An End-of-Summer Celebration: How to Roast a Whole Salmon

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Grease the grill with oil, then lay the salmon on the cooler side of the grill. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Many years ago I attended a dinner party where my friends roasted a whole stuffed salmon. I was impressed. I’d never even considered such a thing. And the results were astounding, the meat just melted in your mouth and was gently perfumed by the herbs and lemon stuffed inside the cavity. I re-created the recipe, designed for the grill, and have since made this for many large parties and gatherings.

Perfect for a end-of-summer celebration, preparing a whole salmon doesn’t have to be a daunting task. In fact, it’s really very simple (although it is pricey, so I only reserve this for special occasions). Just choose a quality fish, ideally a wild salmon during salmon season, from a reputable fishmonger. Make sure to have the fishmonger gut and clean the fish if they haven’t already.

Then all you have to do is stuff it with a handful of herbs and some sliced lemon, tie it with kitchen string, and throw it on a preheated grill. The hardest part is making sure you cook it slowly and evenly, turning it a few times, until it’s perfectly done, but not overcooked. Just keep a close eye on it, and pull it off just before you think it’s cooked through as the residual heat will continue to cook it.

    You can use this salmon as the centerpiece for just about any type of culinary themes. Here are a few fun ideas:
  • Serve it with garlic or lemon aioli and a few Mediterranean-inspired side dishes, such as fingerling potato salad
  • Serve it California style with plenty of Meyer lemon slices, a summer panzanella salad and grilled asparagus
  • Serve it with cucumber-yogurt raita, grilled Indian naan, and an array of Indian side dishes

Recipe: Grilled Whole Salmon

Makes 12 servings

  • 1 whole salmon, cleaned and gutted
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 lemons, sliced
  • Mixed herbs, such as chives, dill, basil, etc
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, thinly sliced
  • Olive oil

  1. Prepare a charcoal fire on one side of your grill.
  2. Sprinkle the inside of the salmon with salt. Layer the lemon slices, herbs, and butter slices evenly in the cavity of the salmon. Rub the outside of the salmon with olive oil. Close the salmon, then tie it in 4 or 5 places with kitchen string to hold the stuffing in place.
  3. Grease the grill with oil, then lay the salmon on the cooler side of the grill. The bottom vents should be open all the way, and the top vents closed halfway. Place the cover over the grill.
  4. Grill 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.
  5. To serve, transfer the fish to a large platter or baking sheet. Remove the skin and the backbone (and bones); they should easily slip out from the tender salmon. Remove the herbs and lemon slices from the inside. Using a spatula, cut it into serving-sized pieces.