Learning how to skin salmon fillets (or those of any fish) is a basic and useful skill. It will save you money at the fish market and build your kitchen confidence. And it only takes seconds!
A fish fillet is the cut taken down the length of the fish and therefore has a large piece of skin attached. Whereas a steak is a crosswise cut, either taken across the whole fish or across the loin (the big meaty section) of very large fish, like tuna.
Reasons to remove the skin yourself
- The skin of salmon is thick and tough compared to fish such as snapper or bronzini. Many people (like myself) don’t find it appetizing.
- There is usually at least a $1 per pound upcharge on skinned salmon. Here I have purchased 3 1/2 lbs. of Steelhead fillets at $6.99/lb. By skinning it myself I’ve saved $3.50 – I can buy another half pound of salmon for that savings!
- Build your culinary skill set. You can do it!
How to Skin Salmon Fillets
You need a sharp knife whose blade is as long or longer than the fish is wide. I’m using a flexible boning knife today. If you’re in need of a flexible knife, I love this Victorinox Boning Knife. It holds an edge better than more costly knives.
It also helps to have a cutting board as long as your fish, but you can do this directly on a clean countertop. Position the fish close to you on the board with the tail (narrow end) of the fillet opposite your dominant hand (if you’re right-handed, the tail should be to the left.) Move the board to the edge of the counter.
Some salmon has a very thin flange of flesh that runs along part of the long uneven edge. I like to remove that because it can dry out very quickly when cooking. Don’t get rid of it though, it’s very tasty! I simply cook it up separately.
Firmly grip the tail of the salmon using a dry paper towel. It’s very slippery and the towel allows you to have a stable hold.
Hold your knife so the handle is clear of the counter. This allows you to keep your knife perfectly level with the board without the bulk of your hand angling the blade. Do a pretend cut to make sure your fish, hand and knife are positioned properly.
About an inch in, angle the knife away from the tail and make a cut into the flesh to, but not through, the skin.
Once you start cutting, don’t stop!
A two-part maneuver
While still holding the tail, cut swiftly between the flesh and skin of the fillet while pulling on that tail. The tension on the tail makes the cutting much easier!
Watch your knife, making sure it’s level. Tilting upward will cut into the flesh, downward will cut into the skin. Level gets the job done right.
Pull on that skin! DON’T STOP CUTTING! Use one fluid continuous cut from beginning to end.
Follow through the end of the fillet until the knife is free and clear – all while still pulling the skin. When it’s free, you can pull it completely out with ease.
Ta da! The skinning only takes about 10-15 seconds total. Not too shabby!
Now the fillets are ready for cooking or portioning and freezing. Here you can see I even removed the little bites from the tail piece I was holding.
Here’s a video so you can see just how simple it really is.
- Sharp knife
- Position the fish close to the front edge of the board
- Hold the tail with a paper towel
- 1″ from the tail, cut to but not through the skin
- Keep your knife level with its handle off the counter edge
- Pull on that tail!
- One fluid cutting motion all the way through
How about a yummy salmon recipe? Here’s my Salmon Cream Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers. A family favorite!
How to Skin Salmon
- Long, thin bladed sharp knife.
- Select a sharp knife with a blade as long or longer than your fillet is wide. Position the fillet on your cutting board with the tail (narrow end) of the fillet opposite your dominant hand (if you're right handed, tail on the left.) Put the fish close to the edge of the board and the board at the edge of the counter.
- Some salmon fillets have a very thin flange of flesh that runs along the long uneven side. You might want to cut it off in about a 1" strip because it can dry out very quickly when cooking. Don't get rid of it though, it's very tasty! Simply cook it separately or for much less time.
- Firmly grip the tail of the fillet using a dry paper towel. It's very slippery and the towel allows you to have a stable hold. You'll be using one fluid cutting motion to cut between the flesh and skin, pulling on the tail the entire time.
- Position your knife so the handle and your hand are clear of the counter. This allows you to keep your knife blade perfectly level with the board while cutting down the length of the fillet without the bulk of your hand forcing the blade upward or downward.
- Hold the blade vertically, but angled toward the fillet. While holding the tail with the paper towel, make a cut about 1" inward from the end of the tail, through the flesh and to, but not through, the skin. Don't remove the knife, but move it forward, while flattening it level in between the flesh and skin. Still pulling on the tail and keeping your blade level, cut swiftly and smoothly between the flesh and the skin of the fillet. Don't stop once you start. Follow through until the cut is complete and the blade is free and out the wide end of the fillet.
- Pull out the skin. Your fillet is now ready for cooking or portioning.
- Do a pretend cut to make sure your fish, hand and knife are positioned properly
- Keep that knife blade level
- Once you start, don’t stop
- The whole thing only takes about 10 seconds or so