Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cedar Plank Sockeye Salmon with Citrus Glaze

Today I'm going to put on my instructor's hat and talk technique. Restaurants charge top dollar for cedar-planked salmon, but this technique is very easy to do at home. It's a great tool to have in your eat-more-fish tool chest, and when you bust this out for guests you'll look like a culianary bad ass. Sweet!

Lots of proteins lend themselves well to cedar-planking: scallops, shrimp, chicken, pork, prime rib, trout; but salmon is by far the most popular passenger for this wooden magic carpet. Cedar cooking planks can be used in both oven and grill. After living in Alaska for four years, and cooking about a hundred cedar planked salmon dinners, Hubs and I can confidently say we both prefer the grill method, hands down. When wood meets open flame, the natural smoke flavor that infuses the fish gives it a subtle umami base note that's kind of the whole point.

I'm a big cheerleader for wild Alaska seafood, and I'm going to raise my megaphone here to give three cheers for wild Alaska sockeye salmon. The reason I cook almost exclusively with Alaskan salmon (yes, even here in Montana) is not only because the pristine waters of Alaska produce some of the purest, healthiest, and best tasting salmon, but because Alaskan salmon is sustainable salmon.

In short, Alaska fisheries use careful monitoring to determine how many fish they can take out of the water without decimating their populations. It's simple biological math, but many fisheries have gotten it wrong, obliterating their own inventory by using the "fish till they're gone" philosophy.

Here's some Bristol Bay Sockeye I caught at the supermarket.

Alaska, on the other hand, has gotten this equation right, ever since it became a state (just over 50 years ago), and wrote the sustainable yield principle into their constitution. Yep, sustainable seafood is law in Alaska and that's why consumers can feel confident that any Alaskan seafood they buy has adhered to these standards-- standards that literally have the rest of the planet's fisheries looking to them as a shining example. Their fisheries management philosophy is meant to provide fish to consumers, and support fishing communities for the LONG HAUL. What a concept! Lucky for us in middle America, we can find wild Alaska salmon more and more easily in the seafood department, the canned and pouched seafood section, and the freezer section of the grocery store. Even for a spoiled-rotten former Alaskan salmon snob like myself, I've been thoroughly impressed with the quality of the fresh, frozen, and canned Alaska seafood available at my local grocer. And if I'm ever in need of recipe inspiration, this is where I go: .

FYI Disclosure: Alaska Seafood did not pay me to write this or direct you to their site. It's something I just plain believe in with all my heart, and is one of the few food choices, in the quagmire of modern food choices, that feels cut-and-dry GOOD.

Know what else is more and more available in the seafood department? Pre-cut cedar cooking planks. You can also find them at places like Home Depot, Williams-Sonoma, and Costco. Don't use treated cedar left over from your home renovation project. Those chemicals are bad news. Look for untreated planks, about 1/4" thick.

Ok, so you've got your salmon, and you've procured your cedar plank. Now what?

This flavor-infusing magic of flame means you must take measures to prevent the wood from catching fire. First, soak the plank in water for a minimum of 30 minutes before grilling. Longer is better. Secondly, cook the fish over a lower temperature than you may be used to, and allow ample cooking time. We've found that a medium  to medium low flame on our propane Weber Q makes for a meltingly tender salmon filet, with a subtle smoked cedar aroma, and no pesky plank fires. Some grillers suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water near the grill to squirt out flare-ups, but with proper soaking and low heat, fire is rarely an issue. Allow 2 to 3 times longer than you normally would to grill fish, as both the lower temp. and the heat-shield effect of the board will slow down cooking. 

Let's review.

  • Use untreated cedar cooking planks
  • Soak planks at least 30 minutes before grilling
  • Cook over a medium or medium low flame. High flame + cedar plank = FIRE!
  • Allow ample cooking time
  • Keep a spray bottle filled with water nearby to extinguish flare-ups

Cedar Plank Sockeye Salmon with Citrus Glaze (serves 4)

Adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe for "Orange-Glazed Grilled Fish Fillets"

1 1/2 pounds wild Alaska sockeye filet
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
pinch white pepper

You will need 1 untreated cedar plank, big enough to hold 4 portions of fish without them touching.

