Salmon collars, at one time of little interest to American palates or culinary habits, have gained more and more popularity thanks to chefs who serve them at Japanese restaurants. Collars are cut just behind the gills and include the collarbone and fatty, rich belly meat. They make use of offcuts that would ordinarily be enjoyed by fishermen or used as bait. King salmon collars are much larger than other salmon collars and are especially rich and meaty. The collars are brined and then grilled—you can split them laterally for easier grilling—resulting in sweet, sticky morsels to be wrapped in crunchy lettuce leaves and served with tangy pickles. Salmon steaks or thick-cut salmon roasts make a great alternative.
2 whole salmon collars, steaks, or roasts
¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup pure maple syrup, plus more for brushing
2 tablespoons smoked salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed, for brushing
Bread and butter pickle chips and lettuce leaves for wrapping
Prep the Salmon
To split the collars, one at a time, set a salmon collar on a cutting board cut-side down. Using a sturdy knife, split it in half along the spine so you have two similar-looking pieces that lay flat on the freshly cut sides. You may need to tap the back of the knife with a meat mallet or rolling pin if it offers resistance. (Alternatively, you can leave the collars whole.)
Brine the Salmon
To make the brine, in a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, maple syrup, smoked salt, pepper, and ½ cup water, stirring to dissolve completely. Transfer the mixture to a sealable bag or a nonreactive airtight container and add the salmon. Press out the air, then seal and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 48 hours.
Grill the Salmon and Serve
Prepare a grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (about 425°F). Brush the grill grates clean, then brush with oil. Discard the brine and pat the salmon collars dry. Arrange the collars on the grill and cook, turning once or twice until charred in spots and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes for halved collars and 15 to 20 minutes for whole collars.
Transfer to a platter and serve with the pickles, lettuce leaves for wrapping, and lots of napkins.
Pair It Up
A crisp and refreshing lager balances the sweetness of the maple–brown sugar brine. For wine drinkers, a bright, citrusy sauvignon blanc is just the ticket.
Level It Up
The smoky-sweet brine holds many possibilities for flavorings. Add a few slices of fresh ginger, a star anise pod, and teaspoon of sesame oil for a Chinese twist. Or add a sliced fresh habanero chile and strips of lime zest for a Caribbean flare.