If you ever had to wager on a stranger’s favorite fish, your money would be quite safe if you put it on salmon. Americans love salmon. Even people who generally don’t like fish will often say “except salmon, I like salmon.” And the numbers back that up. In 2017, salmon was the third most landed fish in commercial fisheries in the U.S., at about 500,000 tons. And it was the highest valued catch, with the total haul being valued at $687,770,000. Yep, we love salmon!
Now that summer is here, the most popular way to cook salmon is definitely to grill it. But if you’ve ever been disappointed with dried out grilled salmon, you’re not alone! Salmon seems to go from underdone to chalky and sour tasting in the blink of an eye on the high heat of a grill.
Today we’re bringing you a great technique for grilling salmon from Susie Bulloch of HeyGrillHey. It’s flavorful, succulent, flaky and, if you follow our temperature tips, perfectly cooked.
Problems with grilling salmon—or any other fish!
There is no doubt that grilled salmon is a delicious dish, but grilling fish is fraught with problems. The problem partly lies in the temptation to heat up your grill until it’s blazing hot and toss on your salmon fillet. But because of how easily fish dries out, that method often ends up as sad, overcooked fish.
Fish myosin and its fellow fiber proteins are more sensitive to heat than their land-animal counterparts. Where meat begins to shrink from coagulation and major fluid loss at 140°F/60°C, most fish shrink at 120°F/50°C and begin to become dry around 140°F/60°C…. In practice, it’s all too easy to overshoot the ideal temperature range for fish.—Harold McGee On Food and Cooking, pp 209–211
But drying isn’t the only problem. Salmon can also easily be ruined by the skin or flesh sticking to the grill. Not only does this ruin your fish’s presentation, but not being able to get the fish free from the grill to turn it over or even serve it makes overcooking more likely as you struggle to free the flesh without mangling it.
A note on salmon doneness temps
The USDA recommends cooking salmon to a this-fish-is-dry temperature of 145°F (63°C) for food safety. However, most chefs recommend cooking salmon to a much lower temp, 125°F (52°C). If your salmon has been previously frozen (as much of it is), that low temp is amazing and will yield a custardy, silky-textured fish. However, fresh, never-frozen salmon often has roundworm parasites in it that you want to be sure to kill before eating, and that’s where the higher USDA temp comes into play. This creates a sad paradox, wherein you should overcook fish you have just caught, but fish you bought at the grocer is fine to cook to a lower, better temp. The fish we used in this recipe was fresh, never-frozen, so we cooked it to a higher temperature.
The fish grilling solution: indirect heat
Flaky, tender fish is obviously our goal. Susie Bulloch suggests a great method for grilling it without the drying or the sticking.
It turns out that indirect heat is one of the easiest ways to get your grilled fish just right. By cooking the fish indirectly, you have a better shot of hitting the 135–140°F (57–60°C) pull temperature that is so important.
Of course, you’ll actually need to know what temp the fish has reached, so use a leave-in probe thermometer like the ChefAlarm® to track the cook and alert you when the pull temp is reached. Of course, checking the final temp with an instant-read like the Thermapen® Mk4 is essential to make sure you get the doneness just right.
As for the problem of the skin sticking, by cooking the fish more gently, the proteins in the fish skin will coagulate more slowly, thus gripping the metal of the grill less tightly. And if it does stick a little, it won’t burn in the time it takes you to get it free.
Of course, if you scrub and oil your grill grates before you cook the fish you’ll be even more likely to avoid sticking.
Salmon’s rich flavor plays well with so many flavors. It’s great brushed with teriyaki sauce, amazing with just salt and pepper, and fun with barbecue sauce. And by all means, use any of those flavors for this technique!
But for this recipe, in particular, we go super classic with lemon zest and dill (already good friends with each other) blended together with a hint of garlic in a bath of olive oil. This paste is smeared all over the meat of the fish, imparting deep, bright flavor that just sings of summertime.Print
Based on the recipe from HeyGrillHey.com
- Preheat your grill for indirect cooking.
- Clean and oil the grates on the indirect side of the grill well.
- Make the seasoning for the fish by combining the oil, dried dill, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and lemon zest in a bowl.
- Rinse each filet in running water and dry them with paper towels.
- Rub the seasoning paste all over the meat of each filet, but not on the skin.
- Place the fillets, skin-side down, on the indirect side of the grill.
- Insert the probe from a leave-in probe thermometer into the thickest part of one of the fillets. Set the high-temp alarm to 140°F (60°C). Note: be sure the cable for the probe doesn’t hang over the hot side of the grill.
- When the alarm sounds, verify the temperatures with a Thermapen Mk4.
If you want to pull the salmon a few degrees early and move it over to the hot side of the grill to get some grill marks on it, you can, but watch it carefully and check it often with your Thermapen.
If you love grilled salmon but are tired of your fish coming out dry or sticking to the grill, this indirect method may be a game changer. The temperature-monitoring capabilities of a leave-in thermometer like the ChefAlarm coupled with the gentler heat of indirect cooking can turn out amazing results every time. And with this seasoning paste, you’ll love it even more.
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