Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

SalmonI’ve always found grilling fish to be a bit challenging. Lots of things can go wrong. Pick a fish that’s not firm enough and you are likely to lose it through the grates. If you don’t oil the grates enough, the fish sticks, falls apart and then slips into the flames. I seem to end up with more fish incinerating on the coals than on my plate.

There is always the old tinfoil stand by, but I don’t see the point. True, it is easy and fool proof, but if I’m going to cook in foil, I’ll opt for the convenience of my oven.

I was very happy when my sister-in-law, Tori, gave me a great way to grill fish.

Tori is an avid Facebook user. She often posts photos of their cute twin girls, passes on the latest funny videos and every now and then to my great pleasure, she throws in a recipe.

This from Tori:

Making dinner for friends involved a quick trip to Home Depot for some untreated cedar fence slats, which I soaked then threw on the grill to make some brown sugar cedar smoked salmon. Why pay $20+ at Williams-Sonoma when you can be resourceful and buy a $1.47 piece of lumber?

Then after my request for the recipe:

Easy peasey: soak the slats for about two hours, put them on the hot grill until they smoke, turn them over then immediately put on some salmon (skin side down) on which you’ve put some dijon mustard and heavily coated with brown sugar. Close the lid, turn down the heat and, voila! in 15 minutes you have a tasty dinner.

If you are shopping at the hardware store for the cedar planks, be sure to get untreated cedar slats. Ask to make sure. Nobody wants to cook chemicals into their salmon. If you want kitchen-grade cedar, I’ve seen the planks everywhere from fancy kitchen stores to Walmart. Yes, there now are cedar cooking planks for the masses.

We happened to have a cedar plank in the junk drawer in our kitchen. I picked it up at a food show a couple years ago but never used it. After making this dish, I have no idea why I haven’t.

The cedar gave the salmon a smoky, subtle flavor. The smoky cedar aroma was also nice to have wafting though our house.

If you have already printed out your handy pocket guide to sustainable seafood, then skip the next two paragraphs. If not, read on.

I know I’ve said it before but I’m a big fan of the pocket guide to seafood put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I particularly like the “Super Green” list of seafood that is both healthy for you and caught or farmed in environmentally friendly ways. To make the list, fish must have low levels of contaminants, a minimum of 250 milligrams omega-3 fatty acids and be well-managed and caught or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.

Sadly, there aren’t a lot of choices on this list. According to the guide, as of May 2010, the Best of the Best are Albacore Tuna (troll- or pole-caught, from the U.S. or British Columbia), Freshwater Coho Salmon (farmed in tank systems, from the U.S.), Mussels (farmed), Oysters (farmed), Pacific Sardines (wild-caught), Rainbow Trout (farmed), Salmon (wild-caught, from Alaska).

Luckily, the delicious sounding recipe from my sister-in-law called for salmon. She didn’t specify, but of course, I like to seek out Alaskan wild-caught salmon. It’s not hard to find, I’ve seen it at several local grocery stores.

I altered Tori’s recipe by using maple syrup rather than brown sugar. Brown sugar is something I only have around if I’m baking. Maple syrup is something I make a point to keep stocked.

I’m not going to return our cedar plank to the junk drawer just yet. We still have weeks of grill time and I have a few more things to try. Sea scallops are up next!


Grilled Maple Salmon on a Cedar Plank

Ingredients
1 cedar plank (large enough to fit the fillets)
2 medium-sized salmon fillets
1 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

  • Soak the cedar plank in water for a couple of hours.
  • Mix, mustard, maple syrup and lemon juice and brush mixture on the top of the salmon (not the skin side). Generously salt and pepper the fillets and set aside.
  • Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Place the plank on the hot grill. Leave it until it starts to smoke. Turn the plank over and place the fish on top, skin side down. Brush again with mustard/maple syrup mixture.
  • Cover the grill, turn the heat down to medium and cook for about 10-15 minutes. I like my salmon medium rare, so I pull it off after 10 minutes. Keep it on the grill if you want it cooked more. Keep in mind, that it will continue to cook on the hot plank.

