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Outdoors Column: Salmon — it’s what’s for dinner

By: J.D. Richey
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Salmon season is just cranking up in the Valley rivers and it’s been going great guns in the ocean for most of the summer. Sure, caching salmon is great — but eating them is even better! So, this time around, let’s take a look at how to enjoy this gift from the sea on the dinner table. Caring for your catch The real key to good-tasting salmon has nothing to do with spices, secret sauces and flavored wood chips. It all begins way before you get home. In fact, how your salmon ultimately tastes has everything to do with how you handle it when you’re still on the water. When you catch a fish, immediately dispatch it with a quick rap to the noggin with a bonker stick. Not only is this the most humane way to deal with killing a fish, but it also allows you to more easily handle the fish. The last thing you want is your catch thrashing around on the rocks or the floor of the boat — that type of activity quickly bruises the flesh. Next, it is absolutely essential that you bleed the fish right away. Take a sharp knife and slice the gill arches on each side of the head and keep the fish in the net in the water for a few minutes until the bleeding stops. Salmon blood contains an enzyme that starts to break down the fish’s body as soon as it dies. This is so the parent’s nutrients can get back into the water as soon as possible to help support the freshly laid eggs. It’s a great system for Mother Nature, but not such a good deal if you are going to eat the fish. If you don’t get rid of that blood, your tasty fillets start to break down and taste bad when you go to cook them. Next, your fish should go straight in the ice chest with plenty of ice. Be sure to drain off the melt water frequently as you don’t want the salmon bobbing around in there. When you get home, it’s time to put that succulent orange meat on the grill! I personally don’t freeze salmon. I eat it fresh for a day or two after I catch it and then can the rest. Frozen salmon just doesn’t do it for me. Recipes There are tons of ways to cook salmon on the grill from elaborate to basic and I tend to stick to the more simple side of things because I don’t want to mask the amazing flavor of the fish with too much extra stuff. If you like to go the fancy route, go online and you’ll find plenty of good suggestions. If straight-forward is more your style, try one of my favorites: I basically do up my fillets one of two ways. They’re both super easy and make for some delicious dining. One method goes like this: Season the fillet with some sea salt, garlic powder and lemon juice and then cover it with lemon slices (and, optionally, fresh dill). Slap that baby on the grill and you are in business. Sometimes, I’ve got a hankering for a little Asian flavoring so I will marinate my fillets with Trader Joe’s sesame teriyaki marinade or Yoshida Sauce in Zip-Loc bags for about a half-hour. Grill it Up! Now, for the fun part: fire! Grilling salmon is simple if you follow a few basic rules. First, always make sure your grill grates are oiled before you fire it up. I like to cook fish on low to medium heat on the middle grate. Start by laying the fish flesh side down on the grill for a few minutes, which will help evenly cook the fish and also give it those cool-looking grill lines. Carefully flip the fish onto the skin side for the remainder of the time. Cooking times vary, but it doesn’t usually take more than about 10 minutes. The big thing here is don’t over-cook the fish. Salmon dries out quickly and you can ruin a good slab of fish pretty easily if you aren’t paying attention. Take a knife and cut into the center of the fish. If it’s opaque, take it off the fire and cover it with tinfoil for a few minutes. That allows it to finish cooking at a low temperature, without turning the fish into jerky. Now, get out there and catch some orange meat for the grill! It’s fun to catch, tastes great and also is rich in good things like Omega 3’s. J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at www.fishwithjd.com.