Cedar plank grilling is a technique originating with the Chinook and Salish people of the Pacific Northwest. Salmon fresh out of the river would be tied to large wood boards (cedar being most prevalent in many coastal Northwest areas), covered with fir boughs, and slowly roasted over coals in a pit dug into the ground.
More American dishes on The World Cup of Food:
- Succotash (with American cuisine overview)
Plank grilling kept to the realms of tribal celebrations, out of the awareness of the rest of America for the most part until the 1990s, when Seattle area chef John Howie made an appearance on Martha Stewart’s television program and grilled cedar plank salmon (our recipe follows). Today cedar grilling planks are widely available and inexpensive and, if used gently in the oven, reusable.
We decided against foraging for a fir bough to pull sprigs of fir needles from to flavor our fish. The best readily available substitute, we figured, was rosemary, which we hoped would mimic some of the piney flavor from the fir needles without requiring woodland foraging (not that we’re against woodland foraging).
Oven-Roasted Cedar Plank Salmon
method from Ruth’s Kitchen; recipe adapted from descriptions of traditional cedar plank salmon methods used by the Salish and Chinook with adaptations to utilize easily obtained ingredients
SERVES 2 TO 6 DEPENDING ON THE SIZE OF THE SALMON FILLET
- 1 cedar grilling plank
- 1 salmon fillet (we used sockeye and recommend sockeye, chinook, or coho)
- 2 Tbs chopped rosemary
- a pinch of salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 Tbs canola oil
To avoid catastrophe (fire), cedar planks MUST be soaked in water for at least half an hour, preferably longer. We soaked ours for about an hour and a half. After preheating the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, we laid our sockeye fillet on the SOAKED! cedar plank and rubbed it with the rosemary, salt and pepper, and the oil:
The plank was set right on top of the oven rack and left for thirty minutes to bake. After thirty minutes the fish was firm but still moist. For a smaller fillet we recommend checking starting at about fifteen minutes, since overcooked salmon is the worst. We’d rather have it a little rare than overdone. When it came out of the oven, the plank had dried completely, so we were glad that we had SOAKED THE CEDAR PLANK FOR AT LEAST HALF AN HOUR (are we making ourselves clear?):
The sockeye fillet was draped with a piece of foil to stay warm while it rested for about five minutes before serving:
Cut into serving pieces, we enjoyed our salmon alongside our succotash, some sauteed kale we prepared while the salmon was resting, and a slice of corn bread (using the recipe from the box, which always turns out to be the best one):
The cedar plank was alleged to create an insulating layer between the fish and the heat source, cooking the fish slowly and leaving it moist and delicious. Ours followed this plan completely. The texture was flaky without being dry, and the rosemary gave it a little bit of pineyness that we were after. The tannins from the cedar plank subtly lent their flavor to the sockeye as well, and the plank had the added benefit of absorbing excess oil and moisture from the bottom of the fillet, preventing it from getting soggy. Keeping a bunch of cedar planks around for salmon night might seem impractical, but the results are worth it.