Joe’s Grilled Salmon

Joe’s grilled salmon

by Scott Sadil

The best book I know of for preparing fish of any kind is Salmon, by Diane Morgan. I carried the book with me to Baja the summer I spent in a rented house in La Ventana, writing crime fiction nobody was interested in publishing, no matter the wealth of sex and violence I poured into it. 

I lived mostly on beans and rice that summer, yet now and then I did manage to find a fish along the quiet beach south of town, and armed with Morgan’s handsome, versatile book I was able to make a special occasion out of whatever ended up pinned to the fly.

Blackened, poached, pan-roasted, broiled, grilled – Salmon offers a multitude of basic methods for preparing fish, any fish. Most anglers I know have a couple of go-to techniques they rely on, and for that reason they often grow tired of eating their catch. 

Morgan’s book not only helps you think about how you might use your fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for a salad or soup or appetizer or main course showpiece to wow friends and sweethearts alike, but it also suggests new foods you might not have considered combining with your fish, plus – and here’s a biggie – what wines to serve with your handiwork.

“Salmon” by Diane Morgan

Then again, how hard is it, really? Fish, as long as it’s fresh, is about the easiest thing in the world to prepare. Of course, it’s tough to beat sashimi, the most direct route of all. 

Several of the Lucero captains, Gary Bulla’s fly fishing pangeros from Aqua Amarga, now carry their own sashimi kits – fillet knife, cutting board, soy sauce and wasabi paste – and as soon as a yellowfin tuna comes aboard, the kit often comes out, as well.

But if we’re going to cook our fresh-caught fish – and by that I mean with heat, not in a bath of citric acid from limes or lemons or even oranges, as per ceviche – it’s hard to go wrong as long as you adhere to the one fundamental but most often ignored rule in the game:  from the moment fish is cooked, all it can do is go downhill if left to cook any longer.

It seems so basic. Yet I can’t tell you the number of times I’m served good fish ruined by someone insisting on continuing to cook it after it’s already cooked.  

Easy does it

You don’t need to get fancy. On a recent trip north, a trio of us went through two or three whole coho salmon a day – upwards of four or five pounds of meat per person. After we wrested a fire each evening from wet river wood, my buddy Joe Kelly manned the grill. Here’s what he does with each fillet.

  1. With the skin still on, rub olive oil over the flesh side of the fillet.
  2. Lay the fillet on the grill, flesh side down.
  3. After a couple of minutes, flip the fillet, setting it on the grill skin side down.
  4. Season the flesh with lemon pepper, garlic powder, dried dill, and Old Bay.
  5. Watch closely, checking with a fork to see when the meat inside the fillet transitions from a translucent orange to an opaque pink that will separate into sections with the lightest touch.
  6. Slide a spatula between the meat and the blackened skin; lift all or portions of the fillet and load it onto awaiting plates.

That’s it.  Not one of us tired of his share.

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Gray’s angling editor Scott Sadil can still recall the last two Yellowstone Park cutthroat he legally killed and ate.