How to Cook Salmon

Our methods feature barbecue, cast-iron, and gas grill (2 ways)

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The Charcoal BBQ

Serves: N/A • Prep Time: 2 mins • Cook Time: 8-12 mins

The Cast-Iron Skillet

Serves: N/A • Prep Time: 2 mins • Cook Time: 7-10 mins

The Gas Grill – the Grate

Serves: N/A • Prep Time: 2 mins • Cook Time: 8-12 mins

The Gas Grill – the Cedar Plank

Serves: N/A • Prep Time: 2 hours • Cook Time: 8-12 mins

Straight from the Forq Kitchen!
by Rachel Silver


How to Cook Salmon

4 Methods

A Soirée for Salmon

Cue the opening scene from Ratatouille: A peaceful house; some sprinkles of rain; Remy the rat crashing through the glass window, frozen mid-air, holding an open cookbook above his head. End scene.

That was me.

I may be pretty well-seasoned from among my peers at hosting dinner parties (timing the food and ending with a clean kitchen is an art I’m still perfecting), yet nothing prepared me for the wacky recipe event I tried this week.

I’ve always wanted to do an extravagant taste test—you know, where you cook one item a multitude of ways and host a dinner party where everyone gets to taste? I finally made it happen: an entire dinner party celebrating my grand salmon vision. I think my family is still questioning the wisdom in indulging my quirky ideas.

The theme? It was a salmon lover’s dream. And by salmon lover, I mean me.

Four filets of salmon. Four methods of cooking. One recipe. One unanimous result.

It wasn’t even close.

The Taste Test

Let’s take a trip to my parent’s home. Did I say my parents? I meant my parents and my grandparents, since they live on adjacent plots with a gate connecting their backyards. This made for a fun childhood. (With lots of yummy grandmotherly lemon bars.. And a couple spills into our pool on the dark walks home after our shared dinner parties. We put in lights after that.)

So I visit home and announce I am making a gourmet feast of salmon for all of us.

It’s a bit more complicated than that, as I have to juggle cooking salmon in three locations—the stove in my folks’ kitchen, the gas grill in my folks’ backyard, and the charcoal BBQ in my grandparents’ backyard.

Picture Rachel, furiously running back and forth between a kitchen and two backyards, wild-eyed, hands “contaminated” with raw salmon, opening doors with her toes, all while trying to snap beautiful photos of salmon.

What is this about keeping a schedule?

Ha.

It makes for an interesting night. And my parents exchanging ‘those looks.’

The Rub

I use four filets from the same larger cut of salmon. I keep the rub simple, just kosher salt, pepper, and, as my dad says, “whatever smells good” (for me this is an unusual spice concoction from Penzeys). I do so to preserve the different flavors brought out by the four cooking methods. Also, I prefer simple rubs—salmon has a delicious flavor I like to enjoy.

I’ve always wanted to do an extravagant taste test—you know, where you cook one item a multitude of ways and host a dinner party where everyone gets to taste? I finally made it happen: an entire dinner party celebrating my grand salmon vision

How to Cook Salmon: the Right Timing for the Right Texture

Most people say that you should cook salmon until it flakes. No. No no no. This is not the best way—if you wait until the salmon flakes, the salmon is overcooked (unless you are squeamish and prefer meat overcooked).

I prefer a medium rare approach to salmon—a smidge undercooked in the thickest parts. Trust me.

It’s difficult to regulate the perfect amount of cooking time because salmon filets differ in thickness. On average, a good rule of thumb for cooking salmon is to cook each side three to four minutes per inch of thickness. It depends how cooked you like your salmon. Luckily, salmon is pretty easy to check mid-cooking. Test the thickest part of the salmon two minutes before the anticipated cooking time by sticking a fork in the filet to see how easily the layers give way—they should gently resist flaking and also be slightly firm. Continue to check salmon every minute. The ‘sweet spot’ for me is when the salmon a cloudy pink on the outside, and a translucent deeper red on the inside.

Perfection.

TRY IT.

The Question of Salmon Skin

Do it.

I love crispy salmon skin, so I keep it on. If you don’t share in my predilections, you are bound by no oath to eat it (although maybe you should be…).

The First Cooking Method: the Charcoal BBQ

IT’S ALMOST SPRING! (We live in California, so I believe BBQ season starts in the spring.) Yahoooo!

I love BBQ.

My grandfather, Brian, loves it more. He loves it so much he has a tattoo on his forearm with the words “Born to BBQ” next to a Weber charcoal grill. Go grandpa!

