Grilled Salmon, with Perfectly Crispy Skin
I love cooking salmon on a grill because the size of the cooking surface allows you to cook a whole fillet at once. I have a few tricks that ensure that the skin (my favorite part) turns out perfectly, as well as some great ways to use spice to highlight salmon's natural flavors.
1 (2-pound) salmon fillet, skin on*
1 fresh lemon
Carefully inspect your salmon, removing any bones, and cutting away any excess skin or dark-colored flesh. Optionally, you can wrap the fillet in a pichit sheet for 60 minutes. A Japanese invention, they absorb excess moisture and subtly increase the savory character of fish, improving texture, aroma, and flavor. It replicates the controlled aging processes commonly applied to many cuts of fish when preparing sushi and sashimi.
Prepare a sheet pan or shallow roasting pan that will fit the salmon. Preheat your grill to 350°F.‡
Once your grill is hot, oil and salt the salmon on both sides, then place it skin-side down in the center of your pan. At this point you can add seasonings to part or all of the salmon, I really like how the sweetness and smoke of Amber N2 plays, as well as the cumin and garlic of Izak N37. Add the pan to your grill, close the lid, and wait about 10 minutes before checking.
Check the salmon and see how close it is to done by either using an instant-read thermometer (my preferred temp is 130°F), or gently poking it with your finger to test the texture. Once it's done to your liking remove it to a wooden serving board and serve right away while the skin is crisp.
Due to natural variations in thickness you'll end up with parts that are more or less done than average, which gives everyone some choice. If you want everything cooked to the same doneness, slice the fillet into pieces (but leave the skin intact), anywhere where there is variation in thickness. You'll then be able to cut and remove sections as they cook. Leaving the skin whole prevents hot oil from bubbling up and overcooking the cut sections of the fillet.
Serve with fresh lemon and Espelette pepper to taste. If you'd like to make a simple sauce I love: chopped fresh dill, creme fraîche, and lemon. Also excellent with kizami yuzu (a paste made from the fruit and rind).
* The debate between farmed and wild salmon is a complex one, and I will tell you that to my palate, much as is the case with grass-fed beef, the best farmed salmon is simply tastier than the best wild, with few exceptions. Look for good farmed salmon and you're unlikely to be disappointed. If you prefer wild, it's season right now, hop to it! When cooking wild salmon I also like to pull it about 5° lower.
‡ Salmon can be cooked in many other ways, but a grill really allows for something that other methods do not for these reasons: you have a source of direct heat coming from below (like cooking on a stovetop), and also convective heat that cooks from all around (like baking), but also have free air circulation that allows excess moisture to evaporate. It's really pretty magical and I've yet to figure out a way to easily replicate it indoors (testing some larger toaster ovens currently). Whatever you do, just make sure not to put the salmon directly on the grates, it's the same rule that applies to burgers, unless you really prefer them dry and charred.
Variations & Ideas
• Add wood chips in a foil packet, or fresh aromatics directly to the grill when cooking, to infuse the salmon with scent and flavor. Pictured are fresh juniper branches which I had ready access to.
• One of my favorite sides for this is simple mashed potatoes. If you use a great brand and add good butter you can totally get away with instant. I've tried it double-blind and honestly could not tell.
• This technique also works nicely with skin-on chicken thighs. I generally lower the heat to about 300°F to ensure the meat has time to cook through by the time the skin has finished rendering in its fat. If you chop up some lemon, onion, and par-boiled potato and toss this with Chios N27 and surround the chicken, you can create an easy side dish while the chicken cooks.
• If you're making a dill sauce try making this salad by Lior as well. It's a great match.
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