Salmon really needs no introduction. We pretty much single-Traeger'edly pick the Alaskan waters and Great Lakes clean of this flavor-packed fish. Since salmon is so popular we wanted to make sure you had the proper tools and tips to turn out the perfectly flaky smoked or grilled fish. We hope these salmon cooking tips will help you cook the perfect salmon every time!
These handy tips and tidbits come from our all-around food expert, Nancy Loseke and yumsugar.com.
Go fish - Wild vs. Farmed Salmon
Our 1st salmon cooking tip is wild vs farm raised. Wild salmon get their color from carotenoids present in the wild food they eat. The flesh of farm-raised salmon is naturally grey, but take on a pinkish color from a synthetic replacement, astaxanthin. (Farmers know the public expects salmon to be pink.) Wild-caught salmon has a stronger, more distinctly pronounced salmon flavor compared to the farmed Atlantic salmon. Unfortunately, the best quality is only available from late Spring through the end of Summer. Something else important to remember is that if you are going to spend the extra money, make sure that your salmon is fresh - has clear eyes, smells clean and looks like it's jumped fresh from the river.
Evenly Cooking Salmon Fillets
Salmon fillets come in all shapes and thicknesses. Tail-piece fillets are thin whereas the center and head cuts are thicker. You can also choose between bone-in or boneless steaks. Thick cuts are our favorite to use because they are harder to overcook and easier to skin. A good tip is to save money by buying a large salmon fillet and cutting it yourself into equal-sized portions. To serve four, buy a fillet that is 1 1/2 to 2 pounds and about 1 1/2 inches at the thickest part.
3 tests for doneness:
1. Insert a metal skewer or the tip of a knife into the salmon and leave it there for 20 seconds. Then touch the metal to your bottom lip - It should feel very warm.
2. Press the fish with a fork or a finger: The flesh should appear opaque and separate easily into flakes.
3. Cook to an internal temperature of 140 degrees as read on an instant-read meat thermometer. (Please note: Some people prefer their salmon on the rare side.)
Skinning and Removing Pin Bones
Using the tip of a sharp knife, start at the corner of the fillet and begin cutting the skin away from the fish. Grasp the exposed skin firmly with a piece of paper towel, hold it taut, and carefully with a fluid motion slice the flesh off of the skin.
Removing Pin Bones - Even if you are buying skinned fillets, there is still a chance that it has a few pin bones. Pin bones are the small "floating" bones that are not attached to the primary skeletal system of the salmon. To find the pin bones, run your hand over the salmon fillet, feeling for hard little bumps. Slip a couple of fingers under the fillet where you detect a bone. The bone will be thrust upward, making it easier to grab and pull out with a clean pair of tweezers or needle-nosed pliers.
Salmon Colors - Gray & White Matter
You've probably noticed the thin layer of gray matter between the skin and the flesh of the salmon. This layer is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in the natural pink pigments found in the flesh. It's easy to remove this gray layer, scraping it off of the cooked fish with the back of a knife. But it may not be worth the effort because most people can't even taste the difference.
The other sometimes concerning color is the whiteish excretion on the top of flesh of the cooked salmon. This is albumin from the muscles. You can avoid this by either cooking the salmon for less time or brining the salmon first for 4 hours, using 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per cup of water.
What to make?
Now we're to the good part. This is quite the quandary since there are so many options. Salmon is very versatile and lends itself to hot-smoking, cold-smoking, baking, direct-grilling over high heat, poaching, etc. It can also be turned into jerky, also called “salmon candy” or Indian Candy. (you can find the recipe for Indian Candy in Traeger's Jerky Cookbook.)
Here are a few of our favorite Traeger recipes:
Cider Hot-Smoked Salmon
Cedar Planked Salmon with Mango Salsa
Smoked Salmon and Potato Breakfast Bake