Grilled maple glazed, chili rubbed salmon

This is one of the easiest recipes you can prepare that imparts a sophisticated combination of flavors, yet is easily prepared within a few minutes. I once prepared this meal with a whole salmon and fed 13 people out of an unfamiliar kitchen with this basic recipe and a couple of side dishes with literally 15 minutes of preparation. Another 20 minutes of cooking and everybody was smiling, sniffing the air and standing around waiting to dig in. Note: from the picture it does appear that there is a lot of spiciness in this dish. If you hate spicy food, this dish is likely not for you, but I guarantee you that it is not nearly as spicy as it might appear due to the sweetness from the maple syrup.

The ingredients are simple and easily obtainable certainly from just about anywhere in N. America. Given that maple syrup is only produced in N. America, I don’t know about the availability of it worldwide, but I’ve seen it available in Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and the UK. Chipotle chili flakes are another potential hard to find item, but I chose them for the smokiness and fruitiness of the flavor.

Salmon (I prefer Coho, Sockeye or King Salmon that is wild-caught because of environmental issues.
Ground paprika (smoked if you can get it)
Red chili powder
chipotle chile
Kosher salt
Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Maple syrup

I get our fish from the local fish monger, Aquarius who provide the Salt Lake area with fresh fish flown in daily. They also know their subject matter particularly well and always take care of us.

How much of the dry rub you apply will depend of course on how big the portion of fish is, but the recipe scales from serving sizes for one, up to an entire fish (filleted of course). For approximately a 3.5 lb portion of salmon, I make up a uniform mixture of approximately one and a half tablespoons of chile powder, one half tablespoon of paprika, a half teaspoon of chipotle chile flakes, one teaspoon of kosher salt, and two teaspoons of cocoa powder.

Wash your fish thoroughly and then pat fish dry with a paper towel before applying the dry rub liberally. Ideally, let the dry rubbed salmon sit for an hour or two in the fridge, but if in a hurry it can go directly onto a hot grill. Once on the grill pour *real* maple syrup liberally over the fish a couple of times throughout the cooking process of the fish to ensure a nice glaze. By the way, if your grill is not hot when you apply the syrup, you will have a mess…

For the salmon, I like to get the portion just behind the head for its flavor, the fat along the belly and the quality of the meat. Just be aware that the thin portions of the fish will cook faster than the thicker portions, so to ensure proper “doneness”, I will remove the faster cooking thin belly portion in the middle of cooking to return to the fridge to serve cold with salad for the next days lunch. For the less experienced, select portions of the fish further back on the tail and don’t overcook it. I cook meats to the touch and will grill salmon just until the flesh firms up. I prefer it just a touch rare, but a good rule of thumb with salmon is to cook it until the portions of the fish slide easily apart when teased with a fork which will take about 15-20 minutes per half pound. This will vary also with how much fat is in the fish in-between muscle fibers and how hot your grill is. If your salmon has a high fat content (how much white is inbetween the muscle fibers), then cook with a cooler flame and for longer time to avoid flareups, but if you have a lean fish, I like a hotter fire. Regardless of how hot you like to grill, get your salmon from your local fish monger with the skin intact and grill the salmon right on the skin. The skin will take all the charring, keep the fish together and make the fish easy to slide off the skin and onto a plate without sticking to the grill.

Sides for this meal can consist of everything from the simple to the complex. I prefer the simple sides for this dish such as sliced baby red and yukon gold potatoes with salt, pepper, olive oil and fresh basil roasted in the oven. Wild rice or couscous seasoned in a variety of ways also makes for a nice side with lightly grilled vegetables such as asparagus.

Depending upon how fatty your fish is and because of the heady combination of flavors with the delicate texture and flavor of the salmon, you can pair this with a surprisingly diverse assortment of wines or beers. I tend to like a nice wheat beer or pinot noir.

This particular holiday arriving in the middle of the week meant that we did not have much time to prepare a dessert, but you can make the common a bit more elegant simply through presentation. H mixed up a standard batch of her chocolate chip cookie mix and pressed it into a torte pan. When done, the “cookies” were sliced up and served with some vanilla bean ice cream to help deal with the triple digit heat that has assaulted the West for the past while.

6 Replies to “Grilled maple glazed, chili rubbed salmon”

  1. Wow! Great recipe. I found my way here through a search for spicy food. I love using rubs. Especially rubs with ancho chile powder. I think the flavor is very profound and penetrates whatever protein you’re cooking. In the case of fish it’s magical.

    I’m going to have to give this one a spin.


    1. Thanks Chris,

      It is so fast and simple so as not to be believed. I used this approach to prep an entire whole salmon once that fed 18 or so people. Total prep time, 20 minutes leaving plenty of time for me to socialize and sip some wine.

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