There’s a great grocery in Hamiton, Ohio, called Jungle Jim’s. The place is several acres under roof, with huge selections of wine, beer, cheeses, meats, seafood and all kinds of ethnic foods (arranged by region/country). My wife and I stopped by over last weekend, and they had a special on some wild caught sockeye salmon that I couldn’t pass up, along with a cart full of English beer and hard cider. You’ve got to love a grocery that has a sign outside saying, “Foodies Welcome”!
My wife and I don’t really celebrate New Year’s Eve. It’s not that we’re old and boring (I am, she’s not); it’s just that it’s never been a big deal to either of us. But we don’t have to go to work the next day, so I usually try to make something good.
Sometimes I feel like I’m something of a rut with salmon, but my wife requested that I cedar plank this, so I did. It’s easy to do and tastes really fantastic! I use the simplest of recipes for this; I’m a believer in using good ingredients that don’t need to be covered up with spices and sauces all the time (though now and then is good). For good salmon, all I use for seasoning is grey salt, black pepper and brown sugar. That’s it.
So here is the list of ingredients:
- 1 salmon fillet
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grey salt (this is along the lines of Fleur de Sel)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- enough brown sugar to liberally cover the filet (maybe 1 cup)
Two hours before cooking, I put a cedar plank in water to soak. An XL kitty litter box (unused, please!) works great for this. I lay the salmon out to let it get to room temp, about a half hour before putting it on the grill. I don’t season until just before I put it on though.
I also get a chimney of coals going, so they’re good and hot when it’s time to grill. This also simplifies the fire in that there’s no need to worry about making a 3 zone fire; the cedar plank makes all the heat indirect. When the coals are ready, I put them in something of a rectangular shape, right below where I’ll put the cedar plank.
About 5 minutes before I put the salmon on, I spray the smooth side of the cedar plank with veggie oil spray and put the plank on the grate of the grill, about 6″ directly above the fire. It’s ready once the cedar wood starts smoking.
Once I see the smoke coming out of the grill, I put the salmon fillet right on the plank, doing my best to not let it hang over the plank. The lid comes down, and all there is to do is wait.
I don’t really time this too much, but I usually start looking at the fish after about 15 minutes. Depending on how hot the fire is burning and hot thick the fillet is, this is about the earliest the fish will be ready. This time, it took just under 20 minutes.
The brown sugar melts all over the fish, and the plank, and into the fire… which is ok. It forms a bit of a crust on top of the fish, adding some sweetness, but not as much as you’d think. I’ve had non-fish-eater friends decide salmon was good stuff after having this.
A trick I’ve finally taught myself is to have an already-charred plank from before that’s clean and dry. When the fish was done, I transferred it to this plank and served it. If you try to serve on a smoking plank, you’re going to empty the dining room! Only do this if you’re outside and won’t catch anything on fire!
The presentation ends up really nice, and the fish is well worth the effort. As with many things, the quality of the fish really makes a difference. The idea is not to overseason or overcook the fish; medium rare is great for this. If you can’t get wild caught or Scottish salmon, using spices more like dill or tarragon may be a better way to go. But this is so good, it’s worth a splurge when/if you can find good wild caught salmon. The planking also works for other fish, pork chops and chicken, and scallops are really great this way.
By not having to watch over the food too much, this also makes a great winter grilling exercise.