By PAUL SIDORIAK
I went fishing in Idaho for salmon recently and did something unusual. I caught some fish!
I normally trout fish. I’ve recently been enjoying pike fishing when I can, but I had never successfully salmon fished before. We were after spring Chinook salmon in the Clearwater River near Lewiston, ID.
I was able to get out in a couple of boats with different friends each day, which allowed me to see various techniques for catching an anadromous fish. Although the fishing was not lights out for us, the captains were both successful in helping me fill my tags and bring home some filets for the grill.
One of my fishing buddies told me that Chinook salmon should be prepared simply. He said, “Save the sauces and marinades for other species. The spring Chinook is best prepared simply with salt, pepper, and perhaps some dill.”
I took his advice and made spring Chinook salmon two ways on the grill. As advised, the first filet was seasoned simply: Salt, pepper, dill, and fresh lemon. No gimmicks, no shenanigans.
It was cooked on a cedar plank, which is a great way to add a good amount of flavor to the fish with little or no worry of it sticking to the grill or falling apart. If I have the time, I like to soak the cedar plank in water for a couple of hours before grilling. This can add a little steam to your cook, and in theory, helps prevent it from bursting into flames.
I put my filet on the plank, skin-side down, and placed it directly on the hot grill grate. It takes about the same time to cook as if you had grilled directly on the grate. The cedar plank will almost certainly char and possibly even burn a bit, which is normal. You may want to consider keeping a spray bottle of water on hand to give the plank a spritz if it turns from a healthy char into a minor conflagration (but I don’t).
My other filet was prepared with a method that has gained tremendous popularity on my grill lately: Blackening. There are many advantages to blackening on the grill. It is a hot, fast, effective way to cook fish and it brings a diverse amount of flavor to the franchise.
Due to the high heat and fast cook time, the blackening method will often leave a crispy, charred crust on your food, providing texture as well as flavor. Generally, we do not stick to a recipe when making a blackening seasoning. Spices are seldom measured and ingredients are often free-styled. I have even been known to add a spice just because I accidentally knocked it out of the cabinet and it landed near the others, like it wanted to be on the team.
My blend generally consists of paprika, thyme, cumin, coriander, onion and garlic powders, salt, pepper, and oregano – adding or subtracting ingredients based on my mood. There are some fantastic all purpose seasoning or blackening seasonings on the web that are just a click away.
The salmon was lightly dredged in my homemade seasoning and blackened on a pre-heated cast iron skillet with a little oil on it. I cannot emphasis enough how important it is for you to use extra caution with the oil on the hot cast iron. The oil when combined with a searing hot pan and the open flame of the grill can be disastrous if you are not careful, so please be careful.
A huge advantage of blackening on the grill is that you can get a much higher temperature than most kitchen ranges. Also, the blackening process kicks out a tremendous amount of fragrant smoke that isn’t always welcomed in a domestic kitchen.
For a vegetable, the local food farm had fresh sweet corn. I placed it directly on the grill husk, silk, and all. I try to put it near a hot spot but not directly over the hottest part of the grill. It takes a little practice, but if you turn it a few times, let the stalks get an even char, and keep it from scalding on direct heat, the corn should be done in 20-30 minutes. The husk and silk will effortlessly peel off the cob and you don’t have to heat up your house with a pot of boiling water on a summer day.
Whenever possible, I try to balance my meals with a protein, vegetable, and starch. I did not have a starch for this dish, and did not have any ideas. Contemplation led me to the freezer to fetch some ice for an adult beverage and liquid encouragement. When I opened the freezer door, a bag of cooked rice I froze from the other night stared me down, and then it hit me like a cattle prod.
Can rice be cooked on the grill? Why not! I have already shared my disdain for recipes, but this is basically what I came up with on the fly:
Grilled leftover rice and red bell pepper patties
- 4 cups cooked jasmine rice, cooled
- 1 tsp each of onion powder, garlic powder, ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp each of Worcestershire, Sriracha, and soy sauces
- 5 tbsp each of diced red bell pepper, finely-diced tomato, rice wine vinegar, and sourdough starter mix (optional)
- 1 egg
- ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
I added all the dry ingredients (except the Panko), pepper, and tomato to the rice and gave it a good stir.
The wet ingredients I put in a bowl, which had the egg cracked into it. I whisked the heck out of the egg, sauces, and vinegar. When it looked like a homogenous salad dressing, I stirred it into the seasoned rice. At the end, I added the panko crumbs to tighten it up and then made it into patties for the grill.
To make the patties, I took a ramekin, sprayed it with food-release stuff, and packed it tight with rice. I slammed the patty on a plate and repeated a few more times. I put the patties in the freezer to harden up and hold their shape. Before I put them on the grill, they got a brush of oil.
The rice browned nicely, grill marks showed up, and they did not fall apart. The rice had a wonderful crunch from the high heat with a scosche of spicy heat, and a rich sweetness.
Even though I had cooked the first salmon I had ever caught, and inaugurated the grilling season with the first of the year’s sweet corn, using the grill to cook rice turned out pretty nice!
Check out Paul’s other tasty summer grilling recipes, Spatch Cock Grilled Chicken, The Best Burger Grill-Off Competition, and Carne Asada Fajitas with Grilled Veggies, and stay tuned for more delicious grilling recipes all summer long!
Paul moved to Montana in 1996 with about a dozen friends from Lyndon State College in Vermont. He is still reluctantly paying his student loans and has carved out a career working as a supplier representative for various food and beverage products.
Paul enjoys grilling after a day on the water or an afternoon in the garden, where he has been known to grow heirloom tomatoes and peppers out of spite. Often cooking for extended family and friends, he takes a whimsical approach to cooking simple, seasonal dishes, while not taking it too seriously.
Paul does all of his grilling on the Big Green Egg Grill–Available in Missoula at the Axmen.
You can read more of Paul’s grilling recipes at his blog site, Montana Mise en Place.