Cedar Planked Salmon with Fennel Salt

There is simply no better dish for entertaining than cedar-planked salmon.  Probably the most loved fish, this preparation elevates a nice fillet of salmon to something truly special.  In the summer, I like to prepare this dish on the grill, but in the winter, I make it in the oven, and it’s almost as good.

This preparation couldn’t be easier.  The keys to this dish are a cedar (or alder) grilling plank, and fennel salt.  The wood imparts a smoky, earthy flavor and fennel imparts a bright herbaceous quality.  

salmon

Cedar grilling planks are readily available in many supermarkets and online.  They can be used multiple times, particularly when using an indirect heat grilling method or the oven.  I just wash them up and store them until I’m ready to use it again.  Eventually the heat will destroy the plank, then it’s time for a new plank.
 

I make my own fennel salt, but it is commercially available as well.  If you want to try making your own, just combine a coarse sea or kosher salt with ground and whole fennel seeds, grated fresh fennel, fennel fronds, lemon zest, and celery seed.  Since salt is a desiccant, the fresh ingredients will dry out and become preserved in the salt.

My favorite varieties of salmon are Copper River, King, and Sockeye.  In my experience, these are the varieties with the best flavor and texture.  I eat wild Alaska salmon exclusively.  Atlantic and farm-raised salmon simply do not have the same flavor (or color for that matter).  Additionally, farm-raised salmon often contain toxins, and while studies show that the negative effects of these toxins don’t outweigh the amazing benefits of omega 3-rich salmon, they certainly aren’t a desirable additive.  If you can’t get your hands on wild Alaska salmon, personally,  I would use trout instead of farmed Atlantic salmon.  Trout is widely available in all parts of the country, also rich in omega 3s, and very inexpensive.  This preparation would work with trout as well, just cook the trout as two whole-side fillets, skin side down, and reduce the cooking time by about half.

When selecting a piece of salmon, ask your fish monger for a center cut of the fillet, and plan on ~6 oz per person (this will create an ample portion, you can adjust portions up or down according to the appetites of your guests).  I like to serve salmon for a group in one large piece, or even a whole side of salmon, but you could use this preparation for individual portions as well.  Check your salmon for pin-bones prior to cooking, there are often many of them that you can find by running your fingers across the fish, against the grain.  Pin bones can be removed with a clean set of tweezers or needle nose pliers.

This dish is best when prepared on a charcoal barbeque.  However, it can be prepared using a gas or electric grill, or even in the oven and still be delicious.  When cooked on a charcoal barbecue, the surface of the fish will become lightly browned from the smoke, and the surface fat will have almost a caramelized effect.  The photo in this post is fish cooked in the oven.  I’ll post a picture of the barbecued salmon the next time I make it (probably spring).  🙂

Cedar Planked Salmon with Fennel Salt
A stunning preparation for a nice fillet of wild Alaska salmon.
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Total Time
30 min
Total Time
30 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 fillet of salmon, 4-5 oz per person, rinsed, patted dry, and checked for pin-bones
  2. fennel salt, ~1/2 tsp per serving of fish
  3. butter or margarine, 1 tsp per serving of fish (optional)
  4. freshly cracked pepper
Instructions
  1. Soak a cedar or alder wood plank in water for at least one hour, preferably longer.
  2. Set up your grill or charcoal barbecue (my personal preference) for indirect grilling* on medium high heat.
  3. Place salmon, skin-side down on wood plank and season liberally with fennel salt.
  4. Place the plank on the cool side of the grill and place the lid on the grill with the vents open.
  5. Cook for 20-30 minutes** until the salmon is firm and the surface fat has become white, but the fish is still slightly rare in the center.
  6. Top with butter or margarine (if using) and finish with freshly cracked pepper.
  7. Serve immediately on the plank, or transferred from the plank to a serving platter. The skin will typically stick to the plank, so that you can easily serve the fish without skin.
Oven Method
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place salmon, skin-side down on wood plank and season liberally with fennel salt.
  3. Place the plank on a rimmed baking sheet or large baking dish and place in the oven.
  4. Cook for 20-30 minutes until the salmon is firm and the surface fat has become white, but the fish is still slightly rare in the center.
  5. Remove from oven and top with butter or margarine (if using) and finish with freshly cracked pepper.
  6. Serve immediately on the plank, or transferred from the plank to a serving dish. The skin will typically stick to the plank, so that you can easily serve the fish without skin.
Notes
  1. *Indirect-heat grilling is simply cooking on a grill, but not directly over the heat. This is a common method for cooking fish. If you are using a charcoal barbecue, pool the hot coals on one side of the barbecue, and place the fish on the other side. Place the cover on the barbecue and open the vents so that air is able to pass through to keep the charcoal lit.
  2. **The cooking time for cooking salmon on a barbecue can vary significantly depending on the outdoor temperature. Cooking times can actually range from 15-45 minutes. Because of this, it is more important to judge the doneness of fish by look and feel. Look for the white fat on the surface. Press on the center of the fish with your finger. It should feel firm and not mushy, and should flake apart easily.
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