My father walked through the door the other day with half of a fresh whole wild salmon, announcing to me that he would like me to grill it. Sure dad!
When someone presents truly fresh fish to you, there really isn’t a “save it for another day” option. The thing to do is to keep it chilled and cook it as soon as you can. Save for tomorrow? Fuggetaboutit. Fresh fish should be cooked the day you get it.
Now, according to my favorite grilling experts, Andrew Scholss and David Joachim (Mastering the Grill, excellent book, must have if you are into grilling), wild salmon is great to grill whole, and easier to do so than farmed salmon, because it tends to be thinner, easier to cook through without getting dried out on the edges.
I packed this salmon with chopped preserved lemons, parsley, dill, and shallots, and grilled it on our gas grill. It was outstanding. One of the best salmon meals we’ve ever had. Leftovers great the next day with bread and butter pickles.
Note, we often get our fish from Whole Foods, and unless you specifically ask for it, they sometimes forget to remove the scales before they hand you the fish. (This is not just in Sacramento, I’ve heard complaints from a friend in Boston too.)
Bad, bad, bad, on the part of Whole Foods or any fish monger. You really shouldn’t have to ask, this should be done for you. But, in case it isn’t, you’ll want to remove the scales yourself before cooking the fish.
No cooked grilled fish photo this time. Got too dark. The photos were hideous. You’ll have to trust me on this one.
Grilled Whole Salmon with Preserved Lemon Relish Recipe
Preserved lemons are lemons that have been preserved in salt. They are used often in Moroccan cooking. You can get them at specialty markets, or you can make them yourself. If you do not have access to preserved lemons, for this recipe you can use the grated zest from 2 lemons and 2 Tbsp of lemon juice instead.
- One whole (4 pounds) or half (2 pounds) of a wild-caught salmon, gutted, cleaned, skin on, scales removed
- Olive oil
- Fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 whole preserved lemons, rinsed of excess salt, seeds removed, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
- 1/4 cup chopped shallots
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- Ground black pepper
1 Prepare lemon relish: Combine all relish ingredients into a small bowl.
2 Preheat grill for indirect heat.
3 Scale the fish if needed, rinse, pat dry: Check to make sure the scales have been removed from the salmon's skin. If scales remain, use edge of a large spoon, scrape against the sides of the fish, in the direction of tail to head, to remove any fish scales that may still be on the fish. (Best to work over a sink, as the scales tend to fly all over the place.) Rinse fish with cold water and pat dry.
4 Stuff the salmon, tie up with kitchen string: Make 1-inch deep, diagonal cuts in sides of the salmon, spaced 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Stuff the cuts well with relish. Stuff cavity with relish. (Note that if this uses up all of your relish, you may want to make another batch of it to serve alongside the fish.)
Squeeze some lemon juice over the fish. Rub olive oil generously all over the fish (this will help keep it from sticking to the grill grates).
Tie up the fish with kitchen string, to help hold it together while grilling.
5 Grill the salmon: When the grill is good and hot, oil the grill grates. (Use tongs to spread oil over the grates with a folded up and oil-soaked paper towel.)
Grill on indirect heat (away from coals or not directly over flame) for 20-30 min, turning half way. Try to keep the grill temperature at 350°F-375°F. Use a meat thermometer to test the fish, inserted into the deepest part. The fish is done when the internal temperature of the fish is 130°F.
If the skin comes off when you flip the fish, or when you remove the salmon from the grill, don't worry about it. Just peel it off before serving.
Serve with remaining fresh relish. A 2 lb half-whole salmon will serve 4.
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