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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cedar Planked Copper River Salmon with Strawberry Basil Gastrique

This week for Gutsy Cooks Club Steph from Orangespoken was hankering to cook some salmon on a piece of cedar. And we were pretty happy to oblige in this hankering of hers. As foreign as that might sound to some folks, around here in the Pacific Northwest it is quite common. I am pretty sure even Lewis & Clark probably indulged in salmon prepared in this fashion during their travels here. 

Essentially you cook salmon directly on top of a piece of a cedar plank. 

Cooking it this way infuses that fantastic smoky flavor into the deep, rich fatty 
flesh of the salmon. 

And speaking of fatty. It's also perfect timing on Steph's part because the most wonderfully, fatty, delicious salmon; Copper River, is still in town flown directly from Alaska.

Now if you are not a serious salmon fan we would never recommend indulging in this "way over priced" variety of salmon. And at something like $34.99 a pound it is a salmon price gouging conspiracy. But we do love salmon, we eat a lot of a  fresh, only wild caught salmon and we do usually splurge at least once or twice a year in this  special variety when it's available. The window of availability is typically short.  But what makes Copper River so worth splurging on is how thick, fatty and deeply red it is. The Copper River Delta is evidently incredibly cold which makes the salmon have extra fat to survive. And extra fat always tastes better. 

It's important when cooking on a cedar plank to make sure you adequately soak your plank ahead of time to detour it catching on fire on the grill. Since we did this on weeknight we didn't soak our board as long as usual and our board did flare up a bit but we saved it. We simply rubbed our salmon with our favorite Tom  Douglas' Salmon Rub with Love made with smoked paprika, thyme and brown sugar. It's really all good salmon needs to taste delicious but since this is Gutsy Cooks Club I figured I better go beyond just a good rub on the salmon. 

So when I was thumbing through Stephanie Izard's Girl in the Kitchen Cookbook I came across a recipe for Fried Cheese with Spring Veggies and a Strawberry Gastrique (reduction) that I thought would taste pretty good over our perfectly smoked planked salmon.

I had never made a Gastrique before but they always make them on Top Chef and sound so complicated. But really a gastrique, we learned, is just a reduction of fruit, sugar and vinegar. Pretty simple actually. After boiling and reducing the sauce you strain out the solids and voila  you have a gastrique.

Our Copper Salmon indulging is also a pretty simple tradition. Copper River purchased at our local Metropolitan Market, cooked outside on the grill, sometimes on a cedar plank, sometimes directly on the grill but also eaten outside on the patio served with a nice Oregon Pinot Noir. Always! Or at least for the past 15 years.

And again perfect timing since we are fresh off of stocking up the cellar from our Oregon Wine weekend over Memorial Day. 

For this occasion we went with a new winery to us from Oregon called Maysara not only do they make beautiful pinots they also have a great story and a beautiful facility for making and tasting wine. 

Honestly, pinot noir is not really a fav varietal for us anymore but there is nothing better served with salmon and this one was exceptionally earthy and complemented the smoky flavor that the cedar brought to the dish just right.

The salmon was perfect! And the strawberry basil gastrique brought the right amount of sweet and sour to balance the richness and smokiness of the salmon. It was a fantastic indulgence. We thank Steph for a reason to make our 2013 version of our tradition happen.


Cedar Planked Copper River Salmon with Strawberry Basil Gastrique
1 lb. fresh Copper River salmon filet
2 tablespoons Salmon Rub with Love
1 piece of well soaked cedar plank

Strawberry Basil Gastrique
1 C white balsamic vinegar
1 C sliced fresh strawberries + 1/2 C additional sliced for top of salmon
1/2 C packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C fresh lemon juice

1 C baby fresh pinach leaves

Soak cedar plank in water for 2-3 hours until thoroughly saturated. Combine vinegar, strawberries, basil, sugar and lemon juice in a medium sauce pan. Bring them to a boil then reduce heat. Simmer to reduce the liquid by half, 25-30 minutes. Strain, discarding the solids and let the liquid cool.

Heat grill to 375 degrees. Brush salmon lightly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Rub salmon flesh with the rub. Place salmon skin side down on the cedar plank. Place plank directly on grill. Cook salmon until done to your liking, we like our salmon a bit on the rare side. So we cooked our thick piece for approximately 15 minutes until it only had a slight give when we pushed it with our finger.

Serve salmon over spinach leaves dressed with a bit of the gastrique. Place salmon on top of the spinach. Add some sliced strawberries and basil on top of salmon. Drizzle salmon with strawberry basil reduction/gastrique. Enjoy!


  1. Fantastic. I will have to look out for a cedar plank and try this out when it's barbecue season again here. Cheers

  2. Mine was a complete flop.. I'm so mad about it still, I cannot even write about it. It was THAT BAD! $29+ bucks out the window, since I decided to go big and buy Alaska wild salmon. But, yours looks delicious.

  3. Gastrique is a French version of sweet and sour, usually wine/vinegar/sugar and other flavors can be added. It is also cooked down to the consistency of a syrup so that it's thick at room temperature


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