Good-quality farmed salmon and frozen salmon are available year-round, but fresh wild salmon is a seasonal treat – and that season is right now. What better excuse, then, to make salmon the star of Sunday’s supper? In this case, we’re going to walk it out to the grill, then top it off with a refreshing salsa.
The recipe is almost boringly simple: grilled fish with Greek salad that is chopped down to salsa size. But the angel is in the details.
The fish is briefly brined with salt, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, a combo that deeply flavors the fish before it lands on the grill. The tomatoes are lightly salted and patted dry before being chopped and added to the salad, a step that concentrates their tomato-y taste. The red onion is soaked in ice water to defang its sharp bite. As for the cheese, if you don’t want any, leave it out. Likewise, if you’re no fan of chiles, don’t put them into the salsa. (The chiles called for here are pepperoncini, a mild, pickled Italian pepper that often graces Greek salads.)
Another good trick is to cook the salmon with its skin on. That helps to keep the fish from falling apart and makes for a pleasingly crispy contrast to the tender flesh. You should cook it that way even if you don’t end up eating the skin, which is so easy to pull off afterward.
How can you tell when the fish is done? Stick a sharp knife into it. If the blade goes through with just a little bit of resistance in the thickest part of the flesh, the fish is ready to come off the grill. Let it rest for a few minutes, then present it with pride.
Sara Moulton’s pal and grilling expert Elizabeth Karmel says the way to keep these fillets from sticking to the grill is to oil the salmon, not the grate they are cooked on. And the grate should be hot and scraped clean before the fish goes on.
Grilled Salmon With Greek Salad Salsa
Yield: 6 servings
Serve with fresh buttered peas and vegetable chips.
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 cup finely chopped seedless (English) cucumber
1 teaspoon finely grated zest and 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped pepperoncini
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
2 teaspoons minced garlic
Six 6-ounce center-cut, skin-on salmon fillets
Vegetable oil, for brushing on the salmon
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil, for garnish
Place the red onion in a small bowl; cover with ice water and soak for 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Spread the cherry tomato halves, cut sides up, on paper towels. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and let them rest for 15 minutes. Pat them dry with paper towels and cut them into pieces the size of the cucumber.
Whisk together 1/4 teaspoon salt, the lemon zest and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice in a medium bowl until the salt has dissolved, then whisk in 2 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the onion, tomato, cucumber, pepperoncini, feta and olives to the bowl and toss until well incorporated.
Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice with the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a shallow baking dish, until the salt has dissolved. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and whisk until well blended.
Add the salmon fillets, turning to make sure they are coated on all sides. Let them sit for 20 minutes (at room temperature), turning them over several times.
Meanwhile, prepare the grill for direct heat: If using a gas grill, preheat to high (450 degrees). If using a charcoal grill, light the charcoal or wood briquettes; when the briquettes are ready, distribute them under the cooking area for direct heat. For a medium-hot fire, you should be able to hold your hand about 6 inches above the coals for 3 or 4 seconds. Have ready a spray water bottle for taming any flames. Lightly coat the grill rack with oil and place it on the grill.
Pat the salmon dry; discard the marinade. Brush each fillet generously with vegetable oil on both sides and place them on the grill, flesh sides down. Close the lid and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Nudge the salmon with a spatula; once it releases easily, turn it over. If it doesn’t release easily, give it another minute and then turn it over. Close the lid and cook for 1 to 2 minutes (medium-rare). If you want it well done, cook the salmon for a few minutes more.
Transfer the fillets to plates; let them rest for a few minutes before topping each portion with a generous spoonful of the salsa and the basil.