Have you ever cooked salmon and had it turn out less than desirable? Maybe edible but not as good as you had hoped? Maybe once you had really, really good salmon and keep trying to replicate that experience without success?
By accident I have discovered the secret to perfectly grilled salmon, every time, quick and simple.
Step 1: wet cedar planks with tap water.
Step 2: Put cedar planks on grill and fish on planks.
Step 3: turn BBQ on, close lid and leave on high.
Step 4: when BBQ reaches 450 turn it off (if the planks are on fire put them out with water, laugh wildly and pretend everything is under control).
Step 5: leave the lid closed while it cools, when temperature reaches 200 take fish off, serve and enjoy the praise of your guests.
How do I know this you ask? First some back story so you can see by my credentials I am worthy of expounding on salmon grilling.
I was raised in the Southeast Alaskan Bush in a log cabin homestead on an island near some of the very best king salmon fishing in the world. My father was a commercial salmon fishermen and we ate salmon what seemed like almost every meal. Eventually I turned the old family homestead in to a fishing lodge which my wife and I operate. We offer full service, week long fishing trips, she is the cook/hostess and I am the fishing guide/fix it man (and run the BBQ). Safe to say a big part of my life has revolved around catching and eating salmon and especially ocean bright kings from Southeast Alaska are near and dear to my heart.
Moving on.. every week during summer we get a new group of guests to the lodge. Our first meal is king salmon grilled on cedar planks.
I typically pick up our guests from the seaplane dock in Pelican and transport them by boat to our wilderness lodge, get them up the beach to the lodge, cocktails are mixed and everyone starts to unwind from traveling. Somewhere in this action I put the salmon on the BBQ. We use a rub called "Potlatch" that comes from Williams-Sonoma. The rub is put on early so that it can soak in a few hours. The fish is then cooked on cedar planks on the BBQ.
After getting the planked salmon on the grill and turning it on high I wander back inside to check on the guests and invariably wind up answering questions and telling fish stories.
A drink in my hand and the opportunity to talk fish is all that it takes for me to forget that I have the BBQ turned on high and haven't checked it. At some point I realize this and race outside, flames shoot up to the rafters of our back porch as I open the lid to the BBQ. The planks are on fire and the BBQ is 500 degrees! I throw my drink on the fire to put it out, turn off the gas, slam the lid shut and start praying that by some miracle the fish will still be edible and the scent of my burning arm hair won't permeat the dinning room.
After a while the BBQ has cooled to 200 degrees. I take the fish off and viola! The most perfectly grilled salmon you could ever ask for.
The first time I did this I thought I just got lucky. A few more grill fires and I realized "this is the way to cook salmon!".
Scientist/chefs of late have been experimenting with different ways of cooking food. According to them its about temperature and timing and I happen to agree although I don't necessarily understand how it all works.
I'm imagining if there were a temperature graph of how my salmon gets cooked it would look like a hockey stick, going from cold to hot in a short amount of time and then cooling down in a similar manner. Something about this process makes the fish cook perfectly. The burning cedar planks gives the fish a nice smoky flavor.
But the why is not so important, it is the end result that will make you a salmon grilling god.
Of course first you need to get ahold of some high quality Alaskan King salmon and the place to do that is with me on my boat in Southeast Alaska of course!
So lets go fishing!
Denny Corbin is owner/operator of Lisianski Inlet Lodge near Pelican, Alaska