How to Cook Fish on a Wood Plank

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: All you need to achieve tender, smoky fish is a flat piece of wood.

We've been helping you to whittle down your list of foods you never dreamed of making at home. Decadent pork belly? You can make it. Eggs sous vide? You can make those, too. Now it's time to take to the seas and cross another restaurant-only food off your list: plank-smoked fish.

Cooking fish on a wood plank will leave you with tender, moist fish fillets infused with woodsy flavor. Plus, a plank provides a stable surface to cook on, which makes grilling delicate fillets less nerve-wracking. (And we think this method of "planking" is much more fun than the alternative).

You can buy wood planks at a grocery store with a well-stocked grilling section or at a local hardware store. Look for planks that are about 1-inch thick and have not been chemically treated. The type of wood is up to you: while cedar provides the most intense, aromatic flavor, you might opt for maple if you want a sweeter, milder fish or hickory if you'd like something stronger and smokier.

>>RELATED RECIPE: Cedar Plank Grilled Sea Bass

Soak the wooden planks for at least 2 hours before putting them on the grill. This ensures that the fish has time to cook completely without the wood burning. (You can even weigh down the planks to make sure they're good and submerged!)

Get creative with the soaking liquid. You can use wine, fruit juice, cider, sake, tea, or even flavored liqueur. Experiment with adding fresh herbs, spices, citrus slices, salt, and vinegar. The wood will soak up all these flavors and transfer them to your fillets.

Prepare your fish to walk the plank by seasoning it with salt and pepper and placing it skin-side down on the wooden plank. Heat your grill to medium heat (350º F).

Place your fish-topped planks on the grill. (For an even smokier flavor, place the planks directly on the preheated grill for a couple of minutes. When they start to crackle, lay the fish on top.) If you're using multiple planks, make sure each one is in full contact with the grill and plenty of breathing room so that air and heat can circulate.

Close the lid for 12 to 15 minutes to allow the smoke from the wood to fill the grill. You might want to have spray bottle at hand in case anything suspicious happens, but keep in mind that your wood should smolder.

Your fish is finished when it's no longer translucent in the center. To remove the fillet from the plank, run a knife between the flesh and the skin. Scrub the skin from the plank, allow it to air dry, and then reuse it the next time you're craving smoky, perfectly-cooked fish. It will most likely be soon after.

Photos by James Ransom

What do you like to cook on a wood plank? Let us know in the comments!