Memorial Day in the US is traditionally the kickoff of summer grilling season.
The holiday has a much deeper meaning, but there is a history of grilling in our family. In fact, the title of this blog comes from a conversation on a Memorial Day weekend 14 years ago. Back in my more uninformed gas grilling days, I had gotten a new Char Broil 4 burner gas grill and was showing it off to some picnic guests. I was all excited and uttered the line, “It’s like my own Altar of Meat.”
There was then a comment about a cow on a crucifix, but we thought that would result in a lightning strike. Surprisingly, our friends turned up with what has become the symbol of the Altar of Meat.
The Altar has been upgraded over the years. First to another gas grill, then I discovered the Book of Traeger and have been preaching that liturgy ever since.
Memorial Day weekend also coincides with the opening or Copper River salmon season. This year is a first for us, as we finally have a local Wegmans and we don’t need to drive 45 minutes to pick up some fish. As I walked up to the fish counter, I could see the rich red of the sockeye in the case and I actually let out a “Yes!” in the middle of the aisle. I’m sure people were looking at me funny, but don’t care.
Managed to get it cooked on Sunday. I tried something different. Now, for most fish, I usually cook with alder wood. Fish is a lot lighter, so I never seek to overwhelm the natural flavor with smoke. Salmon can be a different breed, though. Its flavor is such that it can handle a stronger wood, so I loaded up the Traeger with hickory pellets and set it for 225. I put my Lodge cast iron griddle in the Traeger and heated that up along with the grill.
Once everything reached temperature, I put the two filets on the griddle and threw a ham on another rack for later use. Took around 40-45 minutes, but the salmon had hit 140. In the meantime, the High Priestess had been cooking some fresh corn on the stovetop. Paired together, it was a great summer meal. Fresh flavors
The verdict is that while the salmon had a great flavor, complimented by the hickory smoke, the texture was not as firm as usual. Didn’t matter… the meat flaked off the skin perfectly and it was so rich and buttery.
Had to go back to the store for some items and again heard the siren song of the sockeye. This time, I cooked it a little more conventionally. Now, I’m not a huge fan of rubs on fish. In my mind, if you have a good piece of fish, you don’t need to disguise the flavor. Copper River sockeye is a good piece of fish, so all I use is a spritz of olive oil, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. That’s it.
I’ve found that at a higher heat, the olive oil helps to create a thin crust on the top of the salmon. This makes for a lovely mouthfeel, yielding but with a touch of firmness. This is what I was going for, so I put a silicone grill mat in the Trager and cranked that bad boy to 500 degrees. You don’t get a ton of smoke at that temperature, but that wasn’t the target.
The results were even better. While it didn’t have the same level of smokiness as filets prepared at a lower temperature were able to achieve, I believe the result was superior overall.
That being said, if you like salmon, locate the Copper River sockeye. It’s worth every penny.