Skin-On Stunners

Marilyn HawkesSeptember 1, 2018
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Once a throwaway item, fish skin is transformed into a crispy, craveable condiment by innovative Valley chefs.

1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Nothing about the slippery texture and viscous mouth-feel of fish skin is a turn-on. But ever since sushi chefs started experimenting with crispy-skin salmon rolls in the 1990s, Americans have been more willing to view it as a flavor-packed accompaniment, Match Restaurant & Lounge chef Alex Stratta says. To that end, he serves crispy-skin sea bass ($29, pictured) sautéed and finished in Match’s wood-fire oven. The secret to a crisp crust is to pan-fry the fish slowly – in this case, with butter, fresh thyme and garlic – and resist the temptation to flip it, resulting in a fall-apart tender filet with crunchy, edible skin. “There’s a little layer of fat between the skin and the meat that imparts a nice flavor,” he says. Stratta offers a selection of sauces on the side to complement the fish, but he prefers just a splash of olive oil and fresh lemon.

Pig & Pickle
2922 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
480- 990-1407,
At Pig & Pickle, chef/owner Keenan Bosworth cooks crispy-skin trout ($24) on a flat-top grill with butter and oil and a sprinkle of salt. The princely portion of pink-fleshed trout (sourced from local Chula Seafood) sits atop a slope of tangy Israeli couscous salad scattered with cherry tomatoes dressed in lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and a generous drizzle of garlic-lemon tahini sauce. The brittle, smoky skin paired with the delicate and earthy pink flesh is a blissful clash of textures and tastes. Bosworth encourages his customers to eat the crusty casing, but only about half do. “The public is getting more comfortable and trusting with [skin],” he says. Bosworth, meanwhile, is a diehard fan: “I love trout skin.”

The Canal Club at The Scott Resort & Spa
4925 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale
Another reason to savor the skin: Some varieties are high in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including The Canal Club’s deliciously rustic crispy-skin salmon ($29). Executive chef Chris Castro sautés prime Scottish salmon skin-down in olive oil to achieve a flaky layer and then finishes the fish in the oven. He plates the fish on a mound of Peruvian potato hash – a delightful mix of flash-fried purple potato cubes, bell pepper and onions seasoned simply with salt and pepper – and tops it with Champagne-infused chipotle butter strewn with delicate chile threads that look like spun sugar. Most diners savor the crackling skin once they find out it’s edible, Castro says. “I rarely see any come back on an empty plate.”

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