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How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com

The Simplest Way to Make Crispy-Skin Grilled Salmon

Wild salmon is precious. While I’ve known that in the abstract, it’s all hitting home while reading Langdon Cook’s acclaimed new book Upstream.

Generally I’m delighted to find flash-frozen wild salmon at a local grocer. But last week while vacationing on Vashon Island, I indulged in fresh sockeye salmon filleted to order.

Then, when I returned home, the headline on our local newspaper read, “Chinook Salmon Harvest Cancelled this Year.” {That’s the species marketed as “king.”}

Precious has a taste. The fish we ate around the fire that night on Vashon was achingly good. Cooked just to succulent doneness with a crispy skin.

This, in itself, is a rare thing.

Saving Salmon Skin

Have you ever had salmon served with the skin as browned and crisp as a potato chip?

I learned to skin salmon so that customers at a high-end restaurant where I cooked didn’t have to be bothered by food waste at the table. I, too, habitually scraped off or avoided fish skin.

But I haven’t skinned a salmon for my own eating in years.

I’m not sure when it happened. Was it the fact that sushi restaurants were charging for salmon skin rolls? Or that I read about the omega 3s stored in the fishes’ skin?

Or when I cooked a skin-on frozen salmon fillet in a hot pan and then took a bite of the tender flesh with the shattering skin?

Grilled salmon with an extra\-crispy skin and grilled lemon at lynnecurry.com.
A very crispy and deliciously char-grilled skin-on salmon.

However it happened, I became one of the converted. Crispy-skinned salmon is similar to eating fried chicken: two textures, more flavors. Excitement ensues.

Skin-On Grilled Salmon

A few weeks ago, I taught a grilling class for a fun group of women. {This article is a summary of some of my major tips especially for beginners.} Among other things, we grilled flat breads, lettuce, beef, chicken and shrimp.

But no fish. Fin fish, like halibut and salmon, are more in the intermediate griller’s range. Not because it’s difficult by any means, although most people do overcook it.

It’s more the general uncertainty–when is it done?, people worry. So, I believe it just takes the confidence of a griller with a bit of experience.

But you can’t get any experience if you don’t try. And this method is the simplest because it involves no flipping. That’s right, you won’t have to worry about sticking or fish acrobatics of any kind.

How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
High-quality fish needs only good seasoning and attentive heat application.

There are only three components required to grill salmon:

  1. Fresh or flash-frozen wild-caught salmon {while others may promote farmed fish, I am firmly committed to preserving sustainable salmon fisheries.}
  2. Seasoning, by which I mean salt. Preferably sea salt. My current favorite is Jacobsen’s kosher salt farmed on the Oregon coast.
  3. Medium-high heat from any source, but a grill–if you have one of any make or kind–is ideal.

Optional extra: That funny spatula in the photo is a fish spatula {also called a “fish turner”}. It is offset with a very thin blade, which makes it very practical for fish and many other uses.

How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
The white albumin (protein) that appears is an indication of doneness.

A Simple Salmon Supper

As for accompaniments to the salmon, I admit to being a purist. No honey-mustard marinades or mango salsas allowed when the fish is this good. Instead, I reach for one of these simple garnishes:

And of course, eat every bite with some of that crispy skin!

Nettle butter melted onto grilled salmon and a nettle butter recipe at lynnecurry.com.
Grilled salmon fillet served with nettle butter and grilled asparagus.

To make dinner even easier, grill some vegetables tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper. Asparagus, sliced zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, portabella mushrooms, carrots or even lettuce. {Here’s a ranking of the 12 best candidates.} When wild grilled salmon is on the menu, there isn’t much else you need.

Just add some good friends, a chilled bottle of wine and enjoy this easy meal in your own great outdoors. Summer is on.

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How to grill skin-on wild salmon at lynnecurry.com
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Crispy Skin Grilled Salmon

This is a basic grilling method for producing just-cooked salmon with a crunchy skin for your eating enjoyment. Or, you can remove the skin easily after grilling for those who choose not to partake. Use this to practice and gain confidence in your own grilling expertise. 

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 1 salmon fillet, skin on wild whenever possible
  • kosher salt
  • 1 medium lemon, sliced

Instructions

  1. Preheat your gas grill or light a medium-hot charcoal fire. When ignited and heated, put the grill cover on for 15-20 minutes with the cooking grate. Remove the cover and scrape the grate thoroughly clean.

  2. Remove the fillet from the refrigerator and place it on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the salt evenly all over the fish.

  3. Place the fillet skin side down over the hottest part of the grill. Arrange the lemon slices around the fish. Cook until the bottom of the fish starts to change color, about 5 minutes. Turn the lemon slices to grill the second side and remove to a platter when grill marks appear.

  4. Place the grill cover back on to retain the heat (turning the grill into an oven) and cook the topside of the fish. Check the fish in 3 minutes. Some of the white albumen will begin to appear, but it will still be less cooked at the thickest part. 

  5. At 125 degrees F, the salmon will be medium-rare, which some people prefer. If you are not one of them, return the cover and cook the fish for 2 to 3 minutes more. Don't be shy about using the spatula to cut into the fish if you are at all uncertain.

  6. The flesh will be firm to the touch and there will more of the white albumin visible all over the fish. At 135 degrees F, the fish is completely cooked, but it is best to remove the fish at 130 degrees F--or a minute or two before completely cooked--because the residual heat will finish the cooking off the grill.

  7. At this point the skin will be very crisp, nearly charred in places, and release easily from the grate. Slice a spatula underneath the fillet all around just to check. Then, with a second spatula, lift the fish onto the platter with the lemon slices. 

Recipe Notes

Many people grill salmon with olive oil. I don't find it necessary, except when I want to add that flavor, because the fish is so deliciously fatty on its own.And, sticking is never an issue with this method. That said, go ahead and oil the fish, if you'd like.

Comments

  1. Wow! This is a nice change as we always remove the skin when grilling. Will definitely try to prepare it skin-on. Thank you for the wonderful tip.

    1. Thanks, Sheila. I hope it makes the whole grilling operation more streamlined for you. I’d love to know if you end up liking to *eat* the skin, too.

  2. chris kye

    Thank you for sharing!
    Should the grill cover be on for the first 5 minutes?
    Do you flip the fish over at 5 minutes?
    Thank you, CK

    1. For the first 5 minutes, the grill cover is OFF; then you put the grill cover ON to finish cooking. The fish cooks on the skin side down the whole time. Thanks for your questions, and hope this method works as well for you as it does for me!

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