Article here. For at least 100 years, the cooks in my father's tribe -- the Kwakiutl in British Columbia -- have turned bentwood boxes into pots to steam and boil soups of shellfish, salmon, cod and halibut, giving those fish extra flavor. Today, many tribe members still living on Quadra Island in British Columbia use spearlike sticks to skewer and cook a butterflied whole fish on a beach or other outdoor area.
"The Kwakiutl style is to put the sticks in the ground, allowing the smoke and heat to come up to the fish. You need a lot of space," my great Aunt Elaine told me on a recent visit. Finding such a device and the space to use it won't work for most Bay Area cooks. My great Uncle Bill offered me the crossbow-esque cooking device as a gift, but with security being what it is at airports these days, I declined.
A better choice for today's cooks, and also a Native American tradition, is to use a a special cedar or alder wood plank to give salmon or other fatty fish a delicious flavor while keeping it moist. The cedar plank chars in the heat and gives a warm infusion of cedar smoke, creating a glazed finish to the fillet. In some tribes, planks are passed down from generation to generation.
Cedar or other wood planks especially designed for cooking -- do not simply use any wooden board -- are available at some cookware stores and online (see box). Some are designed to be used in an oven; others are for outdoor use. Be sure you use the planks only as directed.
In all cases, planks should be soaked before using for 20 minutes to 4 hours. Using hot water shortens the soak time. The planks can be reused if they don't char too much or crack.
Catching salmon was a main source of income for many tribes, but in recent years the fish numbers dwindled. Most of my relatives turned to construction, tugboating and other outside work to make ends meet. That doesn't stop my Aunt Kelly from serving and enjoying plank salmon several times a year.
"It's great for a party, and we serve it during the holiday season, especially. It's probably the only way I'll eat salmon," she says. After trying her salmon, I can see why. In California, wild salmon season runs through Oct. 19. Wild salmon has a decidely richer flavor and firmer texture than farmed or Atlantic salmon, and works well on planks.
"The best meal I ever had was on the beach," my father recalls. "Salmon with potatoes and hooligan oil, made by Grandma." Hooligan oil isn't for everyone -- it's an extremely strong grease from herring or Oulichan fish, prized for its pungent flavor and used in trading. But, with or without this oil, planked salmon is a unique way to experience the season's catch, a Native American tradition I've grown to love.
Here are some sources for planks for cooking salmon.
-- Chinook Planks, (800) 765-4408. Web site: www.chinookplanks.com. Planks for indoor cooking are $31.95-$39.95, depending on size.
Planks for outdoor cooking are $11.95 for four individual-size planks.
-- Sur La Table. San Francisco, (415) 732-7900; Los Gatos, (408) 395-6946; Berkeley, (510) 849-2252.
-- Viking/HomeChef locations throughout the Bay Area, including Walnut Creek, (925) 943-3191; San Francisco, (415) 668-3191; and San Jose, (408) 374- 3030.
-- Williams-Sonoma locations throughout the Bay Area, or (877) 812-6235. Web site: www.williams-sonoma.com.
-- Essential for Cooks, Napa; (707) 526-3856
-- Shackford's, Napa; (707) 226-1830
-- Cooking, Etc., San Jose; (408) 266-5382
PLANKED LEMON SALMON
1 cedar cooking plank
1 1/2-pound salmon fillet
1/4 cup lemon-flavored olive oil (see note)
1/3 cup lemon-flavored olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 garlic cloves, chopped
Soak the cedar plank in cold water for 2 to 3 hours, weighting it down with something heavy, such as a brick.
When ready to cook the fish, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the plank in the oven for 15 minutes.
Combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl and stir to mix. Add the salmon and let marinate for 20 to 30 minutes.
Brush or rub the olive oil over the top of the plank.
Take the salmon out of the marinade and place on the plank, drizzling the marinade over the fish. Measure the thickness of the salmon, then place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
Barbecue option: Soak the plank in water as instructed; place the salmon on the plank. Put the plank directly on the grill. Close the lid and cook over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes.
Note: To test the recipe, we used "O" Meyer lemon olive oil, available at better supermarkets and online (www.ooliveoil.com).
The calories and other nutrients absorbed from marinades vary and are difficult to estimate. Therefore, this recipe contains no analysis.
PLANKED MAPLE SYRUP SALMON
Quartered or whole potatoes make nice vehicles for sopping up the salmon juices. Rub the potatoes with olive oil or butter and season with salt and pepper before roasting.
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1 cedar cooking plank
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon whiskey
1 1/2-pound king salmon fillet
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brush or rub the walnut oil on the top of the plank. Place the plank in the oven to heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Combine the maple syrup and whiskey in a bowl; add the salmon and set aside to marinate for 20 minutes.
Place the salmon fillet on the plank and top with the onion and garlic. Drizzle the maple mixture over the fillet.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the fish is flaky and tender.
PER SERVING: 335 calories, 34 g protein, 4 g carbohydrate, 18 g fat (4 g saturated), 112 mg cholesterol, 81 mg sodium, 0 fiber.