Cedar Plank Salmon



Thanks to Dave at work for asking me about cedar plank salmon…it got me rolling…

Cedar plank salmon simulates a pacific northwest potlatch salmon bake on a backyard grill. Cooking salmon on a plank adds a touch of smoky flavor to the fish, and it makes cooking a snap. No fish sticking to the grill – put the plank on the grill, grill roast for about a half an hour, pull the plank off the grill, done.
*Now, it’s not perfect. You will have to deal with the smoking hot cedar plank. Make sure you have a sheet pan or something like it, and a heat proof trivet to put it on when you are done cooking.

To cook cedar plank salmon you need an untreated cedar plank. (And some salmon. I’m a master of the obvious.) The safest way to get untreated cedar is to buy grilling planks at cooking store…but they are  expensive, and they tend to be on the small side if you want to cook an entire salmon fillet. The cheaper way out is your local hardware store. I buy untreated cedar 1×8 boards and cut them into 16 inch lengths. But, there is a slight risk that untreated hardware store cedar was piled up with treated wood while it was in storage, and the toxins in the treated wood have leached into the cedar.

Use your own best judgement. I buy untreated cedar boards from the hardware store. I’ve been cooking on cedar planks for years; when I started the ONLY option was the hardware store. Ten years ago, my local specialty cookware store didn’t carry cedar planks, and my big box hardware store didn’t carry KitchenAid products.
*If you want the best of both worlds, check high end cookware stores at the end of summer. I don’t like paying $20 for 4 feet of wood at a cooking store…but at the end of the grilling season, when it’s on sale for $5, I snap it up.

When I’m cooking with a plank, I use indirect high heat. Cedar planked salmon, cooked over direct heat chars the board and generates way too much smoke. The cedar taste overwhelms the fish. Also, with indirect heat, I don’t have to worry about the plank going up like a torch, taking my salmon with it.
*Not that I’m annoyed about that $20/lb wild salmon I bought that one time when…no, really, I’m not annoyed.

Recipe: Cedar Plank Salmon

Inspired by: Ted Reader Sticks & Stones: The Art of Grilling on Plank, Vine and Stone (The Game & Fish Mastery Library)

Cook time: 30 minutes

Equipment:

Ingredients:

  • Salmon fillet (2 to 2.5 lbs. Mine was 1.25 inches thick)
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon

Sour Cream and Caper sauce

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 tbsp capers, chopped

Directions:
1. Soak the plank: Put the plank in a large container, weigh it down, and cover with water. Soak for at least one hour, or up to overnight.

2. Prepare the salmon and sour cream sauce: Remove the plank from the water, and pat dry. Put the salmon fillet on the plank, skin side down, and sprinkle with the kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, and lemon zest. (The brown sugar and zest tend to clump together; gently rub the seasonings onto the fish until it is evenly coated.) Mix the sour cream sauce ingredients in a small bowl.

3. Prepare the grill: Set the grill up for indirect cooking at high heat. For my Weber Summit, I preheat the grill for 15 minutes with all the burners on high, then I turn off the middle burners (leaving burners 1 and 6 lit and on high heat). I want an internal temperature of 450*F, or higher if I can get it.

4. Cook the salmon: Put the plank on the grill, over the unlit burners, and cook with the lid closed. Cook until the salmon reads 135*F in its thickest point, measured with an instant read thermometer. (I like my salmon cooked medium, with just a hint of pink in the middle. If you want it cooked all the way through, go to 145*F). Cooking time is 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon; my fillet was 1.25 inches thick, and took 30 minutes.

5. Serve: Using tongs, remove the plank to the sheet pan (or other fireproof tray), then set on a heatproof pad. Cut the salmon crosswise into 2 inch thick pieces, and serve, passing the sauce at the table.

Variations:
*Different plank wood: Alder is the traditional wood used in northwestern salmon cooking. I have a slight preference for the flavor of alder over cedar. But the difference is subtle. It is hard to find alder planks where I live, so I usually go with cedar.

