Planked Fish

May 10th, 2006

Running a cooking school on the coast, it is just a natural expectation that we do a fair amount of seafood. And we do. We look for ways to vary the preparation and accompaniments to get many versions of say “salmon,” for example. Well, here are my thoughts on one popular restaurant version of cooking fish, especially, salmon–“planking.”

The catch from the pacific and in the Northwest waters is unique due to the water temperature and currents. In addition, the fat content of many of the native species lends themselves to more aggressive preparations as well as condiments and even varying wine varietals.

Salmon, for example, go through a migratory cycle. Prior to taking the long journey back to their birthplace to spawn, they eat ravenously to build fat. This will enable them to make the long journey. They get much leaner as they get closer to their destination. The fat creates a unique flavor and lends itself much better to a variety of cooking techniques, including cooking on a plank.

ìPlankingî is a traditional Northwest-style of cooking fish, utilizing a variety of aromatic woods, usually cedar, alder or oak. These are untreated pieces of hard woods, cut into any shape that will support the size of the item to be grilled. We recommend soaking the planks for approximately 30 minutes or longer in water so that the wood absorbs it to inhibit burning while on the grill over direct flames. Water soaked wood will smoke rather than catch fire. We generally brush a little cooking oil such as EVOO on the wood before placing the fish on top and season with sea salt, ground coriander and other aromatics. Place the plank with fish directly on the preheated grill and cover. Check after 10 minutes. The fish should be opaque throughout before removing. As I said, because the wood is water soaked before cooking it generates a small amount of smoke that imparts a subtle but rich flavor, that with the fat from the fish, gives a great mouth feel. You can see why this might create a nice foundation for for introducing other flavors and interesting condiments such as salsaís, chutneyís, not to mention full bodied wines.

We have enjoyed other ìplankedî creations using dark meat chicken or turkey, lamb and pork. Always the key to success is working with foods that have a fatty background to support the smoke-flavor.

Now, when outdoor grilling is not available, we have also used the home oven. There are differences in preparation, but for most tastes there’s no difference in final outcome. For the oven, do not soak the wood. Ovens utilize radiant heat that surrounds the planked food and does not expose the wood to direct flames. Brush the wood as above, and in some cases, to improve handling if the fish, sear it on one side in a sautÈ pan on the stove top before planking. Searing tends keep the fish from sticking to the wood. Sear the side of the fish that you intend to place directly on the wood, which is typically the skin side or the side where the skin was removed. Bake at 500†F for approximately 7- 10 minutes, still looking for that opaque quality. Note doneness will depend on thickness of the cut.

A favorite at EVOO is to serve planked fish with a fresh fruit chutney (see recipe) paired with a good syrah, such as Dimmick-Price Reserve Syrah.

In short, “planking” is a great addition to any culinary repertoire. Because you are using untreated hard wood, you can wash, rinse, dry and reuse them many times. Enjoy ñ Ciao Bob!

Pineapple Chutney‡ cup sugar
º cup cider vinegar
1 orange, seeded, chopped
1 orange, zested
1 lime, seeded, diced
‡ red onion, minced
º cup craisins
1 TB candied ginger
2 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger
4 cups diced pineapple (1 each)

Method: combine sugar and vinegar; simmer 5 minutes; add orange, zest, lime, onion, craisins, candied ginger and garlic; simmer for 30 minutes; add ground ginger and pineapple; simmer for an additional 15 minutes; cool for service.