Salmon on Cedar

February 13, 2010

I’ll love you dear, I’ll love you till China and Africa meet and the river jumps over the mountain and the salmon sing in the street.
~W.H. Auden, As I Walked Out One Evening

The Vancouver Winter Olympics have been unleashed, albeit with a tragic opening on the luge course. Young slider, Nodar Kumaritashvili of the Republic of Georgia, suffered a fatal crash on a training run on day one. A sad, somber start to these games which are so brimming with hope and passion.

First Nations refers to the indigenous peoples of what is now Canada, with the exception of the arctic Inuit and peoples of mixed ancestry called Métis. The Pacific Coast First Nations refer to those those that trace their ancestry to the aboriginal people that inhabited the land that is now British Columbia prior to the European invasion and brutal colonization of the Americas. Centuries of scorched earth policies and ethnic cleansing followed. Indigenous civilizations under European occupation were severely dismantled, many eliminated, and vast numbers of the people exterminated.

A sumptuous pairing of earth and ocean, cedar plank grilled salmon likely originated with natives in the Pacific Northwest, including those who inhabited Vancouver Island. The name sockeye is actually believed to be derived from the Coast Salish name “sukkai,” translated as “fish.”

Typically, salmon are anadromous: they are born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. So, natives would spear or club the then plentiful salmon from the shores of inland streams during the annual spawning runs in the late summer or early fall. The fish were brought back home for cleaning and smoking, then stored for the hard winter months ahead. The catch was hung over open fires or tacked to native cedar slabs and then slowly cooked, absorbing the natural flavors from the smoke, fire and wood. Later, huts were built to collect and further intensify the flavors and aromas.

The earliest written recipe for plank cooking appeared in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1911, authored by the venerable Fannie Farmer.

MISO GLAZED GRILLED SALMON ON CEDAR

1/2 C red miso
1/2 C mirin
3 T unseasoned rice vinegar
1 T honey
3 T soy sauce
1/4 C green onions, minced
2 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
3 T sesame oil
1 T wasabi powder
Pinch of cayenne pepper

4 salmon fillets, 8 oz each
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together the miso, mirin, rice vinegar, honey, soy sauce, green onions, ginger, sesame oil, wasabi powder and cayenne in a medium bowl. Reserve enough of this miso glaze in another bowl to brush on salmon while grilling.

Remove any remaining bones from salmon fillet. Rinse the salmon under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Generously season the salmon with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the salmon in a baking dish, pour the miso marinade over, and turn to coat well. (You may prefer to use a heavy, zippered plastic bag.) Cover and marinate for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator, turning a few times.

Meahwhile, soak cedar plank in salted cold water for no less than 2 hours, totally immersed, then drain.

Prepare grill for indirect grilling and heat to medium high. Arrange salmon, skin side down, on the cedar plank and then place in the center of the hot grate, away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until cooked through, around 20 to 30 minutes. Brush with miso glaze once or twice during the grilling process.

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2 Responses to “Salmon on Cedar”

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