by Jess Thomson
Serves 10 | Start to finish: 45 minutes (plus heating grill)
from Edible Seattle July/August 2009
Stuffed with garlic, rosemary, and toasted fennel, then laid out on a grill, whole fresh salmon is a less expensive (and fancy-looking) way to serve a crowd.
Note: Measure the length (or diameter) of your grill before selecting a fish—if space is an issue, you can remove the head and/or tail. It’s helpful to have two sets of hands for seasoning and turning the salmon.
3 tablespoons olive oil for fish, plus 3/4 cup more for grill grate
1 whole keta (chum) salmon (6 to 7 pounds)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
40 cloves garlic, crushed (from 3 large heads)
2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds, toasted
3 (8″) sprigs fresh rosemary, plus more for garnish, if desired
The key to keeping a whole fish from sticking to the grill is oil—lots of it. Before you begin, scrupulously clean your grill’s grate, then oil it generously on both sides.
Preheat a grill over moderate heat, to roughly 325 degrees—you should be able to hold your hand next to the grate for about 3 seconds. (If you’re using a charcoal grill, make sure the coals go all the way to the edges of the grill.) Let the oiled grate sit on the fire as it heats—and be careful, the oil will catch. When all oil has burned off, remove the grate, brush it with oil again, and return it to the fire for a few more minutes.
While the grill heats, season the inside of the salmon liberally with salt and pepper. Mix the garlic, fennel, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil together in a bowl, and stuff the mixture into the fish, along with the rosemary sprigs. Close the fish as well as you can (some of the filling may fall out—that’s okay!). Rub the top side of the fish with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Carefully turn the fish (rolling it along its spine), and repeat with the last tablespoon of oil on the second side.
When both grill and fish are ready, brush the grill liberally with about 1/3 cup more oil. (Protect your working hand from flames with an oven mitt.) Place the fish on the grill and cook, undisturbed, covered, until the bottom half of the fish’s flesh begins to look opaque, about 15 minutes. Using two (or more) spatulas, carefully roll the fish to its other side by turning it along its spine. Cook another 15 minutes or so, covered, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest section of fish reads 130 degrees.
(Hint: If it becomes obvious that your fire is too hot, don’t just yank the fish off—wait until the skin is cooked and lifts off the grill easily. Set the fish aside while you adjust the heat, then return the fish to the grill.)
Scrape about half the garlic out onto the grill, and transfer the fish to the serving plate. Cook the garlic for just a minute or two, turning when browned, and serve with the salmon.