For many people, cooking salmon on the grill poses challenges.
Do you grill it skin on or skin off? What’s the best way to keep it from sticking on the grill? How do you know when it’s done?
Often I see people placing salmon on a piece of foil set on the grill and cooking it that way. I wouldn’t call that true grilling.
One of the best grilling hacks I came across recently is from the Martha Stewart Living folks. You take citrus slices (lemon, lime or orange) and place them directly on the grill. Place pieces of salmon on top of the citrus slices and grill according to the recipe.
It’s that simple.
There are several things about this technique that will make it one of your go-to salmon grilling methods.
For one thing, citrus and salmon are a natural pair. In today’s recipe we use lemons, which turn slightly sweet once caramelized and charred. You can squeeze those sweet and smoky juices over the salmon or eat them, rind and all. Because of the natural oils in the peel, the lemon slices won’t stick to the grill grates. What an easy say to make sure the salmon doesn’t stick to the grates!
Today’s recipe also adds another layer of flavor to the salmon with herb sprigs placed atop the lemon slices before the fillets are added. This step is optional, but if you do use the herbs, be sure they are covered completely by the salmon and not near direct heat. Otherwise, the sprigs will burn or turn black.
The added bonus of this recipe: The salmon is topped with bright-tasting citrus-herb butter. When added at the beginning of grilling, the butter bastes the salmon as it cooks, keeping it moist. Once the salmon is cooked, you can add a final finish of the butter just before serving.
When cooking salmon, I use the Canadian rule of cooking fish 10 minutes per inch of thickness. It’s also a good idea to have an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees for fish. Most chefs and other food sources say this is overcooked. Also, the method of cooking fish until it flakes easily almost always renders it overcooked. With salmon I cook it to about 130 degrees in the thickest part of the center. Once it reaches that temperature, remove it from the heat source (oven, grill, skillet) and let it rest 5 minutes tented with foil. The temperature will continue to rise.
If you’ve ever wondered about the thick, white gel-like substance on salmon, it’s called albumin. This substance is a protein that is pushed out of muscle fibers as the fish cooks. Some sources say it’s a sign that the fish is overcooked, but it can also happen to salmon that is cooked just right.
CITRUS SALMON WITH BASIL BUTTER
Serves 4. Preparation time 15 minutes, total time 30 minutes. Adapted from Martha Stewart Living.
Oil for the grill
4 center-cut salmon fillets, about 5 ounces each
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (or a multipurpose seasoning such as Morton Nature’s Seasons seasoning blend)
12 to 16 lemon or orange slices at least 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick
Fresh herbs such as basil or dill, optional
Flavored butter (see cook’s note)
Set up grill for indirect cooking and heat to medium, about 350-400 degrees if your grill has a temperature gauge. Try not to have the grill scorching hot. Clean and lightly oil hot grill.
Season the salmon with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Arrange sliced citrus (using 3 or 4 slices if they are small) on the grates. Top with some fresh herbs, making sure to put the sprigs directly on the citrus and not over any heat. Arrange the salmon fillets on top of the lemons. Place a few dabs of the flavored butter on each fillet, using about 1 tablespoon each. (Some of the butter will ultimately drip off.) Cover and cook until fish is opaque in center, about 15 minutes or until fish is just cooked through.
Carefully slide a long spatula under the citrus slices and remove them (with the salmon) to a serving platter or individual plates. Add another teaspoon or more of the flavored butter on top. Serve with additional lemon wedges along with the charred lemons.
Cook’s note: To make the flavored butter, mash together 1 stick room-temperature unsalted butter; 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest; 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice; 1 clove garlic, minced; 1 to 2 tablespoons torn basil leaves, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or favorite all-purpose seasoning.
If using orange slices for the salmon, substitute grated orange zest and orange juice in the flavored butter and use chopped cilantro instead of basil.
Add a pinch of cayenne pepper if you like.