Seattle Smoked Salmon Grilled Cheese

smoked salmon grilled cheese

This is not a sponsored post.   But a heartfelt shout out to Lo at Portlock who went out of his way to reacquaint me with some of Seattle’s finest smoked salmon.

This is a story about Seattle.  And all of the things that happened on the way to creating the best grilled cheese sandwich you’ve ever tasted.

This story begins with a warm and gooey cinnamon roll, that although did not beget the marble rye I was looking for, provided the good juju I needed to find the ingredients for this sandwich. How often does fate intersect and place you right in the door of your favorite bakery just as a tray of cinnamon rolls are being pulled out of the oven?  Timing, and a little fate, perhaps. Thank you, Tall Grass Bakery .  I went with a loaf of cherry pumpernickel, which although delicious, is not the thing grilled cheese dreams are made of.

I kid you not, I had a Seinfeld moment at my next stop where I not only found a marble rye, but waited and wandered around the store for an extra half an hour for it come out of the oven.  It played out a little like this.  “Do you have any marble rye that’s not sliced?”  “It’s still in the oven.”  “I can come back in a few minutes if you think it’ll be done soon.”  “Twenty minutes?”  “Great!”  After wandering around the store, putting more things in my cart than were on my list, I head back to the bakery, only to hear, “We just put it in the cooler.  It was really hot!  A few more minutes?”  “Okay.”  It’s a whole loaf of marble rye, I think to myself.  Maybe they’ll let me pick out the one I want.  How hot could it be?  Are those chocolate cake samples on the counter?  I come back and I see a half loaf of marble rye on the counter.  I’m too late.  It’s been sliced.  A new person is behind the counter.  “Oh, here’s your rye.”  Uh, okay, so where’s the other half of it?, I’m wondering.  “I was hoping for a whole one. Do you have any that are still whole?”  “Oh, we only baked the one.  You can have the other half.  It’s still here.”  I look down at the fat, brown, amputated rye.  Who just bakes one loaf of bread?, I ponder.  “No, that’s okay, I think I can make this work.smoked salmon grilled cheesesmoked salmon grilled cheese

Rye down and I’m back in the car and almost headed in the direction of home when I remember I still haven’t picked up the main ingredient for this fantastic grilled cheese sandwich.  I’m hesitant to head through the “busy” part of town, where the meter maids are just chomping at the bit to give you a parking ticket and I  pull into the parking lot of Portlock, a Ballard institution selling smoked salmon right next door to the Ballard Locks.  I wander in and ask just as a precaution, “Is it okay to park in the spots outside?”  It’s my lucky day.  A jovial man named Lo is working and he proceeds to tell me a story about how he got out of a parking ticket because he hadn’t seen the no parking sign.  Moral of his story, and certainly this one today, there are still good people out there.  Lo is the kind of guy who makes me remember that I belong to this neighborhood.  Despite the modern day era of Seattle’s bursting-at-it’s-seams growth, and non-techie people like me feeling pushed out, I like that I can go into a place like Portlock on any given day and still have a great conversation and genuine interaction with someone who clearly takes pride in his job, and remembers what the phrase customer service means.  Lo could have sold me anything today.  I look through the cases, I sample some salmon and in the end, I end up with a bag full of goodies and a smile on my face for what has been the best decision of the day.  Sometimes it pays to slow down and reconnect with your surroundings. You just never know what familiar place or face will make its way back on your radar.

And now for that sandwich.  I’ve lived in Seattle for nearly 20 years, almost half of my life.  It’s days like today that remind me why I love it so much.  National Grilled Cheese Month wouldn’t be complete without my rendition on a classic, and an ode to my city,  the Seattle Smoked Salmon Grilled Cheese sandwich.

Cooking Notes

As I mentioned, Lo could have sold me anything today.  I couldn’t decide which would work better in this sandwich so I bought both the hot-smoked, King salmon which I prefer for its meaty and oily flakiness.  I also picked up some cold-smoked, nova lox style Sockeye salmon, in dill flavor.  If you prefer a silkier texture, this is what you want to use.

Mahon is one of my favorite cheeses from Spain.  It’s a softer, cow’s milk cheese that is mild in flavor.  If you can’t find Mahon, try a Swiss Emmental or Gruyère.

If you just want to eat this sandwich already, you can skip the herb butter and just slather the bread with regular butter or spread.

smoked salmon grilled cheese

Seattle Smoked Salmon Grilled Cheese


6 oz hot smoked King salmon or 4 oz cold smoked, nova style Sockeye salmon
1 loaf marble rye
6 oz Mahon cheese, grated
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 Tablespoon fresh dill, minced
4 teaspoons capers, minced
1 teaspoon lemon zest, plus 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
3 Tablespoons honey
kosher salt to taste

Serves 4

smoked salmon grilled cheese


Prepare a quick pickled onion by whisking together apple cider vinegar, water, honey and a pinch of salt in a small bowl.  Add onions and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble sandwiches.

In another bowl, blend together herb butter with dill, capers, lemon zest and juice.

To assemble sandwiches, cut 8 slices from the marble rye.  Place a few pickled onions on one side of the bread, followed by about 1 ounce of the smoked salmon and 1 ounce of grated cheese (or evenly distribute salmon and cheese until you use up both).  Top the sandwich and butter both the outer sides with the herb butter.  Continue this with the remaining sandwiches.

Preheat a cast iron or non stick skillet on medium heat.  Brown sandwiches about 1-2 minutes per side or until the bread is golden and the cheese has completely melted.  Serve immediately.

smoked salmon grilled cheesesmoked salmon grilled cheese

13 thoughts on “Seattle Smoked Salmon Grilled Cheese

  1. Smoked salmon grilled cheese, count me in! And how very Seattle. I hate that so many special places are closing with all the redevelopment and high rents, but glad for the ones like Portlock that endure.

  2. Oh my gosh, this sandwich looks incredible! I LOVE smoked salmon, but I’ve never had it with anything other than cream cheese. Can’t wait to try this!

  3. Being a person who is sort of in love with smoked salmon, this recipe caught my eye. I really like the utilization of marbled rye and nice combo of remaining ingredients. On my will try soon list. Thanks.

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