Raichlen’s Summer Salmon with a Bunch of Basil


Grilled salmon is a summer tradition at our house, especially after we’ve been to our local farmers’ market in Edgartown, on Martha’s Vineyard. We buy bunches—no, veritable bouquets—of fragrant, fresh summer basil. Think of the marinade here as pesto without the pine nuts and cheese. Long on flavor, short on preparation time, a vivid study in emerald green and salmon pink, this is a perfect fish dish for when basil is in season.


Raichlen’s Summer Salmon with a Bunch of Basil

Recipe Notes

  • Advance Prep: 30 minutes to 1 hour for marinating the salmon
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Method: Direct Grilling


  • 4 pieces skinless salmon fillet (each about 6 ounces), or 4 salmon steaks (each about 1 inch thick and 6 to 8 ounces)
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, rinsed and stemmed (for about 1/2 cup packed leaves; see Notes), coarsely chopped; reserve 4 small basil sprigs for garnish
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 strips lemon zest (each about 2 by 1/2 inch; see Notes)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon), or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher or sea), or more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Recipe Steps

1: If using salmon fillets, run your fingers over them, feeling for bones. Using needle-nose pliers or tweezers, pull out any you find (you will not need to do this with salmon steaks). Rinse the salmon under cold running water, then blot it dry with paper towels. Cut salmon fillets crosswise sharply on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place
the salmon in a nonreactive baking dish.

2: Place the chopped basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (a blender produces a smoother puree than a food processor, but either way the marinade will work). Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or lemon juice as necessary. Pour the marinade over the salmon, turning the fish to coat both sides. Let the salmon marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour, turning it once so that it marinates evenly.

3: Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat to high.

4: When ready to cook, drain the marinade from the salmon and discard the marinade. Brush and oil the hot grate, placing it on a diagonal to the bars. Grill the salmon until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side for fillet slices, 4 to 6 minutes per side for steaks, rotating each piece a quarter turn halfway through grilling on each side to create an attractive Crosshatch of grill marks, if desired. To test for doneness, press the fish with your finger; it should break into clean flakes. Transfer the grilled salmon to a platter or plates, garnish with the basil sprigs, and serve at once.


  • To rinse basil, grab it by the stems and immerse the leaves in a large bowl of cold water. Agitate the leaves as though you were cleaning a paint brush. Change the water several times until it remains clean after you have agitated the basil in it. Shake the water off the basil over the sink and remove the leaves from the stems.
  • You can use a vegetable peeler to remove the oil-rich, yellow outer rind of the lemon in strips of zest. Be careful to leave behind the bitter white pith.

Recipe Tips

Summer salmon can be made with either salmon fillets or salmon steaks. If you use fillets, cutting them on the diagonal into broad, thin slices will maximize the surface area exposed to the fire. Steaks have the advantage of holding together better on the grill, but of course you wind up with bones and skin.