Grilled Plank Salmon
Several years ago, my medic, Bobby Alvidres, and I were living in Kentucky, just outside Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne Division. We had just returned home from Afghanistan and were living the high life. We were both great cooks, so each weekend, we would trade off on who was preparing the feast. I am not going to say there was a competition as to whom was better, but he is a California Boy, and I am Texan, so a battle of the republics may have been an ongoing thing. Like any good non-competition, there were rules to the feast. Whoever was doing the cooking bought the groceries to supply the ingredients needed. The person not cooking purchased the alcohol, tobacco, and firewood; he also got to choose grilled, pan-fried, or baked. Almost always, the choice was grilled.
One weekend, in mid-March, Bobby pulled out an awesome steak fajita recipe that was simply amazing. He did this purposely because I had been bragging all week about how Texas, especially Fort Worth, was steak country, with no shortage of Mexican food. Besides, "Ain't any way a hippie from Cali is going to be able to grill a good steak fajita because he can't cook a good steak." First of all, let me state for the record, Alvi might be the furthest thing from a hippie California has ever seen. Hell, he is probably more Texan than some Texans I know. Now when I bit into that steak fajita, served exquisitely in a flour tortilla with all the veggies you can think that goes with such a dish, I had to admit, with hat in hand, there was at least one hippie that could.
Not to be outdone, I chose to showcase my abilities in seafood. Just as I had chastised Bobby, he, in turn, did so to me. "There is no way, a landlocked cowboy, from Fort Worth, Texas, knows the first thing about cooking seafood," he proclaimed. Well, I knew a way to make grilled salmon few have seen, and even fewer have done. It's grilled wood plank salmon, and it won that month's battle over the grill.
The Dish that won Mid-March 2013
Last night, Monday, November 23, I made it again, and I will share this little masterpiece with you. You'll need to buy some wood grilling planks. They are generally cedar or hickory and can be pretty hard to find. Home Depot normally has them in with the hickory and mesquite chips in the grilling section of the home and garden. Next is picking your salmon. I look for an excellent deep red-pink color, and you want some skin in this game. So here is a list for those that want to copy and paste to your notes.
Cedar or hickory grilling planks
At least a pound of fresh salmon skin on one side
Salt and pepper
Rosemary, dried or fine freshly chopped
A large bottle of cheap white wine for cooking (you won't be drinking it, so get really cheap)
You might as well get some good white wine or your choice of beverage while you're in the area.
Charcoal for the grill (this is best on a charcoal grill, but can be done with a gas grill)
Throw away, turkey pan.
So to begin, unwrap your planks and turkey pan, then place the plank or planks in the turkey pan. Open the cheap wine and fill it till it's about an inch or so deep. I know wood floats. If you used all the wine, fill the now empty bottle with water, re-cork, and place it on top of the plank to submerge it. If you are doing two or more planks, use something to create a small space between each plank to prevent them from sticking together. They need to soak for a minimum of 2 hours and up to 24 hours. Longer is better.
While you wait, make yourself a drink, and let's work on seasoning that salmon. With good fresh salmon, less is more, and we don't want to mask the fish's flavor, so stick to your natural herbs. First thing, placing the salmon skin side down on a cutting board, cut your fish into the desired serving sizes. You will need a good sharp knife to get through the skin, and do not wait until after cooking the animal. Like most fish, when cooked, salmon becomes very flaky and does not cut well, in my opinion.
Take one lemon and cut it into wedges. Generally, I do two wedges per serving of fish. Squeeze the lemon on to the slabs, generously covering the fish, let the juice soak in for about as long as it takes to sip your beverage. Now apply salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic. Use enough of each to cover the salmon thoroughly.
Using two other lemons, slice them into about ¼ inch slices. Please do not overthink this. No, it doesn't need to be exact, so guys don't go reaching for the tape measure and pen.
Put the center slices aside; take the end pieces of the lemons you sliced and place them fruit side down on the salmon meat.
Cover the fish lightly with plastic wrap and set in the refrigerator, and while you are there, get a refill of tea or whatever.
This is an excellent time to get your charcoal and grill ready. Do not light it yet; just get it staged. Also, you can prepare your sides. I generally stick with asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, or something along those lines with salmon, but hey, it's a free country; do what sounds acceptable to you.
Once your planks are done soaking, pull them from the wine and dab them with a towel just to get the surface liquid off. Take the lemon slices you have cut and lay one at a time on the plank creating two or three rows depending on your board's width. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator, unwrap the plastic, and place the salmon, skin side down, atop the lemon slices. Cover if you have animals. If you need to slice more lemons do so.
Now grab another drink, head outside, and start that grill. If you're using coals, you want them that nice dark red and white color. If using gas, get the temp up around 350-400 with the lid closed. Have a spot away from the flames for your plank. In either case, you want to create an oven-like environment between 300-400 degrees. Once this is achieved, place your plank directly on the grill. Keep a spray bottle of water on hand in case of the board flames up around the edges. The longer the board soaks, the less likely it is this will occur.
Cook the salmon until it starts to whiten about a quarter of the way up from the skin. It should be flaky when touched with a fork. Pull the plank and all from the fire onto a baking pan, bring inside, and tent with foil. Let rest for about 10 mins, or while your side cools. Using a spatula, remove salmon from the lemon slices, plate, and serve.