With grilling season upon us, we’ll all be looking for new and delicious ways to feed a crowd. So I want to share one of my favorites – a center-cut salmon fillet.
All salmon grills up wonderfully, but center-cut fillets are particularly great when feeding larger groups. Because these fillets tend to have a uniform thickness, they cook up evenly (and are harder to overcook). And that means all your guests can eat at the same time. And by all, I mean a lot. Larger fillets can feed upward of 10 people. They also happen to look pretty impressive on a platter.
When buying salmon fillets, I opt for skin-on. The skin adds flavor and protects the delicate fish during grilling. The skin also gives you a nifty way to remove the fish from the grill with no fear of sticking. Start by having your fishmonger cut the skin from the fillet, then place the fillet back on the skin before wrapping it.
When ready to cook, you simply set the skin on the grill, then place the salmon on top of it. The salmon even could be cut into individual portions before being placed on the skin. Then just cook as directed and remove from the grill (lifting it off the skin) using a spatula.
I prefer wild salmon to farm-raised, but there are some good sustainable farm-raised options, too. The trick is to smell the fish. If it smells briny and clean, it is fresh. If it has any “fishy” or ammonia smell, do not buy it. I once bought a piece of fish that had a slight odor when raw and as I cooked it, it turned my whole backyard into a stink bomb! The moral of the story is that you should not cook fish that is past its prime.
Once you have your piece of fish, remove it from the paper and slowly and gently run your fingers up and down the flesh to feel for any small bones that have been left in it. You can remove these with fish pliers, cooking tweezers or standard drugstore tweezers. I do this a couple of times because these small bones have a tendency to hide in the dense flesh.
Because salmon is a more “meaty” fish, it can stand up to a world of flavors. My favorite glaze involves my favorite spirit! I’m a firm believer that bourbon makes everything taste better. That definitely is the case with my simple maple-bourbon glaze used in this recipe. It has only three main ingredients, so each of those ingredients must be of the best quality. The star is the bourbon, sweetened by real maple syrup and fresh orange juice, all balanced by a pinch of salt. This simple glaze brightens up the salmon, adds a complexity that makes you want a second helping, and elevates your backyard grilling to three-star status!
Maple-Bourbon Glazed Salmon Fillet
Want to feed more people? Buy a larger fillet. A 4-pound fillet will take roughly 30 minutes on the grill, and will feed eight people.
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2-pound center-cut salmon fillet (about 1 inch thick), skin separated, then replaced (see above)
Salt and ground white or black pepper
1/4 cup maple syrup
Juice and zest of 1/2 small orange
2 tablespoons bourbon
Heat the grill to medium and prepare it for indirect cooking. On a charcoal grill, this entails banking the coals to one side and cooking on the cooler side. On a gas grill, then means turning off one side (or the center burner) and cooking over the cooler section.
Check for and remove any small bones in the salmon. Brush the salmon on all sides with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Lay the fish, skin-side down, directly on the cooking grate on the cooler side of the grill. Cook the salmon until opaque, but still moist, 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the maple syrup, orange zest and juice, the bourbon and a pinch of salt. Brush the glaze over the salmon during the final 10 minutes. Do not turn the salmon during cooking.
To transfer the fish to a serving platter, slide a wide spatula between the flesh and the skin. Lift the salmon off the grill, leaving the skin behind. Cover the salmon with foil to keep warm.
Slide the skin over to the hot side of the grill, then close the lid. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the skin is crisp and the salmon oils are bubbling. Remove the skin from the grill and serve on the side as you would a chip.
Nutrition information per serving: 530 calories; 250 calories from fat (47 percent of total calories); 28 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 135 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 14 g sugar; 45 g protein; 380 mg sodium.
Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including “Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned.”