Some people think that to be worthy of a special occasion, a dinner has to be labor intensive. I have plenty of kitchen projects that take time and effort, but most have a larger purpose than a single meal: they’re destined for the freezer for later quick meals, the canning shelf for a year’s enjoyment, or the holiday cookie collection to share widely. When I celebrate milestones, like Twice as Tasty’s 5th birthday, I often choose foods I love but can’t grow, and I prepare them in a way that lets their flavors shine.
Wild Alaska salmon fits that list, especially when the fresh sockeye catch starts arriving from the Copper River watershed in late May and early June. Since this fish is being transported fresh, I ask the seafood market or fish counter for the expected delivery dates and try to buy and eat it the day it arrives. I prepare this fish many ways, but one of my favorites has evolved from a recipe in the Junior League of Seattle’s 1993 cookbook, Simply Classic.
I’ve adjusted the flavors from the original recipe to cut back on the sweetness and make it easy to scale up or down, depending on how much fish you’re grilling. Instead of a sweeter bourbon, I tend to use rye whiskey—often Bulleit Rye or whatever other brand we’re currently sipping at the house—and bring out its spice with a bit of Fermented Red Hot Sauce from my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need just 2 main ingredients plus some kitchen staples.
1. Mix the marinade and pour it over the salmon.
2. Grill the fish, basting it with the marinade, and enjoy.
Whiskey-Basted Grilled Salmon
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons sliced scallions, chives, or onion tops
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons rye whiskey
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sunflower or other high-smoking-point oil
1/2 teaspoon Fermented Red Hot Sauce
chives and slivered basil or sorrel for serving (optional)
Run your fingertips or the back of a knife over the fillet to check for small bones, and then remove them with tweezers. Lay the salmon flat, skin side down, in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with pepper. In a small glass measuring cup, whisk together the onions or chives, sugar, whiskey, soy sauce, oil, and hot sauce. Pour the marinade over the salmon and let sit in the refrigerator for up to an 1 hour.
Brush a hot grill with oil. Remove the salmon from marinade, reserving the marinade, and place the fish directly on the hot oiled grill. Cook for about 3 minutes per side for a thin fillet and longer for a thicker cut, until the center just starts to turn opaque and flake. As the fish cooks, brush on the reserved marinade. When done, move the fish to a clean plate, sprinkle with scallions and basil or sorrel if desired, and serve immediately. Leftovers can be refrigerated and served cold. Serves 2–3.
Tips & Tricks
- Fish can vary widely in thickness and the size of the cut per pound. A 1-pound fillet usually fits in a 9- by 13-inch glass pan without folding or curling, but you may need a larger or smaller dish to get your fillet flat.
- Cooking time also depends on thickness. Fish continues to cook once you pull it off the grill, using its retained heat, so it’s best to let the thickest part just turn opaque and remove it from the heat to avoid overcooking the fillet.
- This may not seem like much marinade when you pour it into a long pan, but it’s enough: You don’t want to overpower the flavor of the fish. Basting on the excess marinade as the fish cooks ensures you capture all of its flavor.
- When you flip the salmon on the grill, don’t be surprised if the skin pulls loose—and don’t toss it. Instead, spread it on a clean spot on the grill and let it cook until crispy but not charred. It’s delicious crumbled over the salmon or with leftovers on a salad.
- This fish stands alone on a bed of rice, but it shines with greens and herbs freshly cut from the garden. As with other grilled seafood, it pairs well with homegrown grilled vegetables (see below).
Twice as Tasty
As I was preparing this recipe, I realized that I had yet to feature salmon on the blog. You can find one of my other favorite salmon recipes—Gravlax (Salt-Cured Salmon)—in my new cookbook.
When it comes to cooking salmon, grilling is my favorite technique any time of year. I often do so simply, sprinkling the salmon with salt and pepper and resting it on some lemon or onion slices. You can also use many of the marinades I apply to other grilled seafood:
Since you’ve fired up the grill, it makes perfect sense to cook the entire meal on it. Grilling is a fabulous way to prepare fresh vegetables and keeps your kitchen cool in hot summer months. Landing the fish on a bed of greens with a side of grilled veg takes less prep work than a salad, but you can always chop and toss together one of those too; you’ll find some of my favorite combinations and dressings in the recipe index.
If you’re new to grilling vegetables, it’s easier than you think and applies to so many types. Here are some of my favorites:
You can get my recipes for Fermented Red Hot Sauce and Gravlax (Salt-Cured Salmon), plus plenty of other fun pickles, salsas, chutneys, and more in my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling. Click here to order a personally signed, packaged, and shipped copy directly from me. At the same time, pick up The Pickled Picnic, a digital collection in an easy-to-read PDF format for using pickles and leftover brine in a range of recipes. It’s available exclusively through Twice as Tasty.