Sunday, December 05, 2010

Snacking State-by-State: Alaska II - Salmon on Wood!

As Chef Glenn Denkler suggests in a prologue to Severson's book, you do not have to feel bad about not following the letter of the recipe. He insists

A recipe should be considered a starting point. A cook must learn to taste and not be a slave to a recipe... [T]reat these recipes with respect; respect the talent of the cooks who came up with the ideas, but have fun. If you don't like an ingredient or amount, be bold and experiment. If you can't get wild Alaska salmon or Kodiak scallops, find the best seafood you can, given the state of your local fish market... Let your heart and your taste buds rule. [Denkler, in Severson, xxiii]
I was already experimenting with the wood, so why not?

Snacking State-by-State: Alaska

Official Name: State of Alaska
State Nickname: The Last Frontier
Admission to the US: January 3, 1959 (#49)
Capital: Juneau (3rd largest city)
Other Important Cities: Anchorage (largest), Fairbanks (2nd largest), Sitka (4th largest)
Region: West (Northwest, Pacific); Pacific (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Salmon
Bordered by: Arctic Ocean (north); Yukon Territory & British Columbia (Canada) (east); Gulf of Alaska (south); Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea & Chukchi Peninsula (Siberia, Russia) (west)
Official State Foods: King Salmon (fish)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: salmon, halibut, herring, Alaska king crab, moose, caribou, pemmican, northern Alaskan berries - and not Baked Alaska

I did play around with some of the ingredients, but only a little: parsley instead of dill, leaving out the dried berries (alas, none in the pantry), an addition of a little bit of sea salt. But I did want to at least find Alaskan salmon, even if it couldn't be wild. Trader Joe's is probably the best place to find it without bankrupting yourself, and the fresh stuff was $16 a pound! Thankfully I was there when they were out, and it dawned on me to check amongst the frozen fish section.

There it was, wild Alaska sockeye salmon fillets, frozen, for only $8 per pound. Jackpot!

The recipe: Oven Roasted Cedar Plank Salmon

With the most important ingredients now in my possession (the salmon and the plank), I just had to look around the kitchen for the rest:

* butter (a pound to 1.5 pounds of fish - since I only had a pound of fish, I didn't need so much butter. I didn't have the good stuff, but the chef recommends you do)
* fresh parsley (instead of the dill - hey, I had it from the farmers' market for $2)
* lemon juice (from an actual lemon, or just use the bottled stuff)
* chopped berries (unfortunately I had none on me, so I omitted them)
* crushed pepper mélange (again, I only had black peppercorns)
* vegetable or olive oil for seasoning (check)

You can do the prep while the cedar plank is soaking. Note: you will need to anchor it down for that whole hour, otherwise it'll float right up to the top. It must be submerged, with at least a quarter inch of water completely covering the surface. This is to keep it from catching on fire in the oven. Also note that you must sterilize the plank in the oven for about 10 minutes at the cooking temperature, in this case 400°F.

First seared...

When you get close to when you need to use the salmon, scale it and make slits in the skin, then sear it in "shimmering" oil for 30 seconds on the skin side. Cut it into portion sizes, place it skin-side down on the plank, and smear it with the butter, whipped together with the remaining ingredients. Bake it for 8 minutes, and serve it off the plank.

...then smeared.

I have not eaten anything roasted on a plank before, so I was not sure what to expect. The cedar flavor ended up being especially subtle, delicately lingering in the background while the salmon was quite robust, more so than I am used to eating, since most of the salmon I eat is the cheaper Atlantic variety. I ate this with some cranberry sauce I had just made, and it was damn amazing.

Amazing what big plank o' wood can do for your food.

For my next post, I trade the Northwest for the Southwest, and head for the flavors of Arizona, a combination of flavors from Sonora, Spain, Navajo, Pueblo and the cowboys - ingredients and cooking styles that by and large don't involve a whole lot of sockeye salmon, or muktuk.


Severson, Kim, with Glenn Denkler. The New Alaska Cookbook: Recipes from the Last Frontier's Best Chefs. 2001 : Sasquatch Books, Seattle.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Alaska" page and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Alaska". It's a lot of info for the enterprising Lower 48'er to process.