He is quite pleased to find out he gets to indoctrinate his granddaughter into the magic of BBQ.

After the frantic running around, I get down to BBQ business. I use plain charcoal and this is smoky enough for me. If you want to go to the smoky-extreme, you can add soaked wood chips to the charcoal, but this will definitely overpower the salmon flavor. Just depends what you’re going for.

This method of cooking salmon takes the most expertise, because you have to be savvy with how to setup and use a BBQ. But once you learn the basics, it’s pretty easy. Cooking salmon on the BBQ also takes the longest compared to the others—about 10-15 minutes. Cooking time will vary, depending how close you place the salmon to the coals.

The results? A nice, subtle smoky flavor. YUMBO.

The Second Cooking Method: the Cast-Iron Skillet

From a young age, my mom instilled great fear in me about messing with her cast-iron skillet. Only now, after I’ve had two roommates decide to be “nice” and “clean” my cast iron (aka aggressively scrub with soap aka RUIN MY SEASONED BABY), do I understand the need to assert your territory over your own cast-iron! *Cringe.*

Cast-irons are fantastic. And affordable. They build up a great seasoned coating that enriches the flavors of your cooking.

The cast-iron is definitely the easiest of the four salmon-cooking methods. And the great thing about it (as compared to the grills) is that it can create an even, crispy outside layer on the salmon. Don’t get me wrong—the grill and BBQ can certainly produce crispy delicious outsides, but not in the same even (as opposed to cross-hatched) way my cast-iron can. For those who are all about as-much-crisp-as-they-can-get, the cast-iron is a great method for salmon. Who can go wrong with extra crispiness?

EXTRA CRISPINESS.

The results? Ultra-crispy yum.

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The Third Cooking Method: the Gas Grill—the Grate

The gas grill has always been my favorite method of cooking salmon, probably because this is the only method my family uses. We have been cooking salmon on the grill for our Friday night dinner parties since I was a wee tot. Now that I no longer live with my parents, I miss this salmon tradition dearly.

My dad is the master of the gas grill. He has it down. Pat. I attribute my salmon’s success to his guidance. (Thank you!)

Easy-peasy, pudding ‘n’ pie! Slap salmon on grill. Turn. Take off.

The results? Tender perfection.

The Fourth Cooking Method: the Gas Grill—the Plank

Easy-peasy, pudding ‘n’… cake?

But really, it’s super easy. This method is almost identical to grilling directly on the grate, except I have a wooden plank under the salmon—which means no lovely cross-hatching.

But trust me. You won’t miss those crosshatches when you try this salmon scrumptiousness.

The results? A perfect bite of subtle cedar smokiness.

The Taste Test in Action

Now we get to have some fun.

The taste test is blind—no one (but me) knows which salmon filet came from which cooking method. I cut each salmon filet into 6 pieces and have each guest eat one piece of each filet all in the same order. Then we vote.

It is an unanimous decision.

*Drumroll please!*

And the winner is the cedar plank salmon! Proud sponsor of today’s haiku:

Smoky undertones
Subtle beauty, elegance
I devour, yum!

*Applause*

In second place is the charcoal BBQ method, followed by a mixed consensus between the cast-iron and the gas grill. I guess we are a party that appreciates some good, smoky flavors!

The cedar plank is by far my FAVORITE way to cook salmon. Yes, flavorful recipes with lots of toppings are fun and help switch things up, but nothing can beat an elegantly simple rub and a wonderfully delicious way to cook salmon.

To plank, or not to plank; there is no question.

THE CEDAR PLANK IS AWESOME.

The Important Stuff

1. Buy good salmon.
2. Use a simple rub—whatever smells good!
3. Use a cedar plank.
4. Cook each side of the salmon for three to four minutes per inch of thickness.
5. DO NOT USE A FORK when turning the salmon. Use a big spatula.
6. Check the salmon two minutes prior to the anticipated cooking time.
7. Do not overcook the salmon! Perfect salmon (yeah, yeah, I know this is personal preference; I’m hardheaded in my ways!) should cook until it’s pink on the outside and red in the center—right before the flaking point.
8. Enjoy the @#$%&! out of the salmon!

Bye now, going to eat more plank-grilled salmon!

Directions

Here’s how to make this delicious recipe

Simple Salmon Succulence

Rinse the salmon filet and pat dry.

Drizzle olive oil on the salmon and spread with your finger (or a pastry brush). Sprinkle salmon with an even layer of salt and pepper, then lightly sprinkle with whatever smells good.

