This fish, with its haunting edge of smoke, is a showcase recipe for a beautiful piece of salmon, or other oil-rich fish. Smoke-roasted slowly on a grill over an indirect fire, the salmon burnishes to a golden glaze and nearly melts on your fork. Serve the salmon whole, with tender leaves of butter lettuce tucked around its edges. The lettuce will wilt a little in the salmon juices, creating a new pairing - warm salmon and cool, sweet greens.
Cook-to-Cook: To avoid heartbreak, before buying your side of salmon, measure your grill to be certain it will fit! And before heading out for your fish, check seafoodwatch.org for ecologically sound choices and environmentaldefense.org for concerns about contamination.
Wine: The richness of this fish demands a rich wine to match. Look to a Chardonnay from California or Australia or, if you prefer a red, try a young West Coast Pinot Noir.
1. Prepare your grill for a two-zone fire. If using a gas grill, set one burner on high and one burner on low.
2. Double a piece of heavy-duty foil large enough to fit the fish with another 4 to 6 inches on each side, to act as handles. Perforate the foil with small holes no larger than a pencil to allow the smoke to surround the fish. Generously oil the foil and rub olive oil over both sides of the fish. Place the salmon skin side down on the foil. Sprinkle it with the salt and pepper to taste. Loosely crimp the foil up and around the sides of the salmon so that some of the smoke can be captured around the fish.
3. When the coals are medium-hot, throw a half-cup of the soaked and drained wood chips on the hottest part of the fire. Quickly place the salmon in its foil onto the grate with the thick side closest to the hottest portion of the grill. Put the lid on the grill, making sure the vents are wide open on the lid and at the base of the grill.
4. Add more wood chips and charcoal as needed to keep the fire burning and the wood chips smoking to the point that smoke is billowing out. If the fire seems to be dying, blow a little on the coals and give it a bit more oxygen to get it going again.
5. A 2 1/2- to 3-inch-thick piece of salmon will cook in 25 to 30 minutes. The salmon is done when it's colored to a burnished gold, the oils are beginning to pool on the surface, and there is nearly opaque at the center of the thickest part of the filet.
6. Using an oven mitt, carefully lift the foil with salmon from the grill by grasping the foil's ends. Set it onto a serving platter, and let rest for 10 minutes.
7. To serve, trim the foil away from the edges of the fish with scissors, and tuck the leaves of butter lettuce around the sides. Sprinkle with the fresh tarragon.
Work Night Encores
Home-Smoked Salmon Mousse: For every 1 1/2 cups of crumbled salmon, measure 1/8 of a medium onion, about 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, and lemon juice to taste. Puree the ingredients together in a food processor and serve in a crock for spreading on cucumber slices and crackers.
Salmon Niçoise on Red-Skinned Potatoes: Boil one small to medium potato per person until tender, but not falling apart. Drop the potatoes in ice water, cool 5 minutes, and peel. Thinly slice and fan each potato on a dinner plate. Sprinkle with good-tasting olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little wine vinegar. Meanwhile, take the chill off the leftover salmon by warming it in a skillet. In a bowl, toss it with 1 or 2 tablespoons of capers, a little grated lemon zest, some chopped pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives, chopped scallion, parsley, and freshly squeezed lemon juice to taste. Make mounds of the salmon in the center of each plate, and serve.
According to life-long griller John Willoughby, anything you roast in the oven is even better cooked outside with a little smoke. Think whole fish and chicken, pork roasts and lamb and, of course, the Thanksgiving bird. John has a couple of tricks. First, you need a grill with a lid that is at least 22 inches in diameter. You never want what you're grilling to cook over more than a scattering of coals. Smoke roasting is all about indirect heat. He also warns that people tend to use "way too many coals." You need only enough coals to fit in a shoe box, about 3 or 4 handfuls, and you need to replenish them every 30 minutes to keep up a steady heat.
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Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.