Salmon is one of the most popular and versatile types of fish available. This ingenious and unusual cooking method works in two ways. Unlike traditional grilling methods, cedar plank cooking works in a similar way to steaming, meaning the fish is cooked gently and retains all of it's moisture. Secondly the cedar itself adds an extra flavour dimension with background notes of earthy wood & charcoal.
Traditionally, cedar planks are placed a short distance away from the heat source on a barbecue in order to avoid burning. Though this method is reliable enough to ensure food is heated thoroughly, it is a great technique for avoiding charred edges or overcooked, dry barbecue dishes.
Cooking with wood to enhance the flavour of a dish has been done for centuries but it is only in recent years that chefs and home cooks have started to use the technique regularly. The aromatic smoke that cedar wood produces is unlike anything else and creates a deep, complex mixture of tastes that give meat, fish and vegetables an extra level of flavour that you just can't get by using other methods. Salmon in particular benefits from gentle cooking at a relatively low heat, so by using pre soaked cedar planks to elevate the tender fish slightly above the actual heat source, you can achieve the kind of caramelised, sweet, charred flavour you would expect from a traditional barbecue but you can still ensure it retains all of it's natural juices and stays nice and moist throughout.
This technique is essentially a combination of barbecue, smoking and steaming, which is what gives this dish its unique and delicate flavour. Next time you're doing some al fresco dining, this recipe can make a brilliant alternative to standard steaks or boring burgers.
1. The first step you need to take is to lay the fillet down on a clean, dry work surface. Check the colour of the fish, a healthy salmon should have vibrant pink flesh.
2. Following this, use your fingers to gently feel around for small, hard lumps. These are “pin bones” and will need to be removed. Though this isn't essential, it does make the eating experience far more enjoyable. A pair of tweezers is the best tool to use and if you grip the small bones firmly and pull in a fluid motion, they should come out without breaking.
3. Following this, coat the fish in a little olive oil and any seasoning you want to use. If you are using a marinade, you can also add this now.
4. Ensure you light your barbecue around 20 to 30 minutes before you need to use it. Though many outdoor grills are quite approximate, some do have a temperature sensor, you could use a probe or thermometer to give you an idea of when the temperature has reached the perfect level. Ideally, you are looking for around 170-190C.
5. Gas barbecues will take up to 15 minute to heat up. Once it has been lit and on full power for at least this amount of time, reduce the heat to a lower level before you start cooking. This prevents food from burning and gives you a more even temperature.
6. To avoid burning, pre soak your cedar planks in water overnight or for several hours at the very least. This is an important step as they can burn too quickly and spoil the dish if you skip this part.
7. Lay the wet cedar plank directly on to the hot grill and leave it for at least 7 minutes. This process is gently charring the wood, not burning it and you will probably notice the distinctive smell as this takes place.
8. After this, carefully turn the plank over so that the darker side is facing up. Now you can place your salmon fillet straight on to the wood. Ensure you have added any seasoning, marinades or accompaniments like lemon wedges as this will all add to the flavour. Placing the fish skin side down usually works best though you can also have the skin facing up if you prefer.
9. Make sure the charred cedar plank is directly in the centre of the grill so that it cooks as evenly as possible. Much of the moisture from the fish will be retained and the combination of smokey flavours and the soft, juicy fish is absolutely delightful.
10. Close the lid of the barbecue and wait for up to 30 minutes. You may want to check your fish after around 15 to 20 minutes, but avoid lifting the lid too much as this will slow down the cooking process quite significantly.
11. To check the salmon is cooked properly, the best approach is to use a probe or cooking thermometer which can be picked up quite cheaply from any catering supplies company and some larger supermarkets. The temperature should be at least 60 degrees c or above. If you don't have a thermometer you can also check by simply using a fork on a small part of the fish. If the flesh breaks up in to small pieces that look quite flaky, it is ready to eat.
This is just a guide and any barbecue will work with this style of cooking, however, it can be helpful to use a grill that includes a lid or some kind of covering so the smoke and steam can circulate around the fish properly.
This dish works well with new potatoes, salads, rice or lentils. Salmon cooked in this way also works particularly well with white wines, prosecco and pale ales.