Recently, I had a pre-dinner consultation with a client when, to my surprise, she produced a handful of cedars planks. She suggested using them for something “fishy”. Cooking with a wooden plank, according to my recollection, dates back to when our country was as young as a bride, and there were virgin forests still standing tall east of the Mississippi. The idea was to use a thin board over a low burning fire or a bank of glowing coals. The board was first burnt and somewhat carbonized, and then the fish was placed on it and cooked. The earliest use of this technique that I am aware of was “plank shad” on the Connecticut River. I’ve made that and planked salmon. But my client wanted something different, and local. There was only one choice: locally caught striped bass.
The morning of the dinner, I got a large striped bass so fresh it had been swimming a few hours before I picked it up.
Asian Striped Bass Marinade:
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 sliced lemon
Depending upon size of your fillets, combine all the ingredients in a plastic bag, and then add the fish. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, prepare the skewered zucchini ribbons. Using a vegetable peeler, slice yellow and green zucchini into lengthwise ribbons, and carefully alternate threading them on the skewers. I also added some sugar snap pea pods that I had on hand. Before grilling, brush on a dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, Herbs De Provence (or your favorite assorted herbs), and fresh ground salt and pepper. Because they are very thin, the ribbons will cook quickly, so place them on the grill when the fish is almost ready, turning often for only a couple of minutes. (careful if using metal skewers as they get really hot!)
A couple of hours before you’re ready to make dinner, soak the cedar planks in water, making sure that the planks are completely submerged. When you’re about ready for dinner, fire up the grill. Turn up the heat all the way, and throw the planks on to the grates. Don’t wander away for long; you want to carbonize the down side, not incinerate your cedar to embers. When it’s nicely charred, throttle down your grill to low, and flip the uncharred side down. Place your fillets skin side down on the charred side. You want the fillets to cook slowly, about ten minutes, depending on their thickness. They’re done when they’re flaky yet moist.
For my client’s dinner party, I served my planked striped bass with a white wine-lemon reduction sauce. Sitting in front of her guests at the dining roon table, she was pleasantly overwhelmed by the smoked fragrance of the planked fish, and she giggled at her first bite, her face radiant with the melt-in-mouth sublimeness of the striped bass. I love my job.