Steelhead, Salmon’s Cousin

Debunking steelhead.

5.00
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Serves: 3-4 • Prep Time: 2 mins • Cook Time: 8-12 mins

Straight from the Forq Kitchen!
by Rachel Silver


Steelhead, Salmon’s Cousin

Shortly after I learned to speak, I found my parents’ stash of chocolate in the cupboard. I tried the chocolate. Then I devoured the chocolate. I was caught (brown handed?). To my parents’ amusement, I turned around and said, “chocolate is yum!” This remains one of their favorite anecdotes.

I’d like to qualify my childhood statement: steelhead is yum. (Or as my family now calls it, “yummyhead.”)

When I asked people what they knew about steelhead, I got one of three responses:
*blank stare*
“metal?”
“a type of salmon”

I grew up believing the latter—or more accurately that steelhead was a cousin to salmon—although I don’t recall where I heard this. I decided to do some digging; turns out this common assumption isn’t far off. Steelhead is a type of rainbow trout. The reason these two fish can be considered “cousins” is because both salmon and steelhead are of the same species, Salmonidae. When wild, both salmon and steelhead start out in fresh water, swim out to the ocean to live their swimmy-lives, and return to freshwater to spawn. And although salmon die after spawning, steelhead survive and can continue to spawn annually.

But enough with the facts—what I really care about is how the eating experience for these two fish differ. Steelhead is meatier, firmer, and less fatty than salmon. Yet it still flakes like a dream. I can’t quite put my finger on the difference in taste between salmon and steelhead (full disclosure, I haven’t yet tried a side-by-side taste-test) but the two do offer slightly different eating experiences. So slight that in the past, after being served a plate of salmon-colored fish by my mother, I’ve been unsure about which fish I was eating. (Don’t hate me salmon connoisseurs!) This makes me wonder if I could stump my dinner guests at a taste-test. If it worked with vegan mac ‘n’ cheese, steelhead should be an easy one.

Perhaps most important, steelhead makes a delicious and e-c-o-n-o-m-i-c-a-l alternative to salmon.

Steelhead is meatier, firmer, and less fatty than salmon. Yet it still flakes like a dream.

Steelhead Selection

Introducing The Steelhead. I picked up this filet at Costco—they actually have decent steelhead for a good price. Farmed steelhead is not the environmentally-detrimental evil that is farmed salmon. And because it’s not fed the same unhealthy food pellets as salmon, steelhead was appointed “Best Choice” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Although farmed steelhead is not as healthy for you as wild salmon (natural diets are always the best option for both fish and human), I still felt good plopping the slabs in my cart.

The reason wild steelhead—which I had assumed is better than farmed steelhead—was not given “Best Choice” is because wild steelhead numbers are dwindling and not sustainable for fishing. If you want to go wild, go salmon. If you want to eat steelhead, eat farmed.

Rubbing on the Good Stuff

You know me, I like to keep it fresh. Smear some dabs of oil on the steelhead, then gently or generously sprinkle on your desired spices. For this steelhead I used plain kosher salt, and a couple spices from Penzey’s (fox point and a pepper). I’m spoiled to have Penzey’s Spices in my neighboring town.

Because both plank and grate-grilled methods of cooking are superb, I decided to implement both. Because why not. And I had two filets of fish.

Grate-Grilling

After preheating, scraping, and oiling the grill, place the steelhead on the grill, flesh-side down. This is important in order to get the sexy cross-hatching on the steelhead. Close the lid and let the steelhead cook for a few minutes until the flesh lifts away from the grill.

Although not turning the fish is a perfectly acceptable option, I prefer to turn the fish so I get the crispiest skin achievable. Large spatulas are always preferred to forks or tongs when adjusting fish on the grill; this is because puncturing fish with a fork or tongs will release its juices and make a mess of the tender fish flesh. Or, god-forbid, tear the fillet in half. And then in half again. Learn from my mistake.

Close the lid, continue cooking, and check the steelhead a couple minutes before the anticipated cooking time to ensure the fish does not become overcooked. *Perfect* fish will be red on the inside when done.

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Plank-Grilling

Remember that fad a few years back, “planking?” I never understood what that was or where it came from (someone please inform me). But it was extremely entertaining to watch my *former* friends (clearly I was unable to be seen in their presence after their planking performances) position themselves horizontally, like seals, on various inanimate objects. The most memorable plank I witnessed occurred on top of three-stacked-stories of washing machines. Because why not. Thank you, Berkeley, for teaching me the invaluable lessons of safety and body-preservation. Unlike the body-planking fad, which ended just as quickly as it began, cedar planking is something I understand. Admire. Adore. Am obsessed with.

After soaking the plank for about 2 hours, place the steelhead filet on the plank. It’s good to keep a clean grill, even when plank-grilling and not directly using the grate. After the BBQ is prepped and heated, place this beautiful collaboration of fish and cedar on the grill. Close the lid, and start the cookin’!

I do not turn my fish when I plank it. This is because I want the fish to soak up as much of the smoky cedar flavor as possible. Have no fear about the steelhead skin; it crisps up beautifully when facing upwards.

Large spatulas are ideal for taking large filets off the grill. After the allotted cooking time—6-8 mins per inch of fish when not turning it—the steelhead will be red in the middle and pink and cloudy on the outside.

Directions

Here’s how to make this delicious recipe

Sexy Steelhead on the grill

Rinse steelhead and pat dry. Drizzle some oil on the steelhead and let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle desired spices on top of the filet.

Preheat the BBQ. Open the lid when lighting the BBQ. After the grates have been cleaned and oiled, place fish flesh-side-down on the grill. Close lid and cook for half of the anticipated cooking time.

Turn the steelhead halfway through the cooking time, using a large spatula.

Steelhead_4

Turn the steelhead halfway through the cooking time

Close the lid and continue to cook for the remaining cooking time. Check on the filet a minute or two before the anticipated cooking time to make sure the steelhead doesn’t get overcooked. Remove steelhead from the grill before it starts to flake and while it’s still red in the middle.

Serve hot!

Sexy Steelhead on the plank

Rinse steelhead and pat dry. Drizzle some oil on the steelhead and let sit for a few minutes. Sprinkle desired spices on top of the filet.

Preheat the BBQ. Open the lid when lighting the BBQ. After the grates have been cleaned and oiled, place fish flesh-side-down on the cedar plank, and place the plank on the BBQ.

Steelhead_5

Place the steelhead flesh-side-down on the cedar plank, and place the plank on the BBQ

Close lid and cook for 6-8 minutes per inch of filet—no need to turn the fish.

Check on the filet a minute or two before the anticipated cooking time to make sure the steelhead doesn’t get overcooked. Remove steelhead from the grill before it starts to flake and while it’s still red in the middle.

Serve hot!

Ingredients

  • Large fillet (1 1/2+ lbs) of steelhead
  • olive oil

  • kosher salt
  • spices of your choice

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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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