Perfect Grilled Salmon: What’s The Secret?
People love to grill salmon because it’s a hearty, flavorful fish that won’t fall apart like a Bachelor rose-ceremony reject on the grill. (Not that I’ve seen them grill people on The Bachelor; I’m sure they’re saving that for sweeps week.) But many are intimidated by the very idea of fish on the grill, and others think you need to lay in silly supplies like a special Jaws-style fish cage. Not necessary. Not if you do it right.
So how can you ensure your salmon will be the perfect marriage of gill and grill?
• Start with thick slices of skin-on steaks or fillets. The thicker slices come from the end of the fish closest to the head — ask the guy at the fish counter to get that for you special.
• Raw fish is translucent; this means you can actually see those annoying pin-bones. Pull them out with a needle-nosed pliers before you even get started. Your guests will thank you.
• You can marinate if you want, but it’s not necessary: salmon has tons of flavor and is among the fattier fish on its own. If you do marinate, make it a short bath, 10 minutes at the most — any longer and you risk turning it into a mushy mess that risks death by immolation as it slides inexorably between the bars.
• Rather than marinating, you’re better off brushing a sauce on. If you choose one with sugar, such as this Vermont-style maple-glazed salmon, you’ll end up with a caramelized crust that is — oof! — to die for. Added bonus: the barrier helps keep the fish moist, as well.
• Speaking of moist: There are few things worse than overcooked fish. It’s dry, pasty, bad. The rule is supposed to be 10 minutes for every inch of thickness, meaning 5 minutes on each side if you’re flipping it, but that’s overly generous — the fish will continue to cook once you take it off the grill. Err on the side of underdone and you’ll end up with perfectly cooked fish with no hint of dryness.
• Many aficionados like this trick for fillets: Cook skin side down first. Flip after 3 or 4 minutes. Remove the fish from the skin by sliding a thin spatula in between. Voila: perfectly cooked salmon with no burned bits, and who cares if it sticks? You’ll clean it later.
• Others don’t even bother to flip it. “Once it starts to blubble, it’s done,” says a grill-enthusiast I know. And if you don’t love her for that wonderful way of describing the delicate white fat that bubbles to the surface of the fish, then you are dead to me.
• Another option is to create a “hobo pack” of foil. That way you keep the skin — hey, some folks like that — and the presentation is just gorgeous: a gift that peels back to reveal a dramatic plume of steam. Ooh! Aah!
• Or you can get fancy and create a crowd-pleasing meal with the addition of a few cedar planks, available at your local fish store if not at the plain old supermarket. It’s a bit labor intensive, but what a payoff!
Psst! What’s the secret?
Find out with all our What’s the Secret articles!