*Simplest cedar plank salmon: Skip everything but the salt, pepper, salmon and cedar plank.

Notes:
*Fine Cooking Magazine: While I was working on this post, my summer issue of Fine Cooking Magazine arrived. With an article on cedar plank salmon, of course. The fun part is, it is a “cook once, eat twice” article. Dawn Yanagihara has some excellent suggestions for using leftover cedar plank salmon. Check it out:
Cook Once, Eat Twice: Cedar Plank Salmon [finecooking.com]

*While the plank is on the grill, you will occasionally hear a loud popping noise. This is normal.

*Keep an eye on the grill, looking for smoke. A little smoke rising from the grill is what you want; if you see smoke pouring out of the grill, the plank is on fire. Use tongs to move the plank away from the heat on the grill, and the plank should extinguish itself.

*Time for my usual sustainable seafood request. Please buy sustainable salmon – wild Alaskan salmon is your best choice, not just for sustainability, but also for taste.

*I take my plank to the store, pass it over the fish counter, and and ask for a salmon fillet that will fit. It makes the fishmonger’s day, and always leads to a fun conversation.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Grill Smoked Salmon
Grilled Mahi-Mahi Fish Tacos
Grilled Trout, Herb and Citrus Stuffed

Inspired by:
Ted Reader, Sticks & Stones: The Art of Grilling on Plank, Vine and Stone (The Game & Fish Mastery Library)
Sticks & Stones: The Art of Grilling on Plank, Vine and Stone (The Game & Fish Mastery Library)
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8 Comments

  1. THANK YOU for a well written, detailed (just detailed enough) description of cedar plank salmon. I’ve heard about it over and over and couldn’t for the life of me imagine why you would want to do that to salmon. I love salmon prepared almost any way, but my favorite is just lightly seasoned and then seared on both sides.

    But your explanation of the process and the reasons behind it has convinced me that cedar plank salmon is in my near grilling future!

  2. Any recommendations on cedar cooking cookbooks? Thinking of getting my Dad some fish, planks and a cookbook for father’s day. He’s not much of a cook but I think he might like to play around with this.

  3. @LiveToCook:
    Other than the “Sticks and Stones” book I reference in the recipe itself, I would recommend…

    Ted Reader’s more recent The Art of Plank Grilling: Licked by Fire, Kissed by Smoke looks like the updated version of “Sticks and Stones”

    Steven Raichlen’s Beer-Can Chicken: And 74 Other Offbeat Recipes for the Grill is also good, if you emphasize the “Other Offbeat Recipes” part. There is a cedar plank Camembert recipe that I use as an appetizer a lot.

    Hope this helps!

  4. Thanks. By the way, I came across this site that sells cedar plank seconds for pretty cheap, free delivery too. I thought you might be interested:

    http://www.barbecuewood.com/-strse-Cedar-Wood-cln-Factory-2nds/Categories.bok

  5. TVisconti /

    Great recipe and loved the sauce too?

    My charcoal variation:
    Although I could have used gas for this I chose the charcoal side of my CG Trio. I followed all directions*, yet when it came time to grill I took the indirect route, splitting a chimney’s worth of coals (Kingsford Comp. Briquettes) in half on each side of my grill and used the center to cook on. I used a RediChek ET85 that shows both inner food temp and grill temp, so I let the fish get to 138 which was about 40 minutes. I also had the lid closed the majority of the time, yet every now and then I opened it so that things wouldn’t get too hot. Opened the whole time would never have worked with charcoal. A few minutes before I I pulled the fish off, I drizzled some melted butter over it, a nice finishing touch.

    *I also treated the plank with olive oil prior to putting the fish on it.

    This was some of the best fish we’ve had in quite a while. Thanks again.

  6. @TVisconti:

    You’re welcome, again!

  7. I’ve been making cedar planked salmon for a few years now. The sauce caught my attention here so I tried it when we had some new friends over this evening. Wow! Delicious!

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