Wood Work

OK, so you’ve consumed your beetroot gazpacho and it’s time for the barbecue – read on…

Unlit Barbecue

Bored of simply placing food directly onto your barbecue grill and worrying about whether the insides are cooked well after the outsides are already distinctly charred? Then you probably need to introduce a further level of potentially anxiety inducing difficulty, the ‘grilling plank’. I don’t barbecue often [see The Never Ending Fillet] which could explain why this particular cooking method has so far passed me by when it seems that some people, many of them Canadians, have been at it for years. Essentially it involves soaking a wooden plank in water for a few hours, placing said plank onto the barbecue grill, and the food onto the plank. The wood begins to char and smoke [hopefully without actually catching fire, hence the pre-soaking] with the intention of both cooking and lightly smoking the food. Various aromatic woods are used, the one I found in my local Waitrose was maple. The aroma during cooking reminded me a little disconcertingly at first of a sauna, but then when people routinely produce recipes for cooking fish in dishwashers or on car engines, a sauna actually starts to look like quite a logical choice. And the end result was in fact nicely cooked fish with a pleasingly subtle smokiness. As with all first attempts I’ll want to return to this and tinker with the details – barbecue lid on or off, how long to pre-warm the plank, exact cooking times, etc, etc, – but something about this has touched my inner lumberjack, and I’ll be back. TIM-BER!

For four

  • 4 individual sea trout fillets of even thickness
  • 2cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 tsps soft brown sugar
  • 6 tbsps Japanese soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp mirin or rice vinegar
  • 100ml sake, or good fino sherry
  • 2 finely diced spring onions [optional]
  • ½ tsp wasabi paste [optional – leave this out if you want to concentrate on the smoke without too many distractions]
  • 1 grilling plank
  • 1 barbecue – the real thing I’m afraid, those disposable tray affairs won’t cut it here

Soak your plank in cold water for at least 4 hours. You’ll need something to weigh it down. I used a terracotta wine cooler which also needs a good soak – two birds, one stone!

Place the trout fillets into a shallow snugly fitting dish. Whisk together the other ingredients, pour over the fish and marinade for an hour and a half.

Marinating trout

Build your barbecue and set alight, then wait until the coals are glowing red. By the way, cheese crates make excellent kindling and if you’re in the vicinity yellowwedge cheese will happily give these to you gratis. If not try your local cheese monger who will almost certainly oblige.

Drain your plank and rub the cooking [smooth] side with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil, then set it on the grill above the coals for 10 minutes. Now remove the fish from the marinade and carefully place on the plank. Exact cooking times will vary depending on your equipment, so you’ll need to judge by eye and touch – an opaque fillet which springs back from a light touch is done. If your barbecue has a lid then you can use this to increase the smokiness. White smoke means that all is well, black smoke means that your plank is on fire and you will need a water spray to calm it down.

Sea trout fillets cooked on a barbecue 'grilling plank'.

Serving suggestion

We ate this with a salad of pink fir apple potatoes, finely sliced gherkins and peas, dressed with a mustardy French mayonnaise. Cucumber pickle would also go down well.


2 responses to “Wood Work

  1. A further enrichment to the smoked aproach can be to soak the plank in very strong imperial lapsang souchong for several hours. It is also very pleasing to note complete absence of beetroot from this recipe.

    • Thank you Warwick. I have some lapsang souchong in the cupboard ready to use in a tea smoked duck recipe I’ve had my eye on for a while, when the weather allows. Watch this space, where there will also be more beetroot-free recipes in due course. Today for instance I’m making a damson and plum crumble – not a hint of beetroot anywhere.

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