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Copper River Sockeye Salmon on the Grill

May and early June are salmon season  – as the fish markets fill with the bright red flesh of Sockeye and King Salmon of Alaska's rivers. 

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Once upon a time salmon used to come from Washington waters and the "people of plenty" or the Puyallup and the peoples of our city's namesake Chief Sealth ate handsomely of the giant silver fish teaming in our rivers before industrialization, development, dams and what have you reduced their numbers to a trickle of ghosts. 

It is a different world now – and Seattlites are still lucky enough to have a 7-day-a-week open air market, access to fresh seafood, and a view of the water anytime you are willing to stop and appreciate its wonder.

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As appreciation is a recipe for happiness I took myself to Pike Place Market at closing time on a Friday to ensconse myself in its beehive of activity, pluck a lucious fish, some fresh local vegetables, and a little bit of that wonder out of the sky with my market made flower bouquet.

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I left with a wrapped sockeye, irises and lilies, 1 heirloom tomato, 5 rhubarb stalks, 2 peaches, 1 bunch watercress, 3 corn on the cob, 4 walla walla onions, and some garlic spears for fun. 

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I braved traffic home and presented my catch to my partner Lamar and promptly pulled the charcoal out for the grill.

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The main thing one needs to think about when grilling a fish is to not overcook it – and when grilling a fresh in season salmon – to not do anything that will overtake its already existing delicate delicious flavor.  The formula – a light dusting of lemon, sea salt, fresh ground pepper and fresh herbs.  If you do not have fresh herbs then a dried herb mixture will do the trick.

The salmon you see above has a dusting of fresh majoram (the undiscovered herb in my opinion), french sage, and dried Herbs de Provence mixture from Pike Place Market's Market Spice. 

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I placed it upon the grill on top of an herb grill plate containing more fresh herbs (majoram, thyme, french sage, parsley, oregano, and sliced walla walla onion), surrounded by garlic spears and more walla walla onions.  I closed the grill and waited 8 minutes to look again.  Then I waited two more and took it off.

The time you need to leave it on the grill will depend upon the heat of your coals.  You do not need a firey inferno ready to crisp the skin of satan to grill a fish for 10 to 15 minutes.  You need medium hot coals that can heat up your vegetable grilling pan and release the flavors you have sat your fish upon.  I lean towards undercooking versus overcooking the fish – so when it is no longer reddish pink – it equals done to me.  Light pink in my book is too cooked when grilling a fresh salmon – frozen is another story – but a directly off the boat fish deserves to be eaten with just the lightest kiss of fire.

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You can see the color in the finished product above – just enough to no longer be raw – but not quite cooked all the way through. 

We enjoyed this with a watercress, heirloom tomato, grilled walla walla and garlic spear salad.

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Happy Summer!

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