Salmon is by far my favorite food. I love its rich, buttery flavor and its smooth texture when cooked just until it flakes with a fork. With such a strong and distinctive flavor, it’s one of those proteins that doesn’t need a lot of seasoning and extra ingredients to taste great. Tonight, I decided to cook salmon my favorite way, one I stumbled upon after some experimenting. Some cooks will tell you to never put cheese on seafood, but it seems Parmesan cheese is an exception, at least when it’s mixed into a pesto sauce. Pesto is great on almost anything–pasta, sandwiches, chicken–and paired with the sweet, roasted flavor of a cedar plank, it really compliments salmon.
Cedar planks are actually quite inexpensive and easy to use. They’re available in most grocery stores, can be reused a few times (just make sure to scrub them well!), and work in an ordinary oven. Just make sure to soak the cedar plank beforehand for at least half an hour, and cook the salmon long and low to maximize its absorption of the wood’s flavor. I usually get impatient and cook it at a higher temperature, but really: if you have the time, cook it at around 300 for about half an hour and the cedar flavor will really shine through.
Also, note that the thinner the fillet, the more the wood flavor will penetrate through it. I prefer the belly–the meatiest, thickest part of the fish–but if I’m preparing salmon on a plank, I don’t mind using the tail. Tonight, however, I was in the mood for the belly, which turned out to be a pain because the thicker half of the fillet refused to cook. I usually follow the rule of 10 minutes per inch of thickness at 400, which puts most salmon fillets at 15 minutes, but this one took over 20 (which may have been partly due to the poor quality of my oven; it seems most college apartments are designed under the assumption that college students don’t ever cook). However, after much patience, my salmon came out beautifully.
Here is a complete list of what I put on my pesto cedar plank salmon (no measurements, as always…). It’s pretty simple:
- Cedar plank, soaked in water for at least half an hour
- Salmon fillet
- Salt and pepper
- Pesto sauce, preferably homemade, but if you have to resort to the grocery store I recommend Giovanni Rana
- Lemon juice, as a garnish (it will run off and burn if you put it on the salmon before baking, unless you marinate the salmon in it in a plastic bag first, which I never bother doing)
- Fresh basil, chopped ribbon-style, also as a garnish