Foil-Grilled Salmon with Pesto and Tomatoes (on a Panini Maker!)

In working through all the pesto in our house I had the idea to use some in a grilled salmon recipe. Once I came across my friend Kalyn’s recipe for Foil-Baked Salmon with Basil Pesto and Tomatoes, I just had to see if packet grilling would work on a panini maker.

(Before I continue…just a heads up that these photos (except for the last one) were taken on my iPhone out of convenience. Start to finish, I made this dish – with avocado rice on the side – and photographed it in 30 minutes while keeping watch over two toddlers who were waiting for dinner. Let’s view the graininess and bizarre lighting as “artistic”, yes?)

Salmon with pesto and tomatoes

So…packet grilling. If you’re not familiar with the term, it just means grilling food inside of a packet, in this case a packet made of aluminum foil. It’s an easy, efficient way to steam a number of items all at once, allow their flavors to meld and retain the food’s moisture. The technique works in an oven or on the grill, but on a panini maker with direct grate contact on both sides? I wasn’t so sure how this would go.

I followed Kalyn’s recipe pretty closely, drizzling some olive oil onto a sheet of foil before adding my salmon and then the pesto and tomatoes. I happened to have bought a skin-on piece of salmon, which provided a little extra insulation between the fish and the grill grates. The tomatoes on top also served as a kind of heat buffer, preventing the salmon from scorching too easily.

The heat from both sides of the grill cooks the salmon quickly

Just the thought of all that basil and garlic flavor seeping into the salmon and tomatoes…it was a long ten minutes of waiting to see how this all came out!

Foil-Grilled Salmon with Pesto and Tomatoes

It may not be the most photogenic dish in the world, but you know this tasted amazing. When I cracked open that little foil packet I knew we had a winner. The fish was cooked through, but not overdone and definitely very moist. The basil pesto had slithered its way down into the fish like a marinade. The tomatoes took on a bit of caramelization on top, adding to their sweetness. I served this over a bed of fluffy Green Goddess Rice and I’ll tell you what – even my little kids cleaned their plates!


Foil-Grilled Salmon with Pesto and Tomatoes

Adapted from the Foil-Baked Salmon with Basil Pesto and Tomatoes recipe on Kalyn’s Kitchen

Prep time: 5 min | Cook time: 15 min | Total time: 20 min

Yield: 2-3 servings


  • 1 lb. center-cut salmon filet, skin on
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons basil pesto (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 medium tomato, sliced about 1/4″ thick


  1. Preheat the panini grill to high heat (on my grill that is about 440°F).
  2. Drizzle olive oil in the center of a piece of foil large enough to wrap the salmon with some overlapping. Lay the salmon on top of the oil. Spread pesto all over the top of the salmon. Arrange sliced tomatoes over the pesto so they cover the top of the salmon.
  3. Wrap the salmon securely in the foil, doubling over the seam and ends several times. Place the salmon packet on the panini grill. Close the lid so that the grates make contact with the packet without pressing it. Grill for 10 minutes.
  4. Remove from the grill and let sit for 2-3 minutes before carefully opening the packet. Serve immediately.



KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. Marla wrote:

    Would have never have thought to do this. So smart on the panini maker!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  2. I love this idea, Kathy! Have a great weekend!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  3. Colleen wrote:

    Oooh, fabulous! And gluten-free! We’re going to have to try this one.

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Also no pans, hardly any utensils and (if your packet is fully sealed) you don’t even have to clean the grill!

      Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  4. Kalyn wrote:

    You are just brilliant! I love the idea of making this in a panini maker. Hope we are on for dinner in San Diego, will e-mail you soon!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Your pesto innovation is what makes the dish! Looking forward to catching up next month. 🙂

      Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  5. Brilliant idea Kathy. And nice artistic photos too! 🙂

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  6. Amy wrote:

    Oh my goodness. It’s genius!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  7. kellypea wrote:

    You are SO creative. I’ve used my panini pan for more than panini, but never anything like this. The salmon sounds great with pesto.

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  8. Victoria wrote:

    Thanks for this recipe, Kathy! I love experimenting with my panini grill, and I tried grilling foil-pack fish in it, but was not as successful as you. I got several useful tips from your recipe adaptation, so with your recipe in hand, I will try it again.

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      I hope the second time is the charm! There is a bit of a leap of faith involved since you can’t peek in to see whether things are cooked through or not. But at least with a little insulation from the skin and tomatoes there’s a better chance that things will turn out as they should.

      Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  9. Kathy- that looks delicious! I love that you cooked it in the panini press!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  10. saluki wrote:

    Looks like something I’d like to try—-may add some feta…..Can I ask did you use heavy duty foil?? In-genius idea!

    Posted 7.15.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Feta might be an interesting addition! I used regular aluminum foil.

      Posted 7.15.11 Reply
  11. Angela wrote:

    Can’t wait to try this!! I know what on the menu this week! Would probably also work with snapper or some other fish that is not a thick filet with skin. The rice sounds great, too! Thanks, Kathy!

    Posted 7.16.11 Reply
  12. dick bennett wrote:

    Hate to break the string of comments by people who have not tried the recipe, but here goes. It was quite tasty, but. Ten minutes was to long. After seven I turned the grill off. I like my fish on the rare side. Forgot oil, but enough came from pesto that it didn’t make any difference. My tomatoes stewed rather than grilled so I will try a higher setting next time, though I used high. Great idea. I will try a few more variations. Thanks.

    Posted 7.16.11 Reply
  13. Colleen wrote:

    Made this for dinner, Green Goddess rice and all. I didn’t use pesto– just rubbed some garlic on the fish and then layered on basil leaves and tomatoes. Cooked it on the BBQ. Wow– super good, lots of flavor, and easy. Kids wouldn’t touch it, though!

    Posted 7.17.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Well, I’m glad at least you liked it! 🙂

      Posted 7.17.11 Reply
  14. Julie M. wrote:

    I think you just opened a whole new world for the panini maker! That looks awesome!

    Posted 7.19.11 Reply
  15. Kathleen wrote:

    This looks amazing! I just might have to break down and finally buy a panini press!

    Posted 7.19.11 Reply
  16. Lauren wrote:

    This is genius. I must try this asap! Dinner just got 10x easier!

    Posted 7.23.11 Reply
  17. Oh yes, the foil (and parchment paper method for the oven) method is a good one. The fish is always so tender once you take it out. Oh, and the fact that you were able to take those pictures while tending to children and wielding a hot panini maker is impressive!

    Posted 7.25.11 Reply
    • Kathy wrote:

      Judicious use of baby gates allow me to maintain a pretty secure perimeter around the kitchen, lol.

      Posted 7.25.11 Reply