The Perfect Christmas Salmon Starter

The perfect Christmas starter for dinner parties and the big day itself. All you need is a few simple things.
You start with a plank of untreated wood. I use a cedar plank around 65cm long, 23cm wide (available here, hyperlink to cedar) but you could use any untreated wood you can get hold of. Cedar works really well because of its aroma. A plank of fresh cedar makes a great air freshener (until my wife asks me to move the planks that it is). You really should soak the plank. If you can, soak it for as long as possible. A couple of hours is ideal. However if you are like me you might want to just run it under the tap, and they be very vigilant or straying embers when it’s cooking. We don’t want the plank to burst into flames along with our side of salmon! A little bit of charring on the board is good however. Although it will reduce the amounts of times you can reuse your plank.

Next are the nails. I go for stainless steel nails. Most hardware stores will have them. Nails are pretty useless without a hammer so grab one of them too. That’s the hardware done. Now for the fish.

You need a side of salmon, a lemon and some salt. That’s it. You could try curing first but in my view it only serves to dry out the fish and the end product is less succulent. You don’t need to do anything with salmon side, if it has already been properly filleted. Lay it skin side down on the board. I use 8 nails normally, two at both ends and 4 spread out across the middle. Don’t bang the nails in too far as they are a pain to remove after if you want to take them off before serving.

Once the salmon is attached to the board, season liberally with sea salt, you want to place it next to the fire. Now this is going to vary depending on your set up. Some improvisation may be required. Ideally you want the board to be around 20cm from the outside of the fire. You want flames too, and smoke. This will help the fire reach higher up the board. I place the fatter end of the salmon downwards to start with and once you can see the colour of the fish changing you can then flip the board around to focus on the other end of the fish. Once the fish is taking on a good colouring all over I like to squeeze over the juice of half a lemon. For me this is all about touching and feeling the flesh of the fish to determine when it’s done. I’m looking for quite a hard texture. I also like to spot areas where the skin is peeling away. It’s really tricky to give it timings as your set up, the weather and the size of fish may all vary. Once you think it’s right take it off and rest.

Now you can serve straight away warm, on the board itself makes it a show stopper. But if you need to do it in advance, you can portion it, refrigerate (3-4 days) and when you want to serve it bring to room temperature but do not reheat or you will dry it out.

We love to make fresh mayo with herbs including dill and parsley. That’s a must! Roasted beets or a tangy fennel salad. You don’t need to do too much as the salmon needs to be the star of the show.
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