5 Tips for Cooking Wild Salmon
Here in the Northwest we have the opportunity to enjoy the flavor of fresh wild salmon at the peak of the season. It is truly a remarkable gift.
I have been known to carry king salmon to San Francisco. The cost of checking a box of fresh salmon on an airline, even though it may be as little as two pounds is a plush treat that I will bring to my daughter and grandchildren. Watching them enjoy each moist bite is an engaging pleasure that makes my wallet a bit emptier but leaves my heart full.
If you are a fisherman the call of salmon is on your mind. The catch is your adventure. The dining is your pleasure. The natural, moist, oily texture of well-prepared salmon is a lavish Northwest treat. I will forever admire the fisherman who is willing to nurse his whole fish on the grill. It is much like the fishing itself. It requires patience and care. However, I prefer to work with the salmon in three completely different ways.
Having treasure is one thing. Preparing treasure well is a challenge. The Internet abounds with salmon drenched in sauce, spices, sears and scorches. In a way, it follows the philosophy that if you have to eat fish disguise it somehow. But here in the Northwest, where we have the opportunity to enjoy the most fresh and succulent fillets, it requires more respect.
My choices for preparation are a quick bake at a high temperature (whether on the grill or in the oven), steaming on squares of parchment in a Chinese bamboo steamer, or a gentle poaching in a well-flavored broth.
For important family occasions I am known to produce succulent juicy salmon for more than 30 people. When a fish purchase crosses the hundred-dollar mark you are on the line as the cook.
Here are a few guidelines that I offer my students:
Use portion control
It is much easier and more reliable to cook an individual serving rather than a whole or side of fish. With a large piece of fish you are contending with the thicker versus the thin parts and the tendency for the center to remain cool and stubborn. I generally recommend a 6-8 ounce serving of salmon.
Use high temperatures
Cook at a high temperature rather than medium temperature. A quick and hot cooking technique works well with individual servings. When grilling this means a hot grill (you should be able to hold your hand an inch above the grill for about 3-4 seconds, no longer) or if in an oven bake at 450 – 475 degrees. Go ahead and cook it with the skin over foil. Then lift the fillet from the skin for each serving. If you prefer to serve it with the skin, just make sure it is well oiled and your grill is well seasoned. In the oven you can bake the fillets on parchment. It will be quick, delicious and juicy.
Follow the 10-minute rule
Cook your fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Calculate this at the thickest point. Try to purchase fillets of equal thickness and size. If need be, group your thinner fillets in a separate area or baking pan (if in oven) so you can remove them earlier.
Choose proper seasonings
Use seasonings that embrace the flavor of the salmon rather than mask it. Some of the seasonings that I recommend are: A light coating of melted butter or even mayonnaise for flavor. In addition to salt and pepper, add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, some chopped capers, a sprinkling of fresh herbs such dill or basil and slices of lemon over the surface to give tang and hold the moisture in the fish.
Do not cook fish until it flakes
Generations have used this guideline and it is not a good one for salmon. At the point fish flakes it is beginning to dry out and toughen. You need to stop much sooner. Think of cooking the fish until it is gently firm to the touch. When you have done it perfectly make a note of your temperature and timing. Just done or just a bit under done is a better goal. Practice and you will get there.
Please buy wild! Help us perpetuate our wild stocks. Price is not always the best guideline. Buying cheaper salmon is more than just a sacrifice of flavor. It may look the same, but it does not taste the same. Try to buy salmon that has not been previously frozen. Prepare a fillet of fresh wild white or red king salmon and you will be transported to Salmon Heaven!
Louise Hasson is owner and lead chef of Bon Vivant School of Cooking. Seattle’s premier cooking school for beginning and experienced chefs. At Bon Vivant Louise and her team of chefs strive to teach culinary creativity, not just recipes, in a relaxed home environment. Visit Bon Vivant on Facebook and get more recipes on her Blog.