When I was a kid, my grandmother taught me how to clean fish. And for several years I mutilated a lot of perch and rock bass. But eventually I improved, and was able to move my way up the fish chain to start filleting walleye and pike. I have friends and family who always say they wish they could clean fish the way I do, but that they are afraid of ruining the fish. I always say you have to ruin a few fish in order to get better.
The only reason I am able to clean fish competently is because I never shy away from cleaning them. Even after I figured out how to do it, I am always learning new ways of cleaning fish I’m familiar with or running into a new opportunity to clean a new species. I thought I had figured out the very best way to fillet a northern pike to remove all the Y-bones using a five fillet technique and then a couple of years ago I was shown a new method for removing the Y-bones that leaves the fillet intact. It has actually taken me a several years to get the technique down.
This year I was able to get over to Lake Michigan for some salmon fishing. Every time I’ve gone in the past I’ve fished with a charter, and they always clean the fish for you. This year I went out fishing on my own and was able to fillet the fish myself. I’ve never cleaned a salmon before and, like all other fish, there are multiple techniques to do it right. At first I started slicing through the rib cage and taking the whole fillet off, then delicately remove the ribs after. Then my buddy Drew showed me how to go over the rib cage and save yourself the step of removing it after. After filleting a dozen fish this way, I discovered that I was doing pretty well, and I couldn’t wait to cook them.
There are endless ways to cook salmon, but one of my favorites is to bake it in the oven at a low temp. Cooking at 250 degrees for about 20 minutes makes cooking salmon virtually error-proof. I’ve had great results with my new Traeger grill, and if you think of the Traeger as an outdoor oven, you can cook almost anything on it that you could cook in a conventional oven. Season the salmon with salt and pepper and then serve with some corn relish.
Rub salmon portions with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and shake on a salmon seasoning of your choice. Set your pellet-fed grill at 250 degrees using Alder pellets, place your salmon on it for 20 minutes, then remove and serve on top of corn relish. Garnish with chopped chives, and enjoy.