It's an exciting time of year when fresh wild Alaskan salmon shows up at the seafood counter, and it's only natural to want to do justice to this rare treat. Moist, rich, and flaky, there's nothing quite like a perfectly cooked salmon fillet or steak coming off the grill. But, it's a pricey fish, and anyone approaching it for the first time might be nervous about getting it right. So how do you do it right?
We have a few basic guidelines of our own to offer, but for some additional expert advice, we turned to chef de cuisine Ben Hightower at TRACE, located in the W Hotel in Austin, Tx. Hightower learned the ropes at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and has worked at the James Beard award-winning sushi restaurant Uchiko, under executive chef Paul Qui. This man knows his fish.
So, first things first: the steak or the fillet? Well, that's usually just a matter of preference, although the general consensus seems to be that the steak is a bit more forgiving for the first timer. It's a thicker cut with a more uniform shape and isn't quite as delicate as a fillet, and so it's less likely to fall apart when it's picked up and moved around on the grill. Plus, since it is a cross-section of the fish, rather than just a cut along the side, the steak will still have the bones in it, helping to hold it together, but also imparting additional flavor and juiciness, much like a bone-in cut of meat.
The fillet, however, is quicker cooking since it is generally thinner and is, quite frankly, just easier (and we think, more enjoyable) to eat. The fillet also has a skin that crisps up nicely when it hits a hot grill, and a layer of fat underneath that's full of flavor. So, if you're planning on using a fillet, please keep the skin on. Otherwise, you might as well just buy a steak cut.
Whichever cut you decide to cook though, there are some basic principles to keep in mind. Hightower had much to say.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.