Sunday, July 4, 2010

Whole Grilled Salmon

It is salmon season here in the great northwest! Salmon is my favorite fish, followed closely by tuna, so when the opportunity to buy a whole (smallish) salmon for $4.99/lb presented itself I jumped on it. (really, I practically tripped over the shopping cart lunging for it...)

oh. my. god. What a fantastic grilling opportunity. Others may be grilling hot dogs and burgers, but our Independence Day celebration was a bit different this year! I recently watched an episode of BBQ U (Steven Raichlen, of Primal Grill awesomeness) in which he grilled a whole salmon for a wedding feast. There was an aioli dipping sauce which inspired me to finally get around to making my own mayo as well. (It was a success, but should be it's own post I think) So following Raichlen's demonstration, I cut out a cardboard template (really just a narrow rectangle, 1/2 of the bottom of a bottled water box) and wrapped it in aluminum foil. I scaled the skin with a serrated knife by running it against them opposite the direction they lay. It was a messy proposition, luckily I was working on the deck, but I do wish it was done when the rest of the processing happened behind the scenes. At this point I got the grill going, lit all 4 burners on high and closed the top.

After placing the salmon on the "plank" (I'm sure you could use a real plank of wood here, just make sure it hasn't been treated with any nasty chemicals, and soak it in water for an hour or so before grilling) I made slits in the top half and seasoned the fish inside and out with sea salt and black pepper. I drizzled olive oil over the whole thing then and caressed it into the cracks and massaged it over the skin. I couldn't remember which herbs Raichlen used, so I placed dill and rosemary inside the fish and lemon slices in the slits and inside the fish. I thought onion and garlic slices would probably be traditional and tasty, but I wanted pure sweet coral salmon flesh with just the hint of lemon and herb without distraction.

Turned off the center 2 burners and placed salmon on plank on the grill, closed the cover and let cook in the indirect heat for 35 minutes. 35 minutes of anticipation, inhaling the smell of roasting lemon and herbs, and imagining the crisping salty sticky fatty skin shortly to be in my mouth. Thankfully, (though I do think the fat in salmon has such health benefits I rather do wish my family would partake) nobody else wanted any, so I delicately peeled away the skin on the top half, and found it just as I had imagined.

I think all this food fantasizing and imagery has some basis in childhood issues. Perhaps more navel gazing will sort it out eventually. I find that even when I am making healthy choices I over romanticize food, it really shouldn't be such an event. At least not all the time. I am torn between the desire to eat to live (not live to eat!) using food as fuel only, and the real pleasure I get from preparing delicious and inventive foods. I think cooking in all it's forms is a major way that I care for people, food has always been so important to me, makes me feel better, comforts, etc, etc, that part of me feels it must be this way for others, so I can show love for other people by giving them delicious food. I am aware of how awful this is because when I was a child I was under the distinct impression that it would be hurtful or insulting to not overeat a "special" dish that relatives or friends had prepared and I certainly never want my own children to feel pressure to eat when they are not hungry! For this reason I am also hesitant to make certain foods even as special unusual treats for fear that my children will associate them with mommy making something special and thus good/important to eat. I don't want them to have any emotional attachment to cookies, the physical reaction to sweet will certainly be enough. I try hard to focus my creative efforts on cooking tasty, particularly healthy foods that I hope will become lifelong favorites for my family both because of the taste, but also the experience  of "mom's home cooking" that gets so many addicted to high carb comfort food.

Back to my salmon! The flesh was cooked perfectly to my taste, almost raw close to the bone, perfectly tender and opaque the rest of the way through. The sea salt and lemon along with the herbs went perfectly with the sweet sea taste. It was a hit with James but Sophia (4) and Maggie (2) were not such fans. I was surprised because generally they have really advanced pallets, but so be it. They like canned salmon plenty! We set aside 5 more servings of just the salmon for the next couple of days (so really it worked out to be a fairly economical meal) and I made quite a mess of my face and hands sucking the fat off the bones and under the fins. I was really too full to finish the skin from the bottom half (plus it wasn't crispy) so I spread it out on the foil plank and wrapped the whole thing in saran. I am going to put it in the oven tomorrow to crisp up so I can have salmon crackling! (omg, swoon!) I also mushed up all the bones and fins into a small pot and covered with water, added the herbs and lemon slices and a splash of white wine vinegar and simmered for a couple of hours to make an absolutely delicious broth, which is in the fridge waiting for me to reheat, add gelatin, and make a sort of aspic. I am smiling giddily thinking about this... You might think the smell of fish bones simmering would be perhaps slightly unpleasant, but it was not. Even James thought it was lovely with the dill and lemon making the house really smell wonderful.

 We ate leftover cold grilled zuchini and yellow squash, leftover lemon/olive oil beets (also grilled, will make a separate post) and some sliced cherry tomatoes in olive oil and white wine vinegar.Can you tell we have been grilling quite a lot lately?

The real star on the table (besides the salmon of course!) was the freshly made mayo from our own chicken's yolks and light olive oil. I used lemon juice for the acid, and a bit of lemon zest and garlic. I think there was a bit of olive oil taste, but it was severely overpowered by the garlic so it was not even something I could experiment with this time. I will make another batch soon as we are almost out of this one already and leave it garlic-less to see how we like the olive oil taste. This is a huge breakthrough for me b/c I have been totally daunted by the idea of making my own mayo for years, even though I was familiar with the process. I loooooooove trader joe's organic mayo and it is a huge staple for me, but I hate that it is made with soybean oil, if I can get in the habit of making our own mayo with olive oil or chicken fat (oooh, duck fat perchance?) , etc, I will be very happy.

ok, ok, more on mayo next time!

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