Ps. If the edges of the plank start to catch fire, mist with water.

Serves 2

Pan Roasted Pork Chops with Maple Orange Sauce

If you haven’t noticed, it’s maple syrup season around here. I am very excited about this. I am awed by the fact that you can make something so delicious from tree sap. Did you know it takes 30-40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup? Lucky for you we have lots of local farmers who take care of that part.

Ingredients
4 pork chops, 1 inch thick (I use bone-in but boneless is fine)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
Salt, pepper

Method

  • Mix orange juice, minced garlic and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Pour over pork and marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  • Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over high heat. Add pork chops (reserve marinade), salt and pepper each side.
  • Cook for a minute, turn and cook other side for a minute.
  • Turn heat down to medium-low. Cover and cook for 3-5 minutes a side until internal temperature reaches 140º to 150º
  • Remove from skillet and set aside.
  • Add marinade to skillet.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup
  • Heat over medium-high heat until sauce reduces and starts to thicken about 3-4 minutes, stir constantly. It will be a nice dark brown color.
  • Pour sauce over pork chops. Serve with a fresh salad or roasted vegetables.

Serves Four.

Maple Marshmallows

My friend Virginia asked me if I had ever made marshmallows. She was looking for marshmallows without “all that junk” the store- bought varieties have and didn’t want to shell out 10 bucks for the artisanal ones. I hadn’t made them before, but Fairlight, the awe-inspiring baker at Otto’s Market, makes them about every week. She assured me that they were easy, so I decided to give them a whirl.

Even though corn syrup was invented in 1882 (so it falls within my 19th century ingredient criteria), I decided to use maple syrup instead. I also tried a batch substituting honey for the syrup. I thought the honey flavor was over-powering. You can substitute corn syrup or use any combination of syrups. I have some Steen’s cane syrup I want to try next.

Historically, marshmallows were made from the marsh mallow root, which has properties similar to gelatin. I would love to try to make them using the root, but today I’ll keep it simple.

You’ll need a candy thermometer and a stand mixer. You could use a hand mixer but you’ll need to hold it for about 15 minutes. Marshmallows have been being made since before the invention of electricity, so I suppose you could also use a whisk and get a good forearm workout.

I used these sites for references:
Cooking for Engineers (love this site!), Martha Stewart and this nifty blog, Brownie Points (this site has a nice pdf of a recipe).

Ingredients
4 envelopes unflavored gelatin (one box)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cornstarch (or powdered sugar)

Directions

1. Line 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with parchment paper, be sure the sides are covered with the paper. Lightly oil it then generously coat with cornstarch or powdered sugar. Fairlight suggests using cornstarch if you plan to store them for any length of time.

2. Put 3/4 cup of water into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin into the water and set aside to let soften (this is called blooming the gelatin, which must be named after Mr. Oscar Bloom who invented a device for measuring the rigidity of gelatin).

3. Put sugar, maple syrup, salt, and 3/4 cup water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.

4. Once the sugar is dissolved, cook, without stirring, until mixture registers 238º F on a candy thermometer, about 9 minutes.

5. Using a whisk attachment on your mixer, start to mix the blooming gelatin. With the mixer on low, slowly add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture. Remember that stuff is 238º F so be careful!

6. After you have all of the hot syrup mixed in, gradually raise the speed to high. Beat until the mixture is very stiff, about 11 minutes.

7. Pour into the prepared dish and smooth with a lightly oiled spatula. Leave uncovered until firm (about 3 hours but overnight is ok).

8. Sift cornstarch (or powered sugar) on a cutting board. Turn the marshmallows onto the board. Dust a pizza cutter or knife with cornstarch and cut them into 1 inch squares (bigger or smaller if you want).

9. Toss the squares in cornstarch (or confectioners’ sugar). Be sure they are well coated. They will be very sticky if they aren’t. Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

Hot chocolate anyone?