A Summer Salmon Cookout

Living on the west coast we are lucky enough to have an abundance of fresh seafood and living so close to the beaches (and a fresh fishing village) makes for a must-do salmon cookout in a sandpit at least once every summer.  It's a fun way to share a dinner with friends and this past weekend we headed out to our local beach to make this longtime summer favorite.  It's so easy to make and of course a variation of this recipe could easily be translated using the oven or barbeque. This recipe is adapted from an old cookbook I found from the 80s called California Cooking from Potter.  I love this old book and it has inspired many a meal. Here's my version of the recipe.

Sandpit Salmon
1 whole fresh salmon (6 to 8 pounds), cleaned and split lengthwise.
1 to 2 medium onions
2 lemons
fresh herbs like dill or cilantro or herbs de provence
mayo (optional)

To prepare the pit, create a mound (a shovel really helps) in the sand about an hour and a half before you need to start cooking. Start the charcoal fire and after about 45 minutes or so spread out the charcoal to the length of the salmon. Let the charcoal burn for about another half hour.

To prepare the salmon, make sure it's cleaned properly by washing it out with cold water and then patting it dry. Salt the cavity lightly with salt then fill it with alternating onion and lemon slices. Sprinkle with herbs of your liking (e.g. fresh herbs like dill or cilantro or herbs de provence work well). Optional - spread mayo all around the outside of the fish —which adds a nice tang to the dish. Wrap it all tightly in two layers of oiled heavy duty foil. Make sure foil is securely closed so no sand or charcoal seeps though.

Once the coals are ash gray, using a shovel, remove (and keep) all but a thin layer of coals from the sandpit. Then lie the fish on the thin layer of coals and cover with the reserved coals. Insulate the entire fish with the hot sand.  Leave the salmon in the pit for 45 to 55 minutes to cook through. Once cooked, remove the sand and coals and lift the salmon out of the pit (gently) so as to not tear the foil. Place on a serving platter, open up and cut into serving sizes garnishing with the cooked lemons and onions and veggies (info below).  If cooking on a barbecue cook over grill for 45 - 55 minutes also, but flip the salmon midway through cooking time.  To test that it's finished, insert a metal skewer through the foil, halfway to the thickest part, remove it after 5 seconds.  If the tip of the skewer is hot to the touch, the fish is done!

For this recipe I accompanied the dish with a foil packet filled with cubed baby potatoes, red peppers, and carrots.  (These take about a 20 min to make on the hibatchi or oven). Sprinkle the veggies over top of the salmon, add green onions, fresh cilantro and dill for a final garnish! 

For desert; Pre-made s'mores from one of our favorite local bakeries here in Vancouver, Butter Baked Goods.  They make for a delicious gourmet-style version of this campfire favorite with it's homemade marshmallow, graham wafers and special chocolate. Yum! (Fun fact - Butter Baked Goods has a new recipe book coming out this fall which Poppytalk contributor, Janis Nicolay photographed. Can't wait to see! (I hope this s'mores recipe is included)!

Sources: Deck chairs and stool from Gallant and Jones, picnic basket (vintage), retro cooler from Spruce Collective, bread board - IKEA, utensils (vintage), ceramic canoe dish by Cul de Sac and tea towels from Bookhou.  All photo's by Jan Halvarson except very last (below) by Alex McIntyre.

P.S. Thanks to my friend Alex for helping me out that day! Alex made a fun mixtape to go with this post as a fun add-on! Click here to listen for a little summer cookout ambience.  I loved this iPhone photo she took behind a massive rooted log.

Photo: Alex McIntyre

Jan Halvarson


Noor said...

Oh my that sounds delicious. We are huge salmon fans in my house.

Anonymous said...

This looks so delicious! I would love to live on the West Coast, what beautiful scenery!

I've always been too nervous to grill a whole fish! Thanks for sharing. I'm not so scared anymore!

Gwyneth said...

Yum! That looks so delicious Jan :)
LOVE that final shot of the chairs and the bonfire!

Unknown said...

This looks like it would be such a great time! And that salmon looks delicious :) glad you had a wonderful day!

kickpleat said...

This looks amazing, Jan!! I've never done any kind of beach cooking (kinda scares me), but I love the sound of this. Also, I clearly need to spend more time at the beach. Is this in Tsawwassen? It looks so nice!

Jan Halvarson said...

Jeannette- thanks - yeah maybe we can have a cookout together one of these days!

sweet harvest moon said...


Lily from Birch + Bird said...

Oh hey, how did I miss this? Looks delicious! And that cooler brings back many a childhood camping memory too ;)