While catching a big, bright king salmon is a thrill, eating one is often even more of a joy — provided you know what you’re doing.?? I’ve heard way too many horror stories of good salmon gone bad during the cooking process, coming out too dry or too mushy or too fishy or too charred. If you-re one of the folks who-ve been down that road before, I-m going to help you out. I’m going to teach you how to make cedar plank salmon, a treat for your taste buds and one of the most sure-fire ways to prepare a bright red fillet of salmon.
But first, let-s back up a few steps. If you don-t care for your fish from the time you get it into the boat, there-s no recipe that will make it taste good. To keep your catch as fresh as possible, bleed it by cutting its gills as soon as you pull it out of the net. This allows most of the blood to drain out of the meat, which helps prevent spoilage and that unappealing “fishy” taste.
When the fish has bled out, place it immediately on ice in a cooler and be sure to drain any water that may accumulate in the bottom. Add more ice when necessary and fillet you catch as soon as possible. Now that you’ve gotten your fish home in good condition, it’s time to show you how to make it taste like a million bucks.
Get a 1/2-inch thick piece of untreated cedar from your local lumber yard or gourmet shop (alder is also a good choice) and cut it to the size of your fillet. Next, place the cedar plank in water (I use an ice chest) and put a rock or something heavy on it to keep it submerged. Allow the wood to soak two to six hours. While the cedar is absorbing moisture, you can marinate your fish in just about anything you’d normally put on fish — Yoshida’s Sauce, soy, teriyaki, red wine, Italian dressing, etc. If I’m feeling like getting fancy, I’ll do something like a maple glaze or a sesame soy marinade, but you can also keep it simple and brush the fish with a quality olive oil and then sprinkle it with fresh basil or rosemary. Or just dust it with some garlic and onion powder and a little salt and pepper.
A little Magic
When you’re ready to start cooking, heat up the grill and season your board with a light coating of sea salt. Start with the barbecue on a medium-low heat and place the salmon, skin side down, on the cedar plank and put it right on the grill. Close the lid and let the magic begin. What will happen is the heat will cause the board to steam, which keeps your fish moist. As the board dries out, it will start to smoke and that’s where the great flavor comes from. Periodically check the fish, but keep your open lid time to a minimum — you don’t want that smoke to get out.
A beer for me, a beer for the fish…
The next step is to get yourself a beer. I know – it’s rough duty, but somebody’s gotta do it, right? Actually, keep some of the beer handy because your cedar plank will occasionally flare up. Douse the fire with a shot of brew. Just don’t get into the habit of blaming the pile of empties at your feet on “those pesky cedar flames.”
The $25,000 Question
How long it takes to cook salmon depends largely on how thick your fillet is. A 10-pounder might be done in 10 or 12 minutes. A 40-pounder may take four times that long. The smoke will give the fish a handsome brown glaze and you can check to see how far along it is by cutting into the thickest section of the fillet. Raw salmon is orange in color, while cooked fish takes on a pinkish hue. If you cook with too much heat, unsightly pools of white fish oil will accumulate on the top of your fillet. While there’s nothing wrong with the oil, it does take away from the presentation value of the fish. So, when you’re a minute or two from being done, take the salmon off the board (carefully) and flip it over directly on the grill. The oil will burn and drip off quickly and the fish will develop some very bistro-like grill marks – which should earn you plenty of style points with the folks you’re cooking for.
Well, there you have it – a great way to prepare salmon and you can even say you made it up yourself. I won’t tell! Oh, by the way, a cedar plank is good for only one piece of fish. Be sure to discard the charred remains (at least it’s a board this time that’s black and not your fish!) when you’re done cooking.