Interesting note: when using kosher salt, compared to table salt, you must use twice as much because kosher salt flakes are larger, take up more space, but are equal in weight (same mass, lower density).

Let salmon sit for a few minutes before you employ your preferred cooking method.

The First Cooking Method: the Charcoal BBQ

Use the Simple Salmon Succulence rub above.

Set up the BBQ as preferred. Don’t forget to empty the ashes from the last time you barbecued! I put all my charcoal on one side (not the middle) of the BBQ to ensure more heat control when grilling. (This technique works well when cooking many different items—you put the meat closest to the charcoal, and fan out other items such as vegetables or even fruit!)

Preheat the grill—don’t use lighter fluid to light the coals as this can give the salmon a “chemically” taste. After the grill is preheated, use a brush to scrape the shmutz off the grate. Oil the grate with an oiled paper towel (use tongs!).

Place the salmon flesh-side down on the grate directly over the charcoals, with the thickest end closest to the coals.

bbq1

Place the salmon flesh-side down on the grate directly over the charcoals, with the thickest end closest to the coals

Close the lid and let salmon cook until the flesh gently releases (comes away without sticking) from the grill—for me this was about four minutes. Flip the salmon, USING A LARGE SPATULA, NEVER a fork—this will release the juices and make a mess with the salmon flesh. Make sure to check the salmon a couple minutes before the anticipated cooking time and take it off the grill while it’s still a little red inside. This ensures a perfectly cooked salmon filet!

The Second Cooking Method: the Cast-Iron Skillet

Use the Simple Salmon Succulence rub above.

Oil and preheat the cast-iron over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the oil.

Place the salmon flesh-side down and cook salmon for forty percent of the cooking time (about three to four mins).

How_to_cook_salmon_5

Place the salmon flesh-side down and cook salmon for forty percent of the cooking time

Turn to med-low heat. When keeping the skin on the salmon, do not flip the salmon—this will also make the flesh extra crispy. Continue grilling until salmon is complete: nice and crispy on the outside, yet a bit red on the inside.

The Third Cooking Method: the Gas Grill – the Grate

Use the Simple Salmon Succulence rub above.

Preheat the grill. Make sure the lid is open when you light the grill. After the grill is preheated, use a brush to scrape the shmutz off the grate. Oil the grate with an oiled paper towel (use tongs!).

Place the salmon on the grill, flesh-side down.

grill

Place the salmon on the grill, flesh-side down

Close the lid and let salmon cook until the flesh gently releases (comes away without sticking) from the grill—for me this was about four minutes. Flip the salmon USING A LARGE SPATULA, NEVER a fork—this will release the juices and make a mess with the salmon flesh. Close the lid and continue cooking salmon. Make sure to check the salmon a couple minutes before the anticipated cooking time and take it off the grill while it’s still a little red inside. This ensures a perfectly cooked salmon filet!

The Third Cooking Method: the Gas Grill – the Cedar Plank

Soak the plank for 2 hours prior to grilling salmon.

Use the Simple Salmon Succulence rub above.

Preheat the grill. Make sure the lid is open when you light the grill.

First place the plank on the grill. Then place the salmon on the plank, flesh-side down.

grillplank

First place the plank on the grill, then place the salmon on the plank

Close the lid and let salmon cook until the flesh gently releases (comes away without sticking) from the plank—for me this was about four minutes. Flip the salmon using a large spatula, never a fork—this will release the juices and make a mess with the salmon flesh. Close the lid and continue cooking salmon. Make sure to check the salmon a couple minutes before the anticipated cooking time and take it off the plank while it’s still a little red inside. This ensures a perfectly cooked salmon filet!

Bon Apétit!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb piece of salmon
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • Kosher salt a thin even layer
  • Fresh ground pepper a thin even layer
  • “Whatever smells good” (as my dad says), lightly sprinkled

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Who’s Cooking Today

Rachel Silver

Rachel Zoë Silver, a recent Cal Berkeley graduate, has been a foodie since her first sushi at three years old. With heritage from the Pacific Northwest, she learned early how to select the best fish from the Pike Place market. Her parents, also cooks and foodies, schlepped her to the best restaurants up and down the West Coast and through Italy. Rachel was still missing her front teeth when she mastered her grandmother’s Apple Pie recipe. She is still as excited by food as she was when, at 18 months, discovered on the pantry floor, hands and face smeared brown, she declared, “Chocolate is Yum!”

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