat the skin on fresh (never frozen) fish. Fresh salmon can be grilled or seared skin side down in butter or oil to crisp it to an almost bacon consistency. Flip the salmon steak or filet once more to brown the meat side before serving. Strips of belly fat from salmon can be broiled or fried like bacon into a wonderful breakfast treat served over a sweet and russet potato hash and an over easy egg. Branzino can be scored, and the incisions filled with a tapanade of olives, capers and anchovies and roasted or broiled skin side up until golden brown and crispy. There are many possibilities for the skin of your fish, and don’t be afraid to try!!
All species of fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to increase heart health, and may even regulate hearts with conditions of irregular rhythms. Findings from Harvard Health Publishing in 2005 said it may “reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes, mental decline and prostate cancer.” Fish oil is also very beneficial for joint pain and arthritis, inflammation, hair and scalp health, and more. Most of the Omega-3 fats are found right below the skin, so consuming that part of the fish is very beneficial to your health. The only downside to consumption of fish skin seems to be slightly higher levels of pollutants in the fat right below the skin. PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are chemicals produced in laboratories that aid in machinery in the industrial fields, and have been shown in farmed salmon skin and fat at a rate much higher than wild salmon.
So whether you indulge in some fresh fish skin the next time you have the opportunity is entirely up to you. Fish skin is perfectly safe to eat, and when prepared properly is actually quite pleasant. Remember that fish skin tastes best when freshest, and thinner skin works best for eating. Crisp the skin under the broiler or on the grill. Try with branzino, red snapper, or black sea bass for a delicious twist to your next seafood meal. It’s not just for the dog!