How Not to Make Cedar Plank Salmon

It's finally that time of year in the desert when we aren't in a not-so-hot season! Spring is in the air (at least for a week or two) and everyone I know is flocking to outside grills for parties and eats.

I just attended such a shindig in a multimillion-dollar home in the foothills of east Mesa.

Two things: Yes, there are Scottsdale-esque foothills in east Mesa, and there are multimillion-dollar homes — well, there used to be. Despite the plummeting home prices, the owners (in over their heads, mired in shit) were still jovial, offering flowing pitchers of margaritas and ample filets of salmon.

I was going to ask the chef whether the fish was farm-raised or wild, but I decided not to. A close friend who writes an etiquette column in Santa Fe advised me that this would be a mondo faux pas.

(I could go on for pages about the ills of farm-raised fish, but I'll leave you just a few informational tidbits. Think of how the news media grill the cattle and poultry industries on the unhealthful use of steroids and antibiotics to keep the feedlots free of disease. Now picture the same overcrowded pens of fish — fish that spend their entire lives floating lazily because there is no room to swim. They may as well be called "couch potatoes," just slurping up scientifically engineered salmon chow. These poor little Nemos are then injected from birth with antibiotics and pesticides to ward off pesky sea lice. To top it off, the fish are given a steady diet of synthetic pigment to get that desired mouthwatering rich pink flesh. Without it, these feedlot fish would have an unappealing pale gray skin. Yum! )

Keeping my curiosity at bay, I decide to watch how the fish is being prepared. The skilled chef is obviously no stranger to the grill. He slathers each filet with a mayonnaise-and-garlic mixture and tops it with fresh jalapeños, mushrooms, and bacon. The chef proudly explains that this is an old recipe from a buddy who cooked for a crew on a fishing boat in Alaska.

My first thought was, "Damn, this is going to be awesome!" My second thought was, "It doesn't matter how good the fish is. You aren't going to be able to taste it with all that stuff on it."

Keep in mind I've become a purist when it comes to fish and beef. I use only high-quality kosher or sea salt and fresh ground pepper on my seafood. Filtering my normal proclivity for painful, self-referential honesty, I proclaim to the cook, "This is going to be some of the best salmon I've ever had!" Truthfully, it was amazing. I went back for thirds. It obviously was a recipe created for a bunch of fishermen who were sick of salmon.

Speaking of farm-raised, most of the women I've dated seem to be more on that side than the wild side. I once dated this conservative and very good-looking blonde; after we split up, she agreed to let me rent her place for a bit. (Note: conservative + me = breakup.)

This gal was sexy and fit, but she was on the pale gray side, and her place reflected it. I guess you could say I didn't have room to really swim free. So I decided I would remove all the curtains and make it sexier with some darker paint. I was proud of the place and how it had shaped up into a primo bachelor pad.

After all my hard work, I decided to throw a housewarming party, where I served up sausage-encrusted cedar-plank salmon. Yes, sausage, and lots of it! I was young and naive and just wanted tons of familiar flavors.

My friends start filing in when my pal Cathy says, "The place and the fish look awesome, but where are the cedar planks?"

Oh, shit.

I had forgotten the crucial ingredient in the cedar-plank salmon. Thinking on my feet, like any able chef, I solved the problem efficiently and quickly. In the back of my mind, I remembered that my ex was always proud of her cedar-lined closet that kept her frumpy clothes from moths.

Moments later, after a slug of bourbon, a large screwdriver, and some applied physics, I emerged with three nice-size planks from the rear of her closet. I would like to remind you that this is a huge etiquette gaffe, and I don't recommend it — unless you want to really burn a bridge (the ex still hates me).

Although the damage to the closet was terrible, the salmon was fantastic! All the guests raved about the intense meaty, woody flavor of the fish. Fortunately, I have not made this dish again — and never will, because you just can't taste the fish. I will, on the other hand, make grilled cedar-plank salmon. Fresh wild salmon with just a touch of salt and pepper and a woody cedar accent will please any fish foodie.

You will be happy to hear that most high-end supermarkets actually carry cut-to-size cedar planks just for that purpose. My recommendation is to just date a wild one once in a while who loves bourbon and doesn't mind tearing up her closet for a plank or a paddle.