A taste of summer
Try this old Nordic technique of plankefisk, slow roasting salmon on a plank by the campfire
CHRISTY OLSEN FIELD
Taste of Norway Editor
The Norwegian American
Summertime is nearly here, which means that it’s campfire season! Sitting around the bål (campfire) with loved ones is a beloved activity here and in Norway. I feel lucky to have a campfire in my backyard, ringed with rocks we dug out of the garden and nestled at the foot of two towering western red cedars. We love to host people for a campfire because it feels like we’re camping, except the house (and all its amenities) is just a few steps away.
Cedar-planked salmon on the grill is a popular dish in the Pacific Northwest where I live, a technique picked up from local tribes that smoked their annual salmon catch with cedar. It’s a regular on the dinner rotation at my house, because it’s such a crowd pleaser. I was intrigued when the technique popped up while I read about plankefisk in the cookbook The Scandinavian Kitchen by Camilla Plum. I also found many references to plankefisk in outdoor blogs in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
The technique dates back to the Vikings, and likely further. A filet of salmon or other fish is nailed to a plank of wood and propped up by a campfire to slowly roast. By leaving the skin on, it adds an extra layer of insulation so the fish doesn’t overcook. It’s perfumed with campfire smoke, and I think it is a clever way to cook dinner and enjoy the campfire at the same time!
The best thing about plankefisk is that it’s so adaptable.
Not a fan of salmon or have something that is fresher? You can use any freshwater fish (like trout) or saltwater fish!
I used a cedar plank because that’s what I typically have on hand in my pantry, but you can use any kind of plank that you want: alder, hickory, maple, cherry, birch. Planks are sold in the barbeque/picnic aisle at the grocery store, as well as online. I buy mine in a multipack from Costco.
For flavor, I picked a handful of soft herbs from my garden: dill, flat-leaf parsley, chives, tarragon, and thyme. I left them on their stems to make it easy to remove them after cooking. You can also add onion or shallots (thinly sliced into rings), or slices of lemon, or different spices. You can also just season with salt.
Want more of a varmrøkt (hot smoked) flavor? Hammer your filet with the flesh side out. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t cook too quickly.
No nails? You can whittle some 4-inch wood pegs to secure the fish. You might need to make small pilot holes in the plank to hammer the pegs into place.
Serve with agurksalat (cucumber salad, you can find my recipe here: norwegianamerican.com/agurksalat-summer-side-dish), potato salad, or your favorite summer side dish.
Have you made plankefisk? What are your favorite Norwegian recipes to make over the campfire? I’d love to hear from you! Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Christy Olsen Field
Plankefisk på bål
Planked fish at the campfire
By Christy Olsen Field
One 1.5-2 pound filet of salmon (or another fish of choice), skin on and pin bones removed
Sea salt to taste
Handful of soft herbs on their stems, such as dill, parsley, chives, tarragon, thyme
4 stainless steel nails
1 cedar plank*
Here’s how you do it:
Before you build your fire, generously salt the fish. Soak a plank in water for 30 mins or longer.
Build a campfire to your liking.
When the fire is roaring and you can see some glowing coals, hammer your fish to the plank. First place the herbs on top of the flesh side on the salmon. Quickly flip the fish over, so the herbs are on top of the board and the skin is fish side is facing out. Hammer the nails into each quadrant of the fish so it is securely on the board.
The fire is ready if you can hold your hand above it for 10 seconds or less. Place the planked fish perpendicular to the fire. I rested mine on a rock in the fire ring at a slight angle. Anchor the plank with rocks as needed.
Cook for 30 minutes. Flip the board 180 degrees and cook for another 20-30 minutes so it cooks evenly. Keep an eye on your fish, because cooking times will depend on the fish’s thickness, fire temperature, and location.
Salmon is cooked through when it is firm to the touch, the albumin (that white stuff) is starting to come out, and the internal temperature of the fish is 145°F.
To serve, lay the plank flat, remove the nails, and cut into portions.
* Soaking your plank in water for 30 minutes or longer isn’t necessary, but it helps the plank to not catch on fire. If I’m preparing this in my kitchen, I simply place a plank on a rimmed baking sheet, fill with water, and weight it down with a drinking cup. If you’re camping, skip the soaking part!
No campfire? No worries! Here is my family’s recipe for cedar-planked salmon on the grill.
Plankefisk på grillen
Planked fish on the grill
Soak a plank for 30 minutes or more.
Preheat the grill at full heat.
Place the plank on the grill. When it crackles and begins to smoke, add the fish filet.
Cook for 10-15 minutes. Use a knife to see if the fish is cooked to your liking. Other signs of doneness: Firm flesh that flakes with a knife, the albumin (white stuff) is beginning to come out, and the internal temperature of the thickest part of the filet is 145°F.
If there are flare-ups (which are rare if you soak the plank), spray the plank with a water bottle, and turn down the heat.
Remove the plank from the grill to a rimmed baking sheet, and serve the fish. Enjoy!
This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.