Smokin' good salmon

May 26, 2010|By LYNNE ROSSETTO KASPER / Scripps Howard News Service

Dear Lynne: We just moved to this coast and salmon are going nuts here. I've only done salmon steaks, but want to grill a big piece for Memorial Day. What's the deal with cooking a whole fillet? -- A Seattle Newby

Dear Newby: What a place to be, especially right now with the salmon season revving up. The trickiest part of grilling a big piece of fish is turning it, so my solution is, don't. The second-trickiest is getting the timing right, so measure the thickest part of the fish and anticipate about 10 minutes cooking time per inch.

To start, take a big salmon fillet, wrap it in punctured foil and roast it on the grill while it smokes at the same time. That foil wrap turns the nightmare of handling a big piece into an easy way to move it around.

Another concept to tuck away is having the fish cold so it cooks slowly, which keeps its juiciness intact. Lastly, look for fatty fillets because that fat (which is supposedly healthy as well) holds the smoky flavor. Between the two, it's prime salmon tasting gloriously of itself and one of the oldest seasonings we've got -- smoke.


Sidestep the temptation to pile on spicy salsas and strong seasonings. Save them for later in the summer when you've had your fill of new salmon, but right now go for simple perfection. Some new potatoes and peas wouldn't be bad if they're coming into the market, or asparagus and ramps.

Before heading out to buy your fish, check for ecologically sound choices and for concerns about contamination.


o Serves 6 to 12, depending on size of filet

10 minutes prep time; 20-30 minutes grill time, 10-minute rest

3- to 7-pound salmon fillet, chilled
Good-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups wood chips, alder, hickory, fruit wood or grapevine, soaked in water to cover
1/3-cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves

Prepare your charcoal grill for a two-zone fire -- that is, one side has a pile of coals and the other a shallow double layer. If using a gas grill, set one burner on high and one burner on low. This way the thicker side of the fillet cooks over higher heat while the thin side is over the lower.

Double a piece of heavy-duty foil large enough to fit the fish, with another 4 to 6 inches on each side to act as handles. Perforate it with small holes no larger than a pencil to allow the smoke to surround the fish. Generously oil the foil and rub oil over both sides of the fish. Place the salmon skin side down. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper to taste.

When the coals are ready, throw 1/2 cup of the soaked and drained wood chips on the hot part of the fire. Place the salmon on the grate with the thick side closest to the hottest portion of the grill. Put the lid on the grill, making sure the vents are wide open on the lid and at the base of the grill.

Check the salmon every 7 to 10 minutes, adding more wood chips and charcoal as needed to keep the fire burning and the wood chips smoking. There should be a lot of smoke billowing out. If the fire seems to be dying, blow a little on the coals and give it a bit more oxygen to get it going again.

The salmon is done when it's burnished gold in color, the oils are beginning to pool on the surface and there is still some pink in the thickest part of the filet. For a 2-1/2- to 3-inch-thick piece, this will be 25 to 30 minutes.

Using oven mitts, carefully lift the salmon from the grill by grasping the ends of the foil. Lift it onto a serving platter. Let rest 10 minutes.

To serve, trim the foil away from the edges of the fish with a scissors. Tear the basil leaves over the salmon and serve it up.

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