It's not too late to take advantage of the tail of wild salmon season, which opened in May. Alaska's sockeye salmon is one of the most commonly found wild salmon varieties in the U.S., but other varieties such as King (Chinook) and Coho (silver) should also work well on the grill.
Farmed salmon fillets are of course available too, and sometimes slightly cheaper, but the wild fillets generally look better in this cook's opinion, and some are priced about the same as the farm-raised salmon! Plus, as "Sustainable Table" notes, wild salmon is not given drugs. Choose salmon that is firm and fresh. Frozen fish is better than fish that has been refrigerated more than a couple of days.
The recipe here, with herbs and lemon zest, tastes almost Mediterranean, and although the Mediterranean region is hardly where salmon come from it's delicious nevertheless. For best results, do the grilling over some mesquite. Salmon (or any fish) really complement the flavor of the grape leaves and vice versa, and thus the roasted grape leaf wrapping becomes something of a treat if you eat that too. (Note: if you like to be creative, there are several other edible wild leaves that work well as a "fish wrapping," inside the parchment wrapping of course. Grape leaves of course will "toast" as they tend not to retain that much moisture. You might also try wrapping the salmon in store-bought greens (arugula, mustard, or collard; collard work really well!). The leaf wrapping, among other things, of course helps to keep the salmon moist and flavorful, moreso than the outer parchment.)
Ingredients (per fillet, fresh or fresh frozen)
- grated zest of one lemon
- grated bit of sweet onion or finely minced scallion (about half a scallion or several slices of grated sweet onion)
- enough grape leaves to cover the fillet, front and back (about five or six small leaves; use fresh wild grape leaves; they grow roadside most places; pick them the day you cook for best results)
- juice of half a lemon
- a couple of teaspoons of sherry vinegar
- two teaspoons of grapeseed oil (if you wish to go light, use a bit less; grapeseed oil is of course not that expensive, and gives the salmon great flavor)
- half of a small bay leaf, finely crumbled
- a sprig of fresh thyme if possible; otherwise a couple of pinches of dried thyme
- a couple of leaves of oregano, minced (fresh if possible, otherwise a pinch of dried oregano will do)
- parchment paper (a bit larger than double the size of the fillet; this seals in the juices and helps prevent burning)
- ideally an iron saucepot or skillet
- First wash the fillet and remove the skin (slip a sharp knife between the skin and the flesh underneath; the bulk of the skin can then be peeled off easily). Pat the fillet dry.
- Sprinkle both sides with minced scallion or onion, and lemon zest.
- Now cover the fillet with grapevine leaves and lay it on parchment.
- Drizzle with lemon juice, vinegar, and then oil then sprinkle with crumbled bay leaf, the thyme (to use fresh thyme, scrape it off from the sprig) and minced oregano, turning the fillet over so that both sides are coated. Be careful to keep the grape leaves in place.
- Fold the parchment paper over and make creases around all four edges so that the parchment paper seals in the juices.
- Place the parchment-sealed fillet in an iron skillet or grilling pan or on a broiler rack and grill seven or eight minutes on each side (grill it close to the coals; fast cooking is essential for fish). How long you grill the salmon depends on the size of the fillet. When the fillet is done, the parchment paper should puff up and the fish inside be pink-fleshed and flake easily. I grill mine till the skins start to turn golden brown yet the flesh inside is still pink and moist. (Grilling this way is something like "smoking" the fillet, and actually makes it keep well; thus, if you keep leftovers cool, they can make a nice substitute for the next morning's bacon!)
You can serve the salmon with the roasted grape leaves on the side, and the herb and onion mixture spooned over the top, with perhaps a tiny slice of lemon and/or a bit of pepper. Try salmon with grilled new potatoes or on a bed of rice. Afterwards, try some blueberries for dessert.
Cooking fish, in leaves, banana leaves, particularly, is nothing new, although I came up with the idea myself. Banana leaves have been used without the parchment paper, although my recipe uses parchment. For a more traditional banana leaf recipe, see the Congo Cookbook's "Loboké de poisson".
An interesting variation is a glaze -- grill or sautee the onions first, with a bit of the herbs, in the grapeseed oil and balsamic vinegar. When the onions are soft, add a little brown sugar and heat till hot, then add more balsamic vinegar plus a little orange juice and cranberries (or cherries, if you can afford them; if cranberries are not available I use a slice of orange, you can add perhaps a bit of cranberry juice), and cook the mixture down to a glaze. Coat the salmon in this plus the rest of the herbs, plus some fresh lemon juice, and a bit more oil if needed, and wrap in leaves and parchment. The brown sugar glaze helps keep the salmon fresh while it cooks IMO.