Wood+Fire+Food. What else do you need? The simplicity of cooking fish on top of wooden planks drew me to the idea. Wooden planks provide a convenient cooking and serving surface. The wood provides a great vehicle for steaming fish and imparts a subtle flavor in a relatively short amount of time. Finally, presenting beautifully cooked fish on wood adds a dramatic, almost primal, flourish.
Not having a backyard to call my own, I have relatively little experience grilling. Most of my dinner parties unfold in the comfort of my apartment kitchen where I have my go-to techniques (rarely does one of my dinner parties not feature a braise of some sort). After being invited to a barbecue in Berkeley, I saw an opportunity to try something new.
Getting started with cooking on planks is easy. Simply soak untreated wooden planks (cedar planks are a safe place to start) in water for two hours before grilling and bring the grill to around 350 F. Salmon cooks for about 30 minutes while cooking times for white fish are a bit shorter, around 20 mins. Cooking times vary, depending on the filet of the fish and the grill. Close the lid of the grill to allow the steam to envelope and cook the fish.
Cooking on planks lends itself to simple, classic flavor combinations that feature the fish. For the barbecue, I looked at dozens of different recipes and made a spreadsheet of thirty different flavor combinations so that we could be prepared for whatever the fish of the day was. One of the guests, Adam, who just happened to be a fisherman, brought an amazing California Halibut and deboned and filleted the fish in the most precise way I’ve seen.
We served the halibut with an herb butter consisting of tarragon, dill, garlic, and a squeeze of lemon. We also picked up fresh salmon at Berkeley Bowl, which is hands-down the most incredible supermarket I’ve been to. With the salmon, I wanted to create layers of flavor without competing with the fish. I rubbed the salmon with spices and served it with blistered tomatoes and a dill yogurt sauce (made by Sarah).
These two recipes are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you can master the basic technique, the flavor combinations you can try with planking are endless.