I’ve been wanting to try grilling salmon on cedar planks for a long time, but never got around to it until last night. It’s actually pretty easy, impressive looking and — thanks to some thrifty shopping — quite inexpensive. If you are not familiar with this technique, it involves grilling salmon directly on cedar planks, allowing the smoke from the cedar to flavor the fish.
First off let me explain that I don’t even really like salmon. Let’s face it, here in Texas we just don’t see a lot of salmon swimming up the Rio Grande. Likewise for salmon’s puny cousin the trout. When we eat fish here it’s bass, or catfish, or crappie, not salmon. And it’s not baked, or grilled, or broiled, or poached. It’s fried. Fried in corn meal or onion ring batter. Period. That’s fish. The smell of salmon on the other hand, just reminds me of canned cat food.
Never the less, my wife and I decided we should broaden our horizons and try some more “exotic” types of fish prepared in healthier ways. Salmon grilled on cedar planks certainly fits the bill down here.
So first things first, the salmon. While we won’t catch a salmon in the river on a tube jig, we can certainly buy an imported one from the supermarket. Here salmon is $10 a pound for wild salmon and $5 a pound for farm raised. Not knowing the actual benefits of one over the other, I gave in to prestige pricing and bought the more expensive wild salmon.
Next, I needed some cedar planks. I saw some at Williams-Sonoma the previous weekend, but they wanted like $20 for 4 planks. However, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. My yard is full of cedar trees so I know that a 6×14 plank isn’t worth $5. In fact, we put up a cedar fence last year, and I still had some scrap pickets left over that I had thrown in the wood pile. These however were covered with a white fungus of unidentified origin, so after a few minutes of contemplation I elected to seek alternatives.
Aha, the Home Depot! Sure enough, I was able to buy an 8′x6″ cedar picket for $2. First I cut it into 6, 16″ sections. Then, to give the same smooth feel as the fancy store bought planks I applied liberal use of a belt sander to one side to remove the splinters. Perfect. I then set a couple of planks in the sink with a brick on top to let them soak for 3 or 4 hours. This assures they won’t completely burn up in the grill.
When ready to cook, I first let the grill get good and hot. I then removed the planks from their bath and placed them on the grill, which I turned down to low and shut the lid. After about 10 minutes the wood was starting to smolder on the bottom and a distinct smell of cedar was evident. Now for the salmon.
I first gave the salmon a little oiling and seasoned well with salt and pepper. I then covered the top and sides with the fanciest Dijon mustard we had in the refrigerator, and covered that with a layer of brown sugar. The mustard and sugar mixture will melt on the grill, forming a delicious sweet and tangy glaze. I then transferred each fish to a blank and shut the grill lid.
After about 20-30 minutes, the fish had reached a temperature of about 135°, and after a few more minutes where flaking easily and therefore, done. Removing the planks from the grill they were ready to serve. Serving the fish directly off the planks makes a nice presentation, and a whole side of salmon on a longer plank would make a great party appetizer.
So, finally, the taste test. Still tastes like salmon. Or cat food. Sorry. I really tried. I mean I really wanted to like this foreign fish. Don’t get me wrong. This recipe is a good one, the glaze was really good and the fish look wonderful. If you like salmon, I bet you’d like this dish. I’m just hampered by my heritage I guess. I’ll stick to catfish, thanks.