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Have you ever wondered why salmon tastes better in a restaurant than when you cook it? We asked Cascade Culinary Institute Chef/Instructor David Trask, who told us there are two main reasons for that.

First, he said most of us overcook fish at home.

“Fish should be served almost medium. You don’t want to cook it all the way through, because there’s so little fat. That’s why my wife doesn’t love fish. Her mom cooked the heck out of it so it was very dry,” Trask said.

The second reason why fish cooked by a chef tastes so good is that there’s often a sauce involved. Trask shared his recipe for a Marionberry & Pinot Noir Beurre Rouge Sauce that will take your home-grilled salmon to a new level of deliciousness.

“Salmon has a stronger flavor than most fish, so it’ll stand up to a flavorful sauce, and pinot noir goes well with berries. A little bit of this sauce on top of a piece of grilled salmon, and it’s ready to go,” Trask said.

Fresh is best

Trask told us the secret to good fish cookery starts at the store.

“The key to doing anything with seafood is to make sure you’re getting it really fresh,” he said. “It’s worth spending the extra money and making sure it’s really fresh, tight flesh, really nice bright colors. And fresh fish should never smell fishy. It should always smell a little bit of the ocean and smell nice and clean.”

Check for bones

When preparing salmon for the grill, feel the fillets and remove any little pin bones that you find.

“Most butcher shops will have those out for you, but if you find some bones, pull them out with tweezers or needle-nose pliers,” he said.

Hot, clean grill

Clean off the grill and heat it before you put your fish on to cook.

“Make sure there’s nothing left from your last barbecue on the grill, and let the grill heat up for a good 10 minutes before you toss the fish on. On my Weber grill, I have three knobs. I turn all three on: hot on the right, medium in the middle and low on the left side. If you just have two knobs, set them to high and medium,” Trask said.

Grilling time

Right before you grill, brush the salmon with a little canola oil. Trask uses canola oil because it’s a neutral oil with no flavor, whereas olive oil tends to get a little bitter at high heat. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, and then wipe the grill with a little vegetable oil. Put the fillets on the hot side of the grill with the flesh side (not the skin side) down.

“Like a steak, be patient with the salmon fillet. As protein cooks, it’ll tighten up and almost release itself from the grill. Let it cook for about four minutes. You can cheat a little and slide a spatula underneath to see if it’s releasing,” Trask said.

If you want to have restaurant-style crosshatch marks, turn the fillet a quarter turn and move it to the medium heat part of the grill for two minutes. Total cooking time for an inch-thick fillet is about eight minutes, from start to finish, Trask said.

To finish the cooking, flip the fillet over to the skin side and move it to medium or low heat for two more minutes.

Because fish fillets are thin, you can’t check their internal temperature with a cooking thermometer, Trask said.

“When done, the salmon fillet should be a little opaque in the middle. You can pick up a little corner of it and see how far it’s cooked,” he said. “If it’s still raw, put the lid down to keep the heat in and cook a little longer.”

Trask said grilled salmon doesn’t need anything more than a squeeze of fresh lemon before serving, unless you want to jazz things up with a simple pinot noir and berry reduction sauce that you make on the stove before you start grilling.

Garnish your perfectly grilled salmon with the sauce, and you and your guests will be sure to feel like a chef cooked dinner — and you did!

— Reporter: ahighberger@mac.com

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