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Secrets of Cooking Sizzling Salmon on the Grill

Grilling salmon is an easy and tasty way to eat fish. Loaded with protein and Omega 3's combined with easy availability makes it a natural choice for a lazy summer dinner. I love to grill whenever I can when the weather is warm, it gives me a break from the stove. Cooking with friends on the patio is a way to be outside, socially distance, share, and connect in a casual yet, satisfying experience.

One of my favorite contributions to a communal dinner is Grilled Pesto Slathered Salmon.

I love it because I can put it together in a flash with prepared pesto, or I can make my own signature pesto with what's coming up in the herb garden.

Chef's Tips for the Perfect Grilled Pesto Salmon

It starts with the pesto sauce. Pesto literally means "paste" in Italian. Made fresh is best, however, frozen or store-bought will work just as well. Pesto is considered a new-age mother sauce, which means it can be spun off into countless other dishes. If I have an overabundance of tender greens in early summer, I use them in the pesto as well.

I remember at the end of the growing season when we had the restaurant, we would buy all the local baby greens we could find from our local farmers and turn them into "Garden Pesto" which we used all winter long in a multitude of dishes.

Check out my video here making Sizzling Salmon with Pesto

The website What's cooking America gives us this history of Pesto we know and love today:

Italian Basil Pesto sauce originated in the city of Genova in the Liguria region of northwest Italy.  The word, pesto in Italian, is derived from a word meaning to “pound or crush”.  Italian purists insist that pesto can only be made using locally-grown Genoese basil, a small-leafed variety with a delicate taste and that it must be made using a pestle and mortar.  It is still considered to be the best way of preparing pesto at home although today very few persons do actually follow this process.

  • Lemon peel and dill make a nice addition to homemade or store-bought pesto.

  • I don't usually put nuts in my pesto because of potential allergens.

  • I get asked about the skin on or off with salmon. I leave mine on for grilling, it's a bit of extra protection if the flames flare-up on the grill.

  • Be sure to check for bones by running your fingers over the salmon before you put the pesto on. If you find them, pluck them out with kitchen tweezers or pliers.

  • With the method of cooking fish on a rack, there is no need to turn the fish.

  • I have seen this dish cooked in a foil pouch on the grill with equally delicious results.

  • Serve my yummy grilled eggplant recipe alongside this fish.

  • Pair with a light Rose or Pinot Noir to match the richness of the fish.

  • Pesto freezes great!

Ingredients used in this dish

Salmon- Fresh or frozen, Atlantic or Norwegian, farm-raised, or wild-caught. You decide.

EVOO- Yep, this works the best for that umami smooth fat mouth feel flavor that marries well with the basil

Garlic cloves- I prefer fresh, however, use what you have to work with. Go with your taste buds.

Fresh Basil- Italian basil works great, some folks give it a rough chop before putting it in the processor. Frozen or dry do not work as nearly as well.

Parmesan Cheese-Use the good stuff here if you can find it, it makes a difference. Leaving it out is ok too, some Italians never eat cheese with their fish.

Kosher salt- Use to taste remembering the cheese will have salt in it too.

Equipment used for this dish

Grill- I cook on a standard Webber with a wood fire. Gas or charcoal will do nicely and give you more heat control. I like wood because of the flavor it imparts to the fish during cooking.

Grill Rack- I stumbled upon one a few years ago and I will never go back to direct fish on the grill. In the catering days when we grilled for many, we covered the entire grill in foil, poked holes in it so the smoke could come through, and sprayed it with non-stick spray. Easy clean up too. Either way, your fish will not stick. Here is what the grill rack looks like

Food Processor- This piece of equipment or a high-speed blender will make pesto. You have to be able to make it into a paste. If you have a big mortar and pestle, that will work too with elbow grease.

Spatulas - One to scrape down the basil back into the processor and a grill spatula to get the fish off the grill.

Measuring cups and spoons- These are important for good cooking. Remember a Liquid measuring cup is different than a dry one.

Pesto can be made with several methods

Fish on a grill rack cooks easier and no need to flip or turn!

Grilled Salmon with Pesto Slather

Grated Parmesan cheese works better than shredded. For plant-based use vegan Parmesan, substitute 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast for the cheese or leave it out. Pesto can be made from greens and spinach as well with delicious results. If you don't have a special seafood rack for your grill, an easy hack is to cover the whole rack with heavy-duty foil and poke holes in it. Spray it with non-stick spray and you are all set to cook without the fish sticking to the grill.

Yield: 1 2/3 cups of pesto Serving size: 4


3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves

2 cups packed basil

1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 each 4-6 ounce salmon fillets


Step 1. In a processor, add oil and garlic and process until minced. Add basil and puree, stopping to scrape down the processor bowl a few times to make sure the puree is smooth. Add cheese and salt and puree briefly, just enough to mix. Set aside. Step 2. Wash the fish fillets and pat dry. Slather 2 tablespoons or more depending on your taste of pesto on each fillet. Step 3. Heat grill to medium-high heat, you will be cooking the fish over indirect heat. Place fish on a seafood grilling rack sprayed with nonstick spray. Place the rack on the grill over indirect heat and cook for 10- 15 minutes until firm to touch. No need to turn or flip the fish.


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