How to Grill a Whole Salmon

How to Grill a Whole Salmon. I'll be honest: Grilling a whole salmon is more than a little tricky. It's much easier to fillet the fish and grill the individual fillets. But a whole grilled salmon can be an amazing sight. It's sure to enthrall your guests. You'll need a grill whose grate is long enough to accommodate the whole fish; keep in mind you'll need to roll it from front to back. One salmon serves at least 15 and as many as 30 people.

Start by purchasing the freshest whole salmon you can find. It will be expensive. Make sure it's completely packed in ice, doesn't have too strong an odor and has eyes that are clear and full. Check the gills, too, to make sure they're bright and red.

At home, cut away all the fins except the tail.

Store the salmon on ice until 30 minutes before cooking, then remove it and let it rest at room temperature.

Rinse and dry the herbs, and combine them in a bowl.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat.

When the butter melts, skim off the dairy foam that rises to the surface.

Add the garlic and some salt and sauté the garlic very slowly.

When the garlic is completely soft, scoop it out and place it in a small bowl. Mash it into a fine paste. Reserve the butter.

When ready to cook, season the cavity of the fish generously with salt and pepper. Pack the herbs into the cavity of the fish.

Heat the grill to medium-high and make sure the grate is brushed clean. Make sure you have two pairs of sturdy tongs, two strong metal spatulas and at least one friend willing to lend a hand. Make sure the melted butter, mashed garlic, salt and pepper are nearby. Now you're ready to cook.

Oil the grill grate lightly. Place the whole fish on the back part of the grill on one side with the spine facing you. Place it so it can be rolled over onto its other side.

Shut the grill and let it cook for about 5 minutes.

Now the tough part. With a friend's help, use the tongs and spatula to roll the fish over on the grill in one motion. Some skin may separate from the fish; this doesn't matter, but try not to let any flesh come off.

Use the tongs to peel away the salmon skin from the cooked side of the fish, which is now facing you. It should peel away easily.

Brush the exposed fillet with butter, smear it with some of the garlic paste, and season it well with salt and pepper.

Cover the grill another 3 to 4 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and repeat steps 13, 14 and 15.

Note that from here on in, you'll need to modulate the heat carefully so the fish cooks slow enough that the garlic doesn't burn, but fast enough that the outside gently browns.

Cover the grill again and let the fish finish cooking. The fillet closest to the grill has been over the heat the longest, so test this part for doneness frequently. It should flake easily, appear fully cooked throughout and still be juicy.

Now an even tougher part: Slide a long pan, a cookie sheet or some kind of tray right up to the fish's spine. With a friend's help, get both spatulas under the fish and roll it onto the tray.

Use the tray as a cutting board. Bring it to where you'll serve the fish.

Note that the cooked flesh will separate easily from the rib bones; you should be able to carefully pull off serving portions using the tongs and spatula. Be careful, though, because salmon fillets have two sets of bones. There are the rib bones on the inside, plus a smaller set that extends straight into the fillet.