Chef Goeff - Walking the Plank

The grill is the cooking appliance of choice during the summer. Whether you use a Weber kettle, gas or even electric, most homes have the requisite tools for outdoor cooking. Turn on the gas, or light the charcoal, and in short order, those burgers are sizzling over an open flame and mouths are beginning to water. There is probably nothing that conjures up the image of Americana so much as a backyard barbeque. However, after a few months of simple grilled meats and veggies, we become somewhat jaded with our outdoor cooking experience. "Not burgers again!" "Let's have spaghetti- .please?"

So those of us who love our outdoors cooking experience add some variety, upping the culinary ante. We throw in some hardwood chips and let the aromatic smoke add a new dimension to the flavors. We marinate the meat allowing the flavors of wine and herbs permeate the chicken or chops, and mix a variety of dry herbs and spices and massage this rub into the ribs. The variants are bounded only by your imagination and add a level of depth to the grilling experience that palates tired of simple grilled burgers will appreciate.

Grilling food is, of course, the oldest method of cooking, and as should be expected, there exist techniques that are just as ancient. Sometimes those methods, while still employed in certain areas, go largely unused or undiscovered by the mainstream. One such "new" cooking method which is somewhat of a fad is "plank cooking". Hardly a new technique, plank cooking has been used for centuries, particularly by the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest who discovered the benefits of planking their fresh caught salmon on alder boards, and cooking the fillets over hot coals. The technique has continued among the locals for centuries, and has been "discovered" by a number of chefs who have brought this innovation into the mainstream. Once you have tried plank cooking on your grill, you will understand why the technique is gaining such popularity, with dozens of cook books dedicated to "planking", many suppliers of the necessary lumber, and a significant array of websites devoted to discussion and recipes.

The beauty of plank cooking is twofold. Not only is there the addition of a gentle smoke to the flavor, but as the soaked board gives up its moisture, the food is actually more steamed than grilled. And despite the unique addition to your repertoire as a grill master, there is no further addition of time or effort; it is truly a win-win situation. Typically, thin, 1/2 inch planks of cedar or alder are used. Due to the new-found popularity, those planks are readily available, both locally and through the internet. Heinen's Rocky River carries cedar planks (at the seafood dept.) and cedar, as well as alder are also available through a number of web sites, including Tasty Timbers (www.tastytimbers.com) and the heritage workshop (www.theheritageworkshop.com/cedar_cooking_plank.htm).
Once the planks are in hand, the only preparation they require is a good thorough soaking, preferably overnight. This can be a simple as water, or for more complex results, other liquids, including beer or wine. Then, it's simply a matter of preparing the grill as usual, putting a little olive oil on the food side of the plank, and placing the plank over the coals and the food on the plank. Because you will develop some smoke and steam, it is best to keep the grill covered. The water logged wood will smolder, but check occasionally to assure that it hasn't become a conflagration. There is no turning required, although plank cooking time will take a bit longer then direct heat, but the additional few minutes are well worth it. The planks are generally not consumed by a single use, and may be reused until the char on the wood, or a burn through, renders the plank unusable. If you are reusing a plank, make sure that the food side has been well scrubbed with warm water to remove any remains of the prior use. This is best accomplished immediately after use.

Traditionally, the meat of choice for plank cooking was salmon. This still remains true, given the influence of the Pacific Northwest, but I have found that any fish (or even chicken) will benefit from planking. A simple rub of some fresh herbs, a littler salt and pepper, and your meat is ready to be planked. Some in my household have an aversion to the smell scallops being cooked in the kitchen, and since they are my favorite seafood, I have taken those tasty morsels outside and found that a little ginger marinade and a water logged cedar plank can add significantly to their flavor and my enjoyment.

Ginger Planked Scallops (serves six)

Large Diver scallops--approximately 2 Lbs. (allow 4-6 per person, depending on size), rinsed, drained and patted dry

1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup freshly grated ginger root (DO NOT substitute dried powdered ginger)
1/4 cup soy
1 finely minced clove garlic
2 tbsp honey

Combine marinade ingredients, stirring to combine well. In a shallow, non-reactive dish (glass), place scallops in a single layer and pour marinade over. Allow to marinate 2 hours, turning once half way through.

Place Cedar or Alder planks (soaked overnight) on grill over a medium fire. Arrange scallops in a single layer, allowing space between. Close grill cover, and allow to cook 15-20 minutes. If smoke production indicates the planks are burning, douse any flames with a spray bottle. Scallops are done when they are no longer translucent, and are firm to the touch. Serve with risotto or couscous, grilled zucchini haves (cooked while scallops are cooking), a fresh romaine lettuce salad and a crisp Chardonnay.


Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 13, Posted 12:12 PM, 06.14.06