Spending a week away at VMworld and eating mass produced food has made me sharply aware of my own food taboos.
I have lots of food taboos, most of which I am willing to break for the sake of politeness. Unless of course those food rules coincide with one of the things I really can’t eat for practical reasons.
Chief among them is “thou shalt not consume cooked fish.”
I do however make an exception for salmon. Planked or smoked preferably, though I suppose that they are not too far apart if I really think about it.
I realized one of the reasons for this taboo when my co-worker who was attending VMworld with me got sick off of the fish they were serving during one of the catered lunches.
Cooking fish masks a lot of ills. Covering it in tomato sauce could probably hide a whole platoon of ills and leave room enough for their cousins and probably their neighbors across the street.
I prefer my fish raw. And while I may indulge in the occasional “show the fish the flames just long enough for it to scream in fear and run away” preparation, read seared, for the most part I prefer it to have been moving as close as possible to the time I consume it.
The closest I have gotten to eating fish still moving was in Hong Kong where you were required to point out each tasty morsel that went onto your plate. As this was a business event, refusing was not really an option. And while I certainly felt for the poor little fishies, they were indeed very tasty.
But I digress. I am very particular about raw fish. I will not just eat sushi or sashimi anywhere. I have to trust the place. Not only that, but the restaurant can be no further than 2-3 hours drive from the coast.
It is nearly impossible to hide bad fish in the raw state. In its pure, bare naked exposed self raw fish has to be fresh and it has to be of good quality. Otherwise not only will it be immediately evident in smell and texture, but no sushi chef worth his 500 dollar knife would dare to insult his customers by serving it.
Cooked fish is another matter entirely. Not only does heat bring out the most unctious qualities in fish oil but the process not only hides bad smells by disguising them with the scent of cooking fish, but also off tastes. What you taste first on raw fish is the fish itself, what you taste first in cooked fish is the result of a complex chemical reaction. Add to that a highly flavored sauce and you have a potential recipe for disaster.
Not only that, but I am not entirely fond of what the cooking process does to the fish oils. Most fish that is served cooked is generally cooked as quickly as possible in order to keep it intact and delicate in flavor. I think that this makes the oils in the fish unpleasant.
Slow cooking seems to eliminate this problem but most fish can’t stand up to that process. They are far too fragile. Even hearty fish don’t do well as they become tough and rubbery. Enter smoking and planking.
Cold smoking in particular seems to bring out the best in fish leaving a heavenly flavor of smoke and pleasantly firm flake with a bit of resistance. The next best thing, at least in my mind, is planking.
There are few things that appeal to my primitive side more than placing a slab of flesh on a hunk of wood and burning the lot! The process produces a voluminous amount of smoke that drifts over the neighborhood driving your neighbors nuts and as a bonus gently flavors the fish.
Because the fish is not directly exposed to heat and cooked by ambient warmth the fish oils do not turn the same way as when simple forced to the fire. And the resulting fish is moist, tender and very tasty.
I am lucky enough to have a fishmonger at my local farmers market allowing planked salmon to make frequent appearances at my family’s Sunday brunch. And why not? Recent studies show that just 3 ounces of oily fish a week cut your chance of a heart attack by 1/3; an impressive number all things considered.
And can you think of a tastier way to prevent heart attacks?
1 cedar, alder, or maple plank (untreated and food safe)
¼ cup maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar (divided)
1 whole salmon fillet large enough to fit your board, skin on
3 tablespoons Seattle Salmon rub or grill seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
1-4 hours before starting to cook, rub the seasoning into the salmon and drizzle with a little more than half of the maple syrup. Place into a casserole dish or a jellyroll pan to catch any liquid and refrigerate.
1 hour – 30 minutes before cooking, soak your plank. How long you soak it for depends on the thickness of the plank, check the instructions on the package.
Fire up you grill on high and preheat it. Remove the fish from the refrigerator to allow it to come to room temperature. Blot the fish with paper towels on both sides. Do not rub as that will remove the seasoning. You just want to remove excess liquid extracted by the dry rub.
Take your fish and your plank outside. Lay your plank onto the surface of the grill, cook surface down. Turn down the heat to medium and flip the plank over after 2 minutes. The hot surface will help the skin adhere to the board.
Lay the fish, skin side down, on top of the plank and close the lid.
Cook for 20 minutes with the lid closed. NO PEEKING! The lid should remain closed through most of the cooking process.
After 20 minutes you can start testing for doneness though depending on your grill that can take up to an hour. The plank should be smoldering but there should be no visible flames. If there are flames do not panic. Close the lid quickly and get a squirt bottle. Set it on mist and spritz the flames with a little water.
In the last 10 minutes of cooking, baste the fish with the remaining maple syrup. This is what gives you the beautiful rosy crust. Close the lid and finish cooking.
Remove from the fire and serve directly on the plank. The skin should stick to the plank making it easy to remove just the tender pink salmon flesh!