Aboard ship, a seafarer has a general tendency to befriend inanimate objects. In the face of prolonged social isolation, his ship, compass, whiskey ration, and bunk can assume human personalities and become companions for ongoing, muttered conversations. Arrrr. Most sensible sailors would include on their list of best friends a cedar plank. Cedar is flexible, serving as a sprightly gangplank from which to launch one-eyed pirates from a ship. It is rot-resistant, and can be used to reliably reinforce a compromised bulkhead or hull. And most importantly, for the purposes of today's column, it provides a delicious and absolutely simple means of grilling fish on deck.
Just as any seafarer worth his salt has a cedar plank aboard ship, any fisherman with a grill should always have a cedar plank (available from most hardware and grocery stores) in his culinary arsenal. Fish can be barbequed directly on the grill, but by cooking your fish on a cedar plank you will improve your product in several remarkable ways. Most importantly, the underside of the cedar plank will smolder over the fire and provide smoke flavoring to your fish. Second, the plank will help prevent the underside of your fish from burning over the coals. And third, the plank is resistant to sticking, so that your fish will be less likely to break apart as you remove it from the grill.
There are a couple of tricks to effectively using a cedar plank. First, make sure you soak it in water for 20-30 minutes before you put it on the grill. (If you want to be creative, try soaking it in apple cider!) Second, lightly rub your fish with olive oil, salt, and any desired seasoning before arranging it on the plank. (The olive oil prevents the fish from drying out and sticking to the plank.) Third, cover your grill (with vents open) after placing the plank on the grill. The grill cover will contain the cedar smoke so that your fish absorbs it and tastes deliciously smoked.
Caution: Be careful with your plank after grilling, and do NOT pick it up by hand or try to place it on your table! The underside has probably begun to burn.
1 cedar plank, soaked for 20-30 minutes
1 lb fish, cut into fillets or steaks no more than 1-inch thick
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Prepare your charcoal. Brush a light coating of olive oil on both sides of your fish. Salt fish lightly and apply any desired seasonings (Cajun seasoning works well). Load fish onto the soaked plank. Scatter coals when they are ready. Place plank on grill and cover with vents open. After 6-10 minutes (depending on how thick the fish is and the heat of the grill), remove cover and test fish by pressing on it (and, if you wish to be on the safe side, cutting into it). If it feels firm and is cooked all the way through, remove it from the grill and serve
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