Even the most dedicated European outdoor griller or BBQ enthusiast might be a stranger to plank grilling. It conjures visions of a scaffolding board hanging out over the ends of the barbecue, or perhaps a discarded floorboard being put to fiery culinary use. Well, not quite. The boards in question are like miniature roofing shingles, sized to fit both food and flame, and are made of specific varieties of untreated wood to enhance the natural flavours of the food. Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling gives all the information you will need on the subject.
Plank grilling is the technique of cooking food on wood platters and it’s believed to have originated in the Pacific Northwest of North America where the native population pioneered the art of roasting fish and game on wood planks. The Haida and other native people are well-known as skilled artisans of wood. The extensive forests of cedar and spruce where the Haida live have given them the planks for this unique form of cooking. They slow-roasted their freshly caught fish, pinned to the wood above fire pits. This infused the natural oils and moisture found in the wood into the fish, thus subtly changing the flavour.
The earliest written recipe for plank cooking appeared in the Boston Cooking School Cookbook of 1911 and was written by the celebrated author, Fannie Farmer. This recipe wasn’t for the traditional salmon but was for chicken and potatoes. The choice of wood is just as important as the food to be cooked. North Americans are practised plank users and have the choice of Cedar, Alder, Sugar Maple, Hickory and Mesquite and now so do we, from specialist suppliers. Fruit woods work well, but avoid any wood from the pine family or anything that has resin.
There are two methods of plank cooking: grilling and oven baking. Both approaches impart infused flavours. They each have advantages for the home cook: if you don’t have a garden then the oven will be your preferred method – your food will cook evenly and there is less chance of flames; the outdoor barbecue grill has elements of theatre and the food, if one is using wood chips, has an additional taste note of smoke.
There is nothing too complicated in this plank-cooking process. Just follow a few simple steps and you’ll realise why this has become such a popular mode of food preparation:
Prepare the plank by soaking it for several hours in a bucket of water. This prevents the wood from burning when you’re cooking.
Add 1 tablespoon of salt or 1 cup of wine or fruit juice to the soaking water to add extra flavour to the wood.
The first time you use a plank, season it by placing it on a preheated grill for a couple of minutes, turning once, or in an oven heated to high. This will intensify the flavour and prevent the plank warping.
Place marinated fish, meat or vegetables on the plank. If using a barbecue keep the grill’s lid closed as much as possible to maintain temperature and maximize smoking. Keep a spray bottle of water at hand to douse any flames that might flare on the wood.
When cooked, remove the plank from the grill and put the food on a serving platter. Put the hot plank into a bucket of water, rinse the wood with fresh water and let it dry; store it in a dry place.
Planks can be used two or three times depending on the thickness of the original wood. The burnt and diminished planks can be used as fuel for your next barbecue.
So you have your barbecue and you have your wooden shingles, but you’ll need some recipes written by a veteran planker. Napoleon make Gourmet Grills and barbecue accessories in Canada but they are available worldwide. They have presented Chef Ted Reader with a platform for his delicious planked foods. Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling is a gift-quality volume that is ideal for any barbecue aficionado who you thought had everything. It has step-by-step instructions to give him or her some confidence and then it’s onto the recipes to give them some inspiration.
I realised with some surprise that barbecue plank grilling is for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Bacon and Egg Breakfast Burger would constitute a hearty start to the day but how special that breakfast would be when presented to a group of weekend guests who are staying over during fine summer weather. Sitting outside sipping fruit juice and coffee while waiting for your delicious breakfast – very stylish. Present these burgers on toasted buns with a serving of Sunday papers on the side.
The classic plank food is salmon and it’s the most simple to prepare. Use the recipes for various seasoning blends to add interest but then make the recipe your own by using your preferred herbs and spices. It’s the cooking process that makes this dish exceptional. A memorable summer lunch and all done in a quarter of an hour.
Plank grilling isn’t just for light summer fare; it’s versatile and appropriate for every season. Planked Venison Tenderloin with Raspberry Glazing Syrup constitutes a substantial meal. Freeze a stock of fruit so you can make this dish at any time. The meat takes less than 20 minutes to cook and makes a smart yet healthy dinner party dish that looks as good as it tastes.
Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling is large-format and striking, a marvellous introduction to plank grilling, but many of the recipes would work well without the wood. It’s true that the flavour will not be the same but they would be worthwhile cooking anyway. It should be on the wish-list of any outdoor cook.
Cookbook review: Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling
Author: Ted Reader
Published by: Key Porter Books
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018