In a culinary world full of deconstructions, elaborate plating, shocking flavour combinations and specially-foraged ingredients we sometimes lose sight of the simple pleasures of eating. A set table, friends and family, a smoking barbecue – great food done simply.
Maple syrup and salmon may not sound like a winning flavour combination to some, but it is a pairing that has withstood the test of time and always, ALWAYS impresses even the pickiest eater – especially if you’re cooking the salmon on a plank.
Planking salmon is one of my favourite ways to cook the fish. You can buy maple or cedar planks in most grocery stores in Canada, or if you have access to a lumber yard you could have someone cut you some. Cooking the salmon on a plank adds a distinctive flavour and light smokiness, but since you’re cooking the fish indirectly it also remains moist and flaky. Topped with a great glaze, a well-planked filet of salmon is tough to beat on a beautiful summery evening.
And we have been having some lovely evenings lately.
I was disappointed with the weather when we first arrived in Canada – mostly due to the gorgeous weather that exploded in Ireland as soon as we left! Even though I spent the majority of my life in Cape Breton, I couldn’t believe the leaves weren’t out on the trees (as they were in Ireland) and the daffodils weren’t in bloom (they were long finished in Ireland) when we arrived in early May.
We’re still waiting for the leaves, but it won’t be long now. We’ve also caught some trout, gone on walks and played in the sunshine with family and friends in the two + weeks since we arrived. This salmon, which we enjoyed last night with a dear family friend, was icing on the cake.
So you want to try planking your own salmon? Here’s the method I follow every time I plank (that sentence sounds so healthy, doesn’t it? If only.):
- SOAK – you need to soak your planks for at least 1.5 hours before cooking with them.
- TRIM – I buy an entire side of local salmon from the fish guy (who comes to the nearby village of Baddeck on Wednesdays to sell seafood out of his trailer).
- CURE – I lightly cure the salmon for 30-45 minutes before cooking. Just sprinkle the trimmed side of salmon with even layers of salt and sugar (I don’t measure, but a few tablespoons of each should be enough). Leave it for 30-45 minutes and you’ll see how much excess water is drawn from the fish. It makes for a more succulent filet, but you don’t have to cure your salmon if you don’t want.
- PORTION – A full side of salmon should provide around six generous filets. I sliced the side in half, then portioned each half into three.
- RINSE – If you didn’t cure your salmon, don’t worry about this step. If you did, you’ll want to rinse the excess salt/sugar from the salmon with fresh, cold water.
- DRY – Pat each filet dry with some paper towel.
- PLANK – Transfer your salmon filets to the plank(s).
- GLAZE – Brush some of your chosen glaze on the uncooked fish.
- GRILL + GLAZE – The final step! Place the planked salmon on the barbecue grill (you can also do this in the oven – but it’s not as nice), close the lid and allow the salmon to cook slowly on medium for about 15-20 minutes (keep an eye – it will take a bit of time for the planks to heat the salmon, but it won’t be longer than 20 minutes). Intermittently, you can add more glaze as the heat and smoke does its work.
This sounds like a lot of work, but like any great meal, if you’re prepared and organized it will come together so, so easily. Serve with wild rice or roasted potatoes and sauteed greens (some nice wine won’t go amiss, either).
Here’s the recipe for my favourite maple glaze:
Maple Dijon Glaze for Planked Salmon
1/3 cup/80ml good quality, medium or dark maple syrup
1/4 cup/60g Dijon mustard
1/2 Tbsp each: finely chopped fresh chives, parsley, dill, oregano
Salt and Pepper, to taste
- In a small bowl, mix the maple syrup, dijon and fresh herbs.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Add some glaze to the uncooked salmon, then add more while the salmon cooks.