Jessica Karley: Grilling salmon on cedar planks
Cooking salmon on a cedar plank is one of my favorite ways to prepare fish on the grill. It allows the delicate fish to be slowly cooked and smoked, even when you're using a gas grill instead of charcoal.
The fish takes on the slightly sweet aromatics of the cedar wood and stays tender and moist. It's an impressive way to turn the amateur griller into the king or queen of the coals. Because you cook the fish on the cedar and not directly on the grill grates, you eliminate the part of grilling fish that most backyard barbecuers fear the most: the fish never making if off of the grill in one piece.
The process of grilling on cedar planks is quite simple. Cedar planks can be found at your local home improvement store or you can usually find them where grills and grilling equipment are sold. You'll need to plan this meal ahead to allow time for the cedar to soak before grilling. The least amount of time you can do is two hours, but I prefer to soak mine for four.
If your days can get as busy as mine, go ahead and put them in water in the morning to ensure you don't forget. Make sure you use something to weigh the wood down. Otherwise, it'll float on the top and only half of your wood will be in the water, while the other half will be ready for a bonfire. (Although it's a great backyard activity, the grill is not the place for fire!)
The next step is to prepare your fish. I was lucky enough to find gorgeous salmon fillets at the meat counter of a local store, so I was already off to a great start. The salmon glaze is very simple and consists of only two ingredients: whole grain mustard and brown sugar. Add cracked black pepper and a pinch of salt to enhance the flavors.
This cooking method also works beautifully with chicken breasts or thighs. When cooking chicken on the plank though, it works best to "preheat" the planks for five minutes, then flip them and lay the chicken breasts on top. The results are equally delicious, tender and always juicy.
Along with the salmon, I served delicious Parmesan Roasted Zucchini Coins. My son and I spent Saturday morning at the local farmers market and loaded our basket with fresh fruits and vegetables, including beautiful zucchini and summer squash. Someone (who might have inherited his mother's loves of sweets) also snuck a few delicious doughnuts, cookies and slices of pie into our basket, too!
Despite his efforts to convince me that doughnuts were a great side dish, I continued with my plan to serve zucchini. I sliced them into half-inch thick rings, tossed them with olive oil, garlic, kosher salt, red and black pepper. After laying them in a single layer, I topped them with shredded parmesan cheese. Getting him to try them might not have been as easy as if they were actual doughnuts, but in the end, he described them as "tasty," and that's a win in my house!
Mustard Brown Sugar Glazed Cedar Plank Salmon
2 pounds salmon fillet, skin on
1/3 cup whole grain mustard
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Prepare cedar planks by soaking in water for 2 to 8 hours. Prepare charcoals to medium heat or preheat gas grill to medium-low. In a small bowl, whisk mustard, sugar, salt and pepper until combined. Lay salmon, skin side down, on the cedar planks. Spoon the glaze over the top. Place the planks on the grill, close lid and cook for 15 minutes or until fish is cooked through and flaky. Remove planks from the grill and enjoy! Note: If cooking cedar plank chicken breasts, the cooking time will be roughly 20-25 minutes.
Oven Roasted Parmesan Zucchini Coins
4 small zucchini or summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cloves garlic, fresh minced
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 425. In a re-sealable plastic bag, place zucchini, olive oil, salt, pepper, pepper flakes and garlic. Seal and gently toss until zucchini is evenly coated. Spread into a single layer on baking sheet. Top with parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Karley writes for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her food blog at EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com.