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Whole Salmon on the Grill Stuffed with Sea Salt, Lemon, and Onion

Barbecuing a whole salmon on the grill is a Seattle tradition, especially when celebrating any significant event or holiday, from the Fourth of July to Christmas. Try cooking a whole fish once in a while; it’s quicker and easier than you think. Jackie spends no more than ten minutes getting this salmon ready to go on the grill, then only about thirty minutes cooking it. Just wait until you carry this gorgeous, slightly charred, sizzling hot salmon to the table.

Some people don’t like eating the salmon skin, but if you do want to eat it, be sure to remove the scales or ask your fishmonger to do it for you. A small sharp knife or a boning knife works well for scraping the scales off, though Jackie uses an Italian cheese knife.

Try to get a wild salmon for this recipe, rather than a farmed salmon, because a fish with a nice firm texture is best. A 3½- to 4-pound fish is the perfect size for grilling. You can grill the salmon with the head and tail on or ask your fishmonger to remove them. Instead of salmon, try substituting a steel head, large trout, striped bass, or red snapper.

NotesA STEP AHEAD:

You can make the butter up to 3 days ahead and store it, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature a few hours before you plan to serve it.

Stuff and tie the salmon early in the (lay and keep refrigerated.

 PERFECT SALMON WINES

If you’re serving...

Chilled poached salmon with dill mayonnaise: Try Pol Roger Rosé Champagne, France—the bubbles cut through the oily mayo.

Pan-seared salmon fillets or salmon steaks: Try Christom Pinot Noir, Oregon—stands up to a browned crust.

Steamed salmon fillets: Try Ponzi Pinot Gris, Oregon—light and fruity.

Baked salmon fillets, steaks, or whole fish: Try Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay, Washington—the light oakiness and buttery finish make a good match.

Charcoal-grilled salmon fillets, steaks, or whole fish: Try L’Ecole No. 41 Merlot, Washington—the smoky tannins can take the charcoal flavor.

Makes8 Servings

Cooking Methodgrilling

CostModerate

Total Timeunder 1 hour

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party, Family Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, healthy, low carb, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentgrill

Mealdinner, lunch

Moodfestive

Taste and Texturebuttery, herby, savory, smoky

Ingredients

  • Sea salt
  • 1 whole salmon, about 4 pounds, gutted, rinsed, and patted dry
  • ½ medium onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 small bunch fennel fronds or fresh dill
  • All-purpose flour for dusting
  • Olive oil for brushing
  • Lemon wedges and fennel fronds or fresh dill for garnish
  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh fennel fronds or fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Fennel Butter: Mix together the butter, fennel, orange juice, zest, and honey until smooth, either in a food processor, in an electric mixer, or by hand. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Scrape the butter into a decorative small bowl and serve.Makes about 1 cup

  2. Fire up the grill, with the coals lined up for direct heat about 5 to 6 inches below the fish.

  3. Sprinkle sea salt generously in the cavity of the fish and over the skin, then stuff the cavity with the onion, lemon, and fennel fronds. Tie kitchen string around the fish in three or four places to hold the stuffing in.

  4. In between the strings, make deep incisions with your knife through the thickest part of the fish on both sides, all the way down to the spine, so the fish will cook more quickly and the smoke flavor will get inside the fish.

  5. Lightly dust one side of the fish with flour. Brush both the floured side of the fish and the grate with oil, then place the salmon on the grill, floured side down.

  6. Once the salmon is on the grill, lightly dust the other side of the fish with flour and brush it with oil.

  7. Grill the salmon over medium-hot direct heat, with the lid on and the vents open. If your grill has a thermometer, maintain the heat at 300°F to 350°F.

  8. When the skin side facing the grill is nicely browned, after about 20 minutes, use two large grill spatulas to flip the fish to the other side. Slide your spatula under the fish in several places first, to help detach the skin from the grill. Then continue to grill until the fish is just cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the fish reads 125°F to 135°F, 10 to 20 minutes longer, for a total grilling time of 30 to 40 minutes.

  9. Remove the fish from the grill, place it on a large platter, cut off the string, and let rest for 10 minutes.

  10. Garnish the salmon with lemon wedges and fennel fronds. Put the fennel butter in a small bowl and serve on the side.

  11. If you like, peel off the skin so your guests can more easily help themselves to the salmon. Use a paring knife to make an incision at the head end of the fish, then peel off the skin. Sprinkle a little sea salt directly over the flesh of the fish.

  12. Use a metal serving spatula to lift each serving of salmon up off the backbone of the fish. When all the fish has been served from one side, flip the fish over and repeat with the other side.

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