Food and Drink

Don’t toss that salmon skin. Make sushi rolls with umami and crunch.

Secret thing about the salmon skin many Alaskans throw away: It gives a sushi roll awesome umami and crunch. You can make skin crispy and ready for a sushi roll a number of ways. You can pluck it from the grill if it separates when you’re grilling. If you bake a fillet, you can save it from the pan and crisp it under the broiler. You can use one of my recipes for making crispy-skin salmon and save it. You can even make it in an air fryer.

[Make salty, crispy skin the star of your salmon dinner]

The rest is just sushi roll basics. I filled my roll with thin-sliced local carrot — toss yours in rice vinegar for a little kick — local English cucumber slices, and classic Alaska underripe avocado; the firmness kind of works in this application. I am a big proponent of either soaking your raw sushi rice for at least 30 minutes and rinsing or just really thoroughly rinsing your rice before cooking. It really adds to the texture and stickiness to do this. Eel or unagi sauce is available in a number of Alaska grocery stores, but you can also make your own by simmering sake, mirin, soy sauce and sugar. I also like to wrap my rolls in plastic wrap after I roll them because it helps the seaweed soften and I sometimes throw one in the fridge for lunch the next day.

Salmon skin sushi rolls

Serves 4


For the rice:

3 cups short grain sushi rice, freshly cooked and still warm


2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)

For the filling:

Skin from one fillet of red salmon

1/4 cup unagi or eel sauce

1 cucumber, peeled and julienned

1 avocado, thin sliced

2 carrots, peeled and julienned

4-6 sheets nori

To serve:

Soy sauce or tamari


Pickled ginger


Make the rice: Make the rice in a cooker or pot, according to package directions. Stir the sugar into the rice wine vinegar to dissolve. When the rice is done, scoop it into a bowl and gently stir in the vinegar mixture and sesame seeds. Set aside.

Crisp the salmon skin: Set the oven to broil. Lay the skin on a parchment-lined sheet pan, sprinkle with a little sea salt, broil for 5 minutes until the skin is browned. When it cools, slice it into quarter-inch thin strips. If you have extra skin, you can roll or fold it into a tight little crunch stick.


Assemble the sushi: Lay the rectangle of the nori in front of you on a piece of plastic wrap or a bamboo sushi roller, long side toward you. Cover the lower three-quarters of the nori sheet with a layer of rice, leaving the top section uncovered. About one-fourth of the way from the bottom edge, lay salmon skin, cucumber, avocado and carrot in a line parallel to the bottom. Drizzle with eel sauce. Roll tightly from the bottom, and allow to sit for at least five minutes before slicing into 1-inch slices with a sharp knife. Serve immediately with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy sauce.

[Alaskana recipe: Spam musubi and the musubi ‘McMuffin’]

[Celebrate Copper River salmon with this simple, delicious recipe]

Julia O'Malley

Anchorage-based Julia O'Malley is a former ADN reporter, columnist and editor. She received a James Beard national food writing award in 2018, and a collection of her work, "The Whale and the Cupcake: Stories of Subsistence, Longing, and Community in Alaska," was published in 2019. She's currently writer in residence at the Anchorage Museum.