by Jay Kitterman, consultant, LLCC Culinary Institute
The weather is finally warming up, Carol is happy that her roses (I planted five new ones this year) are blooming, and I will be out of the kitchen and grilling again. She claims that when I cook, I use every pot, pan and utensil we own. One of my grilling favorites, healthy for you, and easy to prepare on the grill, is salmon.
Yes, grilling fish can be stressful for beginners. It seems fragile, delicate, it may seem expensive (at least relative to, say, hamburgers), it can have bones, some fish may even have a face—whatever it is, there’s an intimidation factor for sure. A good reason to start with a salmon filet.
First of all, make sure you are using quality products, i.e. salmon and olive oils. We are regulars at Robert’s Seafood, and I recently sat down with Brian Aiello from Robert’s for some tips.
Seasoning the fish with salt and pepper before cooking is a must for great flavor, but just as important is when you season. When seasoned too soon before cooking, the salt will start to break down the proteins in the salmon and draw moisture out of the fish. It is important to keep the fresh seafood chilled and refrigerated until it is time to prepare. Pull it out of the refrigerator about 15 to 30 minutes before grilling. I personally stay away from marinades, and some with high sugar content can even cause flare ups on the grill. Marinades made with citrus or acidic ingredients will actually start to cook the fish and thus recommend waiting until 30 minutes before grilling to do so.
Start with a clean grill. It’s probably worthwhile to remember that people have been catching fish and cooking them over a hot fire for at least 100,000 years, and they did not have the benefit of the Weber or Green Egg. Because some fish is delicate, it can stick to your grill, making it difficult to turn and leading to all kinds of other problems. So take a few extra moments to thoroughly scrape, brush and oil your grill before putting the fish on it.
Heat the grill and let the grate heat up. Dip a bunched-up paper towel with high heat cooking oil such as canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil and brush the grates. Some quality olive oils do have a higher smoke point but most grill masters recommend saving your good olive oil for the salmon. Brushing the grill with a couple of layers of oil will also reduce the salmon sticking.
Some popular fish that Brian recommends for grilling are halibut, swordfish, salmon and tuna. They all have firm flesh and will stand up to the high heat of the grill. Brian recommends fish that are at least an inch thick if cooking directly on the grill at medium high heat of 400 F.
One easy way to build up your grilling confidence is to grill your fish on a plank or use a grilling basket. A plank is simply a slab of wood, usually cedar, but sometimes oak, maple, cherry or apple. After soaking the plank for a couple of hours, rub both sides of the salmon with your favorite dry seasoning and olive oil and place it skin side up on the plank. Cover the grill and cook for about 15 – 20 minutes for an inch thick (about 50 percent longer than when cooking directly on the grill). You don’t even need to turn the fish. An advantage of using a grilling roaster is that I can cook the salmon and all my vegetables together and its perforated design brings the food in contact with the flame for the delicious smoky flavor without the fear of losing ingredients into the fire.
Remember to have good protective grilling mitts close by. The roaster will be very, very hot when you take it off the grill and plan in advance where you are going to put it in the kitchen. I also recommend having a spray water bottle ready for flare ups. Williams Sonoma has an extensive selection of stainless steel roasters, and it’s a wonderful place to see what is new. If you cannot make it to one of their stores I have found their web site to be very user friendly. https://www.williams-sonoma.com/shop/outdoor/outdoor-cookware.
If grilling direct, apply your favorite dry seasoning, rub or brush both sides of the salmon with olive oil, place it skin side up on the heated grill, cover the grill, and cook without moving the fish for four to five minutes. Try lifting the fish gently with a spatula after 3 minutes; if it doesn’t cleanly lift off grill, continue to cook, checking at one minute intervals, until it releases. Carefully flip it and grill for another three or four minutes. At this point rather than a marinade try placing slices of fresh citrus (lemon or lime) on top of the cooking salmon. Another important grilling tool I recommend is a fish spatula. Compared with a regular slotted spatula, a fish spatula is gently curved, flexible, thinner, longer, metal and with more widely spaced “tines.” This design helps the spatula gently slide underneath and cradle your delicate fish.
Many chefs recommend an internal temperature of 140 degrees — the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees — how long this will take depends on the thickness of the filets and grill temperature. Speaking of temperatures, if you do not have a good thermometer now is the time to purchase one. I was first introduced to ThermoWorks a number of years ago at the National Restaurant Show in in Chicago. I have been using their new ThermoPop model. It is a digital pocket thermometer with big digits and has a backlight good for grilling in fall when the days get shorter. It comes in nine colors: visit their site at. https://www.thermoworks.com. I recently checked and the ThermoPop was selling for $34.
The rules have always been “drink white wine with fish.” However there can be room for both red and white. The wine you serve with your fish should never overwhelm your food, and thus the reason to put aside your big oaked reds. Two that Danielle at The Corkscrew recommends are Mercouri Estate Kallisto 2016 or for a special fun choice: Mionetto Prosecco. The Kallisto comes from Peloponnese Greece and is a blend of 80% Assyrtiko and 20% Robola — two new grapes for you to experience. It pours bright and light yellow in color. The wine gives forth perfumes of citrus fruits (citron and fresh lemon) and has a balance of pear and citrus. Proseccos have become very popular and this Mionetto Brut is very dry, fresh, light in body and comes from the hillsides of Veneto, Italy.
My thanks to Brian from Robert’s Seafood-great source for all your seafood and olive oils and Danielle at The Corkscrew. Brian provided the following recipe.
Grilled Planked Southwestern Salmon
Makes 6 Servings
1 Large Cedar Grilling Plank
(1) 2 ½ lb Salmon Fillet
½ Cup of Brown Sugar or Light Brown Sugar
½ Tablespoon of Chili Powder
½ Tablespoon of Hungarian Paprika
¼ teaspoon of Sea Salt
Fresh Squeezed Lemon
1 Tablespoon of Robert’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1) Soak grilling plank in water for a minimum of 2 to 3 hours (up to 6 hours is best). Make sure it is submerged, as to soak completely.
2) Preheat grill to 400 degrees or medium-high.
3) Mix brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, and salt together. Rub mixture on salmon. Drizzle then rub in with olive oil.
4) Place the fish skin side down on plank and place it in the center of the grill and close the lid. Keep the lid closed during cooking to get that smokiest flavor. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees.
5) Remove from grill and serve on the plank with fresh squeezed lemon.
NOTE: Keep a spray bottle of water at hand for dousing flare-ups on the grill.