Impress Your Guests with Cedar Plank BBQ Cod

Whenever we get that first sunny, barely double-digit temperature day of summer, the urge to fire up the barbecue seems almost primordial… we’ve just gotta grill something.  

The first nice day in early June, I was too late getting to the market for steak. Clearly everyone else felt the pull of the flames, too, and the meat department in June looked like the toilet paper aisle in March. Our hearts were set on grilling, and remembering I had uncovered a few cedar grilling planks in the pantry, I thought about the classic of cedar-planked salmon. Finding no salmon, trout, char or halibut, it seemed we would have to settle for sausages (which are still delicious, of course, especially with my homemade sauerkraut), but then I spotted some really nice-looking cod. We always tend to think of a browned crust of some kind with cod, don’t we? And honestly, I had never thought of the combination of cod and cedar before now. My mouth began to water as I thought about the balance a bit of spice, acid and creaminess might bring to the smoke and resiny aromas of the wood. Memories of a creole sauce on top of blackened tuna I had eaten in New Orleans decades ago inspired me to grab some cream, shrimp and tomatoes, too, before heading to the checkout.

It turned out to be the most delicious cod I have ever eaten. Truly. It was juicy and succulent, beautifully perfumed by the cedar and kissed by the smoke from the charred underside of the plank. The creole sauce is rosé – so it has both tomatoes and cream, is nicely spicy and the shrimp (and stock from the shells) adds both decadence and complexity. My partner, Christopher, did the grilling (like a kid with a new bike, giddy with the first grill of the season, and especially so because we had just replaced the old rusted BBQ), while I made the sauce (happy, truth be told, to be indoors because while it was sunny outside, it was still pretty chilly).

The wood must be untreated, so buy the planks from the BBQ section of your supermarket or hardware store – they’re prepped for grilling. You will need to soak the planks in water for at least an hour (up to three is even better), so they don’t catch fire completely on the grill. Place them in an appropriate sized pan, weighted down so they are completely submerged in the water. The planks will char on the grill, though – and that’s the flavour you’re after.

We have made this dish several times now. We even served it al fresco, on one of those rare, balmy Newfoundland summer evenings, to some of our bubble people. Our friend Loyola, from a fishing family and a true seafood afficionado, pronounced it the best cod he ever had. High praise, indeed. Grab yourself some cedar grilling planks and see if you don’t think so, too.

Cedar Plank BBQ Cod with Shrimp Creole Sauce

serves 4

2 lbs cod fillets

Presoaked cedar grilling planks – enough to accommodate the cod in a single layer

2-3 tsp olive or vegetable oil

4 bay leaves

4 sprigs fresh thyme (we use home-grown lemon thyme)

1 lemon – cut four thin slices to top the fish, throw the stem ends in the stock pot, reserve the other half to squeeze into the sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

For the sauce/stock:

1 lb shrimp, 31-40 size, shell on

For the stock:

1 tbsp veg oil

Shrimp shells

Skin and stem ends from the onion you’ll use in the sauce

Skins and stem ends from the garlic you’ll use in the sauce

2 bay leaves

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp chili flakes

1/2 tsp whole peppercorns

2 tbsp white wine or dry vermouth

1 cup water

For the sauce: 

1 tbsp oil

3 tbsp butter

1 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)

1/2 stalk celery, finely diced

1/2 a small green pepper, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dry)

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp tomato paste

2 tbsp flour

1/3 cup white wine

Strained stock

1 cup diced tinned tomatoes with juice

1/3 to 1/2 cup 35% cream

Salt and pepper to taste

Hot sauce to taste

Chopped fresh parsley to taste

Pat planks dry just before using and preheat the BBQ. Prep the fish: check for bones and cut into 4 portions. Drizzle both sides with a touch of olive or vegetable oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place the fillets on the cedar, tuck a bay leaf under each and top each with a sprig of thyme and slice of lemon. Set aside while you make the sauce. The fish takes 10-15 minutes, so you can put it on the grill after you’ve made the stock for the sauce. Or you can make the sauce first and then cook the fish; just slide the raw shrimp into the warmed sauce a minute or two before serving and give them a stir to cook through.

Make the stock: Peel the shrimp and set them aside. Remove the skin and stem ends from the garlic and onion. In a small pot, over high heat, heat the oil and add the garlic and onion skins, lemon stem ends, shrimp shells, thyme, bay, fennel seed, chili flakes and peppercorns. Stir a couple minutes with a wooden spoon and bash down the shrimp shells. You will smell gorgeous aromas. Add the wine and let it bubble for a moment, then add the water. Stir and reduce heat to let simmer while you prepare the shrimp and vegetables for the sauce. (Note: If you only have shell-off shrimp, you can skip the stock making and add 1/2 cup water to the sauce instead.)

Make the sauce: Chop the onion, celery and green pepper into small dice, and mince the garlic. Slice the peeled shrimp lengthwise and set aside (if shrimp are quite large, you might want to cut them again laterally so they disperse in the sauce). In a large non-stick frying pan, heat oil and butter over med-high heat. Add vegetables and sauté until they start to soften. Add the garlic, herbs and spices; sauté a minute or two more. Add tomato paste and stir a minute. Add flour and stir 2-3 minutes until vegetables are coated with flour. (Add more oil or butter if you need to during this process.) Season with salt and pepper. Add wine and stir to burn off the alcohol, scraping up whatever is stuck to the pan bottom. Add tomatoes and strain the stock through a fine sieve into the frypan. Stir to help the flour-coated vegetables incorporate and the sauce will begin to thicken. Let simmer a few minutes more if very watery. Add cream and let reduce a few minutes.  Add lemon juice to taste. Check seasoning and add salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. If too acidic, you can add a pinch of sugar. Add shrimp and heat through just before serving. (This recipe makes plenty of creole sauce and you can freeze any extra. It freezes beautifully and is delicious on nearly everything – steak, chicken, pork, other seafood, pasta, or even grilled bread as an appetizer.)

To cook cod, place prepped planks on the BBQ over med-high heat. Close the lid. It will take about 12 minutes to cook, depending on the thickness of your cod. Test it by pressing with your finger to see if it flakes. Serve immediately with a couple of spoonfuls of the creole sauce. Top with a little freshly chopped parsley if you like.

We served it with grilled corn and a grilled veggie medley, both simply seasoned. Rice or potatoes would be good, too.

– By Andrea Maunder, the creative force behind Saucy & Sweet – Homemade Specialty Foods and Catering. She is also Downhome’s long-running Everyday Gourmet columnist.

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Downhome Magazine

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