If I had to choose one person to come over to my home and cook for me right now, it would be Ted Reader.He’s a madman. And he even looks like one with hair tricked up in directions only possible by riding a rollercoaster with a can of AquaNet and a blow dryer.
But the things he can do with wood, fire and meat tiptoes that fine line between genius and lunatic.
Just crack open Ted’s latest book, Napoleon’s Everyday Gourmet Plank Grilling and you’ll know what I mean.
Man build fire.
Nail big salmon fillet to tall plank.
Stick plank standing up near fire.
Heat from fire cook salmon slow.
Plank give good taste.
Yes, Ted is crazy enough to create an entire cookbook dedicated to the art of cooking food on a plank. Any man who starts a recipe with “build a bonfire” is invited to my house anytime. If you’re like me and live in a gestapo-like community where they send out your neighbors to spy on you, measure your mulch levels and then fine you for improper edging, then maybe building a 4-foot fire pit in your yard probably isn’t a good idea. Thank goodness Ted’s book has 100 other recipes that start on a BBQ grill.
If you’re new to planking, here’s an easy recipe to start with. Make sure you only use wood that’s designed just for cooking -you don’t want any of that pre-treated stuff. You’ll soak the planks for at least 2 hours for softer woods like cedar and overnight for harder woods like cherry, otherwise they’ll just burn and incinerate in the grill. Ahem, that’s advice based on experience. My favorite planks come from Sur La Table where they sell a package of 4 planks that include maple, cedar, hickory and alder woods.
How to buy and prepare mussels
When purchasing mussels, ask the fishmonger how long they’ve been sitting there and if they look dried out and sad, just pass. It’s best when your fishmonger selects the mussels one by one for you, but I only ask for that kind of pain-in-the-butt service if there’s no one else in line behind me.
When you get home, immediately unwrap the mussels. Take 2 large bowls – fill the larger of the two bowls 1/3 of the way with ice. Place the mussels in the smaller bowl and nestle that bowl in the ice. Now take a small, damp dishcloth and place that on top the mussels. Place bowl in the refrigerator until ready to cook. You’ll now be able to keep the mussels alive and cold. They can even stay overnight in the refrigerator like this.
Are you ready to start cooking? Inspect the mussels one by one. Scrub the mussels under cool running water and ‘de-beard’ by tugging the stringy stuff towards the hinge. All the mussels should be closed. If they are opened slightly, squeeze the shell closed and then let go. The mussel should stay closed. Discard any mussels that open back up.
Cedar-Planked Mussels Recipe
I like my mussels simply with good sea salt and lemon. You’re welcome to melt some butter and serve warmed for dipping. One medium-sized plank (15″ x 7″) should hold 1 pound of mussels.
Serves 2 as an appetizer
1 pound fresh mussels
1 cedar plank, made for grilling
a small bunch of fresh thyme
good sea salt
1 lemon or lime, cut into wedges
2+ hours prior to cooking, submerge and soak the plank in water. I used a baking sheet and weighed down the plank with a bowl. 15 minutes prior to cooking, pre-heat your grill on high heat.
When the grill is hot and ready, lay the soaked plank directly on the grill grates. Let the planks pre-heat for 5 minutes.
Follow the directions above to clean and de-beard the mussels. With long tongs or spoon, carefully lay the mussels on the heated planks. Scatter fresh thyme on top. Close the lid and cook for 5 minutes.
You can serve the mussels on the plank at the table. Discard any that have not opened. To enjoy, pry open the mussel shell, sprinkle just a bit of sea salt on the mussel and a quick squeeze of lemon or lime.