Years ago, Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest discovered the pleasures of planking: cooking fish on wood over a smoldering fire. It’s easy, fast and tastes phenomenal on saltwater or freshwater fillets.

  • Start with pre-cut wood planks from cooking stores. Or, go to a lumber store, and ask for untreated, furniture-grade boards that are kiln-dried. Cedar, cherry, hickory, pecan, maple, apple and alder work best. You’ll need 1-inch-thick wood cut to fit your grill.
  • Soak planks in water for 3 to 4 hours to create an aromatic smolder and slow the burning process of the wood. Heat a gas grill to 375-400 degrees. (If using charcoal, let coals burn until covered with white ash). Place one wet plank on grill rack, cover, and let char for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Toss slices of onion, zucchini and sweet bell pepper in olive oil, kosher salt, coarsely-ground black pepper and a pinch or two of dried thyme. Flip charred plank, and place vegetables on it. Place second wet plank on rack. Grill vegetables, covered, until tender and lightly charred, about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, drizzle fish fillets with olive oil. Shower with salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon coarsely-ground celery seed and the juice of a fresh lemon.
  • Flip the second plank after about 15 minutes, and place the fish skin-side down on it. Close grill cover.
  • Grill until fish is cooked through and reaches 135 degrees at the thickest part, or when it flakes easily with a fork. A 6- to 8-ounce 1/2-inch-thick fish fillet takes about 6-8 minutes. Slide a wide metal spatula between the skin and the flesh. The skin will stick to the plank, allowing the fillet to lift easily. Discard planks after use.

Planking Success Tips:

For more flavor, add 1 cup of citrus juice or apple juice to the soaking water. Keep a water bottle handy to tame sudden flare-ups. Resist the urge to flip the fish; just let it be.

Shaggy’s Cedar Plank Redfish

Shaggy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill (http://www.shaggys.biz/) has locations at Pass Christian Harbor and Biloxi Beach in Mississippi, Orange Beach, Alabama, and Pensacola Beach, Florida, and uses planks somewhat differently for cooking fish.

“To make Cedar Plank Redfish, we blacken one side of a fresh redfish fillet in a skillet with olive oil,” Thomas Genin, co-owner of Shaggy’s says. “At the same time, we set a cedar plank on fire on the stove. Then we put the blackening seasonings on the unblackened side of the fillet and place the uncooked side of the redfish down on the burning cedar plank, which then is put in a convection oven and cooked for 10 minutes. The convection oven puts-out the fire on the plank and slowly bakes the redfish, allowing the redfish fillet to absorb the flavor of the cedar plank. After removing the cedar plank and the fillet from the oven, I place it back on the stove and once again set the cedar plank on-fire. Then the plank is put on a plate and taken to the table while the board’s still on-fire.” This cooking system causes the redfish to have a delicious, distinctive taste, and the meat to be very light and tasty.

To learn more about fishing for redfish and other species at Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, click here for “Fishing Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and Visitor’s Guide” (http://www.amazon.com/Fishing-Mississippis-Coast-Visitors-ebook/dp/B008DWLUZ6), a new eBook for Amazon Kindle by John E. Phillips. Or, you can go to http://www.amazon.com/kindle-ebooks and type-in the name of the book to find it. You also can download a free Kindle app that enables you to read the book on your iPad, computer or SmartPhone.

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Images courtesy John & Denise Phillips/Night Hawk Publications