Published May 1, 2009.
It’s not the seasoning or the cooking that’s confounding—it’s getting the fish off the grill in one piece.
Cooking delicate salmon can be tricky. Even in a nonstick skillet, we still end up breaking the occasional fillet. Introduce that same fillet to a grill, and you’ve got a real challenge.
We wanted grilled salmon with a tender interior, crisp skin, and the fillet perfectly intact.
Part of the solution lay in a protocol we developed to clean the grill thoroughly: Place an overturned disposable aluminum pan over the grate as the grill warms up, trapping hot air and super-heating the grate to temperatures that exceed 800 degrees. Just like in a self-cleaning oven, the high heat causes grease and debris to disintegrate. By swapping the disposable pan for aluminum foil pressed flush against the grate, we bumped the temperature up higher, making the technique even more effective. We also chose thicker salmon fillets, which could stand the heat of the grill for a little while longer before the first turn.
As for preventing the fish from sticking, we did some research and found that we had two options: altering the proteins on the surface of the fish so they wouldn’t bond with the metal grate, or creating a barrier between fish and grill. Drying the fish’s exterior by wrapping it in kitchen towels and putting it in the refrigerator before grilling helped a little, but our breakthrough came when we took a cue from restaurant cooks, who rarely have the same sticking problems as home grillers. With a grill in use throughout the day at restaurants, there is a hefty buildup of polymers, the fatty-acid chains that form when oil heats up. Having a thick coating of these polymer layers means that the proteins can no longer come into direct contact with the metal and therefore cannot bond to it. To speed up this process and “season” our cooking grate in one session, we brushed our grate over and over with multiple layers of oil until it developed a dark, shiny coating. After laying the fillets on the grate, we easily flipped each fillet without even the tiniest bit of sticking. Preheating the grill to high and then turning it down to medium once we added the fish achieved optimum charring without overcooking. For flavor, we preferred just a sprinkle of salt and pepper or, with just a little more work, a tangy almond vinaigrette or a spicy rouille and olive vinaigrette.list of recipes