In sink or large roasting pan, soak cedar plank in water at least 30 minutes.

In a small saucepan combine orange juice, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, tamari (or soy), maple syrup, brown sugar, marmalade, ginger, garlic, and white pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and continue cooking at a low boil until mixture has thickened to a syrupy consistency and reduced to approx. 1/2 to 2/3 cup. Remove from heat and set aside.

If necessary, remove pin bones from salmon. Cut fillet into 4 equal portions. You do not need to remove the skin; the fish will lift easily from the skin once it's cooked. Brush salmon portions with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Pre-heat grill (or light the coals) to a medium flame. Remove cedar plank from water and place fish portions onto board, skin side down. Add remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil to citrus glaze and stir to combine. Brush each piece of fish generously with the glaze and place on grill. Close lid and cook fish for 10 to 15 minutes, checking periodically. The salmon is done or very-near done when you see the first little spots of white liquid oozing from the flesh of the fish. Like this:

See the little beads of white protein on the left side of the fillet? That's perfect.
Too much of that white stuff means your fish is probably overcooked. Bummer.

You can always do like Noah and check it with your fork.

To serve, place entire plank on large serving platter, or remove fish from plank and place on serving tray. Serve with grilled vegetables and a buttery Chardonnay.


Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the background on Alaska sockeye salmon. I don't know how "easy" it will be to find in Europe (along with untreated cedar planks!) but I'm going to intensify my search.
(This had been slobbering all over my keyboard -- as usual!!!)

Pat (in Belgium)

Anonymous said...

EDIT: This had me slobbering....haven't had my "morning cuppa yet and it's after 1...

Pat :-p

The Klutzy Cook said...

I love this idea although in my part of the world, Atlantic Salmon would have to be used (a worthy substitute). Not sure how I'll tackle the cedar plank but there has to be something I can use. Thanks heaps, I'm on a mission now to create a southern hemisphere version of this dish.

Lisa said...

My family loves salmon and this sounds like something they would really enjoy.

SalmonQueen said...

I can't wait to try the recipe. I am the lucky wife of a commercial Alaska salmon fisherman. We fish out of Sitka in SE Alaska and we mostly get kings and silvers with only a few sockeye. But...we get a few white kings so I think I'll try your recipe on them. Also, I've been told by many people that the cedar planks are easily purchased at the lumber yard. Many yards will even cut the untreated planks to whatever size you want. I can almost taste it already. Cedar plank salmon is the best cold salmon I've ever had. Thanks so much. I'll give out the recipe at farmers' markets and direct them to your site..

Food-G said...

Klutzy Cook- Please do keep us posted about your southern hemisphere version! I'm curious to know what kind of wood you might be able to use in your neck of the woods. You can always order cedar from a U.S. or Canadian website...

Salmon Queen- Fabulous! I think this super flavorful glaze would go really well with white king salmon. You are very lucky indeed! Thanks for stopping by and please do pass the recipe on : )

Kathryn said...

I LOVE salmon- that looks delish! My absolute favorite salmon dish is linguine with smoked salmon. It's definitely not healthy, but it tastes amazing!

Andrea @ Fork Fingers Chopsticks said...

Thanks for all the info about plank cooking/grilling and about Alaska salmon. My brother-in-law from Anchorage is coming through this week - you think I could get him to stuff his suitcase full?

mercedes said...

Hi Ginny,
I recently looked up your blog after your friend Jodie...(can't remember her last name!) mentioned you and that you were a freelance food writer which is something I a would like to get into. We work at Sweetie-Licious Bakery together and I mentioned wanting to go to culinary school and your name popped up! If you have any advice or suggestions for getting started in the foodwriting career, I'm all ears! Thanks,
Mercedes Cowper;

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