TASTE

Why You Should Celebrate, Not Fear, Crispy Skin

03/12/2015 07:00 am ET

Crispy chicken skin is one of life's most delicious delicacies, second only to crispy duck skin. If you're guilty of throwing away skin when you cook dinner, it's time to change course. Whether you're searing salmon, baking chicken, roasting pork or especially if you're preparing a whole duck, don't throw away the skin. Instead, use it to upgrade your dish to restaurant-level quality, or create a snack or appetizer that will put your potato chips to shame. Think about it as the most decadent way to combat food waste.

Restaurants the world over are onto the merits of skin. It's a common sight on top of any meat, whether it's Peking duck or crispy pork belly. Restaurants are serving the stuff by itself, too. Chicago's Yusho offers a skin trio as an appetizer or side, and Min Jiang in London serves crispy duck skin alongside a bowl of sugar meant for dipping. It's the most elegant munchies food on the planet (or at least on that side of London). New York's King Bee serves an unbelievable pork cracklings appetizer (also known as pork rinds -- it's all skin) with peanuts, cane caramel and malt vinegar powder. The cracklings come in a paper bag, which you'll be shaking upside down for crumbs.

Still hesitant to stick with the skin? Your fears and perhaps even disgust are understandable. As awesome as crispy chicken skin is, it is totally gross in its raw, bumpy form. Prepared correctly, however, it's glorious. Here's how to get skin that you'll actually want to eat.

  • Chicken
    nitrub via Getty Images
    One of the best reasons to roast a chicken is the crunchy, golden skin. To achieve the perfect texture, you just need to follow a few simple rules. The first thing to remember is that moisture is the enemy, so make sure to pat your chicken dry before sticking it in the oven. Letting the bird sit uncovered in the refrigerator for a couple hours up to a whole day will also help dry it out. Finally, don't skimp on the salt, which will help draw out the moisture. The next key is temperature: roasting in a hot oven (like 450 degrees) will help ensure a really crispy finish. You can enjoy the skin along with the meat, sneak it as an appetizer as the bird cools or save it for a snack. Of course you don't have to roast the perfect chicken to get some crispy skin. Food & Wine has a great recipe for chicken crisps, which it describes as a "an utterly addictive snack that's especially good with cocktails or beer."

    Get a Perfect Roast Chicken recipe from Martha Stewart and a Chicken Crisps recipe from Food & Wine
  • Duck
    Sarsmis via Getty Images
    Duck skin is super fatty, which makes it super delicious. If you're roasting a whole duck, you will most definitely want to eat it with the skin. Like with chicken, you'll want to pat the duck dry and salt it before sticking it in the oven. Martha Stewart recommends scoring the skin before roasting to help fat escape. You will have to flip and poke the duck, and spoon away excess fat periodically throughout the roasting process. Whatever you do, save the fat! Take a cue from Chinese restaurant Min Jiang and dip some of that skin in sugar. Be prepared to fall in love.

    Get a Crisp Roast Duck recipe from Epicurious
  • Pork
    Antonio Balaguer soler via Getty Images
    Pork skin is a common snack around the world. (It's known as rinds in the U.S. and cracklings in the U.K.) To make pork rinds or cracklings, you take the skin from a roasted pork and render the fat away by cooking it in water in the oven. The water will evaporate, leaving the fat to be drained and the crispy bits of skin to be eaten and washed down by a cold beer.

    Get a Crispy Pork Cracklings recipe from Serious Eats
  • Fish
    Food52
    Yes, you can and should eat the skin. If prepared correctly, you'll get a nicely browned, thin and crunchy texture to play off the soft meat of the fish. Just as with meat and poultry, you can cook and eat the skin together with the meat, or fry it up separately for a snack. In general, cooking seafood is much easier than its reputation would suggest. The same goes for achieving perfect fish skin. If approaching it for the first time, Bon Appetit's Carla Lalli Music recommends starting with salmon, bass, branzino or red snapper. Make sure the skin has been patted dry (you're a pro at this by now), and place it into a hot, oiled pan. Press the fish down with a flat spatula to ensure the entire surface cooks evenly. When the edges start to brown, flip the fish and cook for a little longer. The fish is now "70 percent cooked," Music says. She encourages you to "admire the brown skin while you wait" for the fish to finish cooking. We encourage you to enjoy the brown skin when you're ready to eat.

    Get a Crisp Skinned Salmon recipe by Nicholas Day from Food52

Now on to potato skins... Just kidding. But obviously you should be eating those, too.

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