Native Americans had it about as close to how nature intended it when they invented the cedar plank method of cooking. They called it fire pit planking where they tacked a fish on a cedar plank and held it close to the fire. Hundreds of years later, we are still partaking in this timeless cooking method. It’s simple for the cook, novel for the guests and produces moist flesh with a smoky flavor and cedar fragrance.
More recently, planking salmon has gone in and out of style, but it never will for me. What surprises me is the number of people who tell me they have never tried it at home. I think it’s because like many things, until you have actually prepared it this way, it is intimidating.
This recipe calls for a few more steps than I typically give in a recipe, but they’re easy to follow and worth it. Begin by soaking the cedar planks in water for a few hours. The planks are available at grocery stores and kitchen stores. Be sure the planks are untreated cedar. Then prepare the baste and the sauce. The baste gives the salmon a bit of fresh lemon flavor while it is cooking.
The French “beurre blanc” sauce (translated to white butter sauce) is my absolute favorite sauce. It’s a simple reduction of dry white wine and chopped shallots with chunks of cold, unsalted butter whisked in to give it body. Do not be intimidated by the French name.
Finally, there’s the grilling the salmon on the cedar plank. Put the barbecue lid down so it creates a smoky environment while it is cooking. Crackling noises and smoke are expected so don’t let them scare you. I recommend keeping a spray bottle of water close by in case the plank flares up and catches fire. If it does just spray it with water and carry on with cooking.
- 2 cedar planks
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 3 pounds fresh wild caught salmon fillet with skin on (fresh halibut can be substituted) cut into 6 portions
- Beurre Blanc Sauce:
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1-1/2 tablespoons chopped shallots
- 3 ounces (¾ stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon or basil
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Soak cedar planks submerged in water (you will need to weight them down to keep them submerged) for one to two hours; drain.
- For the baste, stir together melted butter, olive oil, lemon zest, salt and pepper; set aside.
- For the beurre blanc sauce, put wine and shallots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil; immediately reduce heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 2 tablespoons, about 4-5 minutes. Over low heat, slowly whisk in one or butter chunks, making sure chunks are completely melted before adding more. The pan should never be too hot to the touch (move pan off heat if it gets too hot). Once all of the butter is added, stir in chopped fresh tarragon and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep off the heat in warm area until using.
- Preheat the grill to medium heat.
- Put soaked and drained planks on the grill and allow heating for 2-3 minutes then turn them over. Put salmon, skin side down, on the heated planks; brush each fillet with the baste and grill just until the salmon is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes (allowing approximately 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of thickness of salmon) and spraying the plank with water if it flares up during cooking.
- To serve, remove salmon from the plank leaving the skin on the plank; drizzle beurre blanc sauce over fillets. Serve immediately.