Many years ago I attended a dinner party at the home of fellow culinary adventurers. For the main course they served a whole roasted salmon–stuffed with dill, lemon slices, garlic, and butter. I was awestruck. I had never prepared an entire fish, skin, bones, head, eyes, tail and all. Not only was it beautiful after the foil was removed and the steam cleared, but it melted in your mouth. I mean MELTED. I had never had salmon like that.
Since that time I have prepared many versions of this whole roasted salmon, both in my oven and on my grill, nearly always stuffing it with herbs–typically dill–and rubbing it with butter or olive oil and salt and pepper. It’s a great way to impress a large party of dinner guests, and because you purchase such a large quantity of fish, the price is generally quite low. I typically (okay, always) get my whole wild salmon at Ver Brugge’s in Rockridge. The fish is gutted, but everything else is intact and I highly recommend leaving it as is, the result is worth it.
Recently I decided put a new spin on my whole salmon. I cured the salmon with a salt-pepper-sugar mixture about 3 hours, then smoked it on the grill over indirect heat, and served it with a spicy yogurt sauce. Everyone, even Banti (my little helper seen above), ate it up. We did have quite a bit of leftover salmon though, so the next day I mixed the tender morsels with some fresh herbs, minced onion, egg yolk, and fresh bread crumbs and made salmon patties, served with the yogurt sauce of course.
Whole Smoked Salmon with Spicy Yogurt Sauce
For the salmon:
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups wood chips for smoking
Small aluminum roasting pan (that can fit on one side of your grill)
For the sauce:
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper, seeded
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups whole plain yogurt (I used Brown Cow)
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix together the sugar, salt, and pepper. Rub the salmon inside and out with the cure. Place on a platter, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling.
To make the sauce, in a non-reactive bowl, stir together all ingredients. Cover and chill for 1 hour before serving. The sauce will keep for up to 2 days.
Soak the wood chips in a bowl with water to cover, for about 1/2 hour. Drain and wrap in foil packet, use a small sharp knife to make holes in both sides of the foil packet.
Prepare a charcoal fire on one side of your grill. Place the roasting pan on the other side, and fill with 1 inch of water. Place the wood chips packet on top of the hot coals. Cover with the grill.
Rub the outside of the salmon with olive oil, then lay the salmon above the roasting pan on the grill. The bottom vents should be open all the way, and the top vents closed halfway. Place the cover over the grill so that the vents are above the salmon. Smoke the salmon for about 30 minutes (depending upon the size of the salmon), turning once. Turning the salmon can be tricky, I used two large spatulas and the help of a friend! The salmon is done when just barely cooked through, but be careful not to overcook it.
Serve the salmon on a platter and pass the yogurt sauce on the side. I typically peel away the skin and then remove the backbone (just cut down the center of one side of the fish, gently flip the fillets away and the backbone will be in the center; once you find it you can literally just pull it away).