What’s In Season? Copper River Salmon

Simple Salmon

Well, friends, it’s Salmon Season and more specifically it’s Copper River Salmon season. I’ve been in conversations where the “hype” surrounding the Copper River Salmon has been debated. Is it just a marketing ploy? Is it worth the cost?

I am not a salmon expert although I grew up eating salmon the way other people grew up eating meat and potatoes so I do have a pretty good idea of which species of salmon I like (sockeye) and how I like it prepared (grilled, simply, with no crazy butter sauce.)

Now, I did have the opportunity to sit in on a “salmon class” taught by Christine Keff, Chef/Owner of the Flying Fish restaurant in Seattle who IS a salmon expert and she stressed to us the fact that the flavor of each salmon is determined not only by its species but also by which river it travels up to spawn.

As for the salmon of the Copper River, they have a 300-mile trek that takes them up a thousand foot elevation gain to where they finally reach their spawning grounds in an unspoiled wilderness…literally. And something about how these fish prepare for their marathon of sorts gives them their singularly distinct flavor…whether you think it’s worth the hype or not.

My Favorite Grilled Salmon

My absolute favorite way to prepare salmon is grilled and I learned a little trick from the Weber boys that ensures the salmon turns out perfectly each time.

Pre-heat your grill to direct medium heat. Take your 1 1/2 – 2 lb whole salmon fillet with the skin left on. Generously brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle it with salt and pepper.

Most people have a general idea that the average salmon fillet takes about 10 minutes to cook and they have the inclination to flip it at 5 minutes. Don’t do it.

Place your generously oiled fillet on your pre-heated grill, flesh side down. Leave it there…don’t touch it…for at least 7 minutes. You know it’s ready to flip when the fish lifts up easily from the grill or at least, fairly easily.

Then, flip it, skin side down and cook for the remaining 2-3 minutes. When you are ready to take the fish off the grill, slip a metal spatula between the skin and the fish. The grilled fillet should lift easily off the skin and onto a plate. Perfection.

My favorite topping for grilled salmon is a Tomato/Shallot compote I’ve alluded to before here. Basically, I saute a chopped shallot or two in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil over low heat for about 7-10 minutes. During the last 3-4 minutes of cooking I add in a cup or two of cherry tomatoes cut in half, a generous sprinkling of kosher salt, some freshly ground black pepper and a tbsp or two of fresh thyme.


All original text and photographs copyright: Carrie Minns 2009-2011


  1. I'm from PDX, too – new reader and am enjoying your blog. I just had Copper River for the first time a week or so ago and thought it was fantastic. Definitely better than the regular ol' sockeye or Coho. I got it on sale though – normally wouldn't drop the cash on it. Will try your tomato/shallot compote next time we make salmon!

  2. Ooo….copper river salmon on sale…that's the best because yes, it can be pricey. Thanks for stopping by, Anna!

  3. Mary V. Bowman says:

    This technique always works perfectly. Thanks so much for sharing this. It is so easy to ruin a nice piece of fish on the grill.