Forming a Pellicle--Do You Dry Your Fish?

So yesterday, I filleted and cooked a fresh local sockeye salmon for some food-sophisticated out-of-town guests. They gave me quizzical looks when I set up a small box fan to blow across the fillets. When they asked, I told them that it helps form a pellicle on the surface. You would have thought that I’d said I was from the Planet Zorgon, and they immediately set to Googling.

I’ve never really dived deep into the technique, but it was how was taught, and I always do this for smoked, kippered and higher-heat pit fish cooking.

Does anyone else do this?


I pat salmon fillets dry with a paper towel, lightly oil, and bake on pretty high for 8 minutes. A slight and pleasing crusting is the result, which I don’t think would happen if I hadn’t dried them. 10 minutes for a whole side.


I don’t use a fan generally but any protein going into a hot pan is as dry as I can make it. That’s one of the reasons I get steaks (whether beef, tuna, salmon whatever) out early enough to have the surface come up closer to room temp. Makes it a lot easier to dry/keep dry, esp. with summer humidity.

Same thing for smoking meats - I want them to start as dry as possible.

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Also pat dry with paper towel, fish, shelf fish (like scallop) and meat, for pan frying. Fan might be used but more for Chinese cuisine especially when cooking whole bird before roasting, hang the whole animal on a hook in open air to dry after marination, it works better with a fan and takes several hours.

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And here I thought this would be about the old practice of drying, salting and preserving fish…my mom would be all over that.

I also just pat try with a paper towel. For some fish that I really want crispy skin on and remember to prep in advance, I may also leave in the fridge without a cover, skin side up overnight/ a day.

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It may well be. I have read that the pellicle forms a barrier to moisture and oil moving out, and heavy, preservative smoke from moving too far in.

IME, it seals the exposed surface, so that you can get a smooth, glossy finish, with minimal eruptions of the milky-white salmon oil. The oil stays in the fish.

I always dry any meat I am going to cook, especially to fry or grill. It takes time and heat to evaporate the water on the surface to get any sort of Maiillard reaction or charring started.

As far as a pellicle…YES, I always dry my fish, or any meat before I smoke it. My understanding was that the pellicle allows the compounds in the smoke to bind with the flesh itself to produce that characteristic smoked flavor and appearance. I never really thought it through…I just did it as many chefs older and wiser than me were meticulous in their instructions to do so.

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Thanks, that makes sense. Maybe preservative effect from smoke, too?

I was taught that the way you can tell a pellicle has formed is that the cut surface is no longer tacky. This isn’t merely patting/blotting, nor does it happen quickly. The sockeye I did on Sunday took several hours with a fan blowing over it.

I just leave it in the fridge over night.

You gets beeg fridge or small kine fish, Brah…


I want a pellicle for smoking fish, but otherwise salt and leave uncovered in fridge, and pat dry if not tacky when ready to cook.

Ill be Googling pit fish cooking.

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