From Japan to Scandanavia and Scotland, from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic, wild or farmed, salmon is served on tables around the world. In today's recipe, we use a traditional cooking technique adapted from Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. This is Alder Plank Roast Salmon with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette.
Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest
and the Salmon-
In the Sahaptin language of Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, the word for salmon used in sacred ceremonies is “wy-kan-ush.” Combined with the word “pum,” meaning people, the tribal cultures of the Columbia River Basin are often referred to as “Wy-Kan-Ush-Pum” or “Salmon People.”
As a child living in The Dalles, Oregon, I remember going to traditional salmon roasts at the Celilo Falls camp on the shores along the Columbia River. Celilo Falls was once the traditional fishing grounds of Native Americans. Today the fishing grounds are gone, yet Celilo Village lives on and Native Americans continue to fish salmon on the Columbia.
The Traditional Salmon Roast-
A traditional Native American salmon roast uses an ancient technique where a whole salmon is butterflied then strung to a frame made from alder wood. Alder trees grow in the mountains of Western Oregon and along the coast. The salmon is roasted over an open alder fire, smoking the fish and bringing out the natural oils and juices.
Today alder and cedar planks are sold to home cooks, giving you the ability to craft salmon using a contemporary version of this ancient cooking technique.
Salmon paired with Pumpkin-
In this recipe, we pair the salmon with a vinaigrette made from toasted "pepitas" or green pumpkin seeds, pumpkin puree, and tomatoes.
Pumpkin and the seeds were a food used by Native Americans in many dishes. The pepitas add crunch and a toasted, herbal flavor to the vinaigrette. The pumpkin puree gives the vinaigrette some sweetness while the apple cider vinegar adds tang.
The perfect balance between rich, smoky salmon, and a tart, herbal vinaigrette. You can buy pepitas at local Mexican grocers, or online here, https://amzn.to/31gG5UR.
We adapted this dish years ago from "The American Place Cookbook" written by Chef Larry Forgione. We change the recipe often, using spinach instead of Swiss chard. You could also use halibut or game hens in place of the salmon, just adjust the cooking times on the planks accordingly.
Originally we only served this dish during the late Fall and into the Holidays but it's perfect for outdoor grilling season. Cooking on alder wood planks can be done in the oven or outdoor on the barbecue. But don't worry, our recipe can be adapted to saute salmon on the stovetop, roast it or broil it in the oven, or grill it outdoors.
Cedar Plank Roast Salmon with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette
Salmon. From Japan to Scandanavia and Scotland, from the Pacific Northwest to the Atlantic seaboard, wild or farmed, salmon is served on tables around the world. In today's recipe, we use a traditional cooking technique adapted from Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest paired with a vinaigrette made with pumpkin. This is Alder Plank Roast Salmon with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette.
For the Vinaigrette-
- 1 cup pepitas-green pumpkin seeds
- ½ cup canned pumpkin puree
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. tumeric
- 1 Roma tomato, seeded and diced
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- ¾ cup olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
For the Salmon-
- 4 6oz. salmon filets
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 2 tsp. mustard powder
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 alder or cedar grilling planks soaked in water one hour
- 2 tbsp. butter
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 head Swiss chard (or Kale), chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
Make the vinaigrette-
Heat the oven to 350. Spread the green pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet lined with foil. Toast in the oven just until the pumpkin seeds start to brown, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Heat a skillet over medium heat and add ½ cup of the toasted pumpkin seeds. (Reserve the other ½ cup of pumpkin seeds as a garnish). Add the pumpkin puree, garlic, turmeric, tomato and apple cider vinegar. Stir the mixture and then turn the heat down to low while you roast the salmon. Just before service, bring the heat back to medium and stir in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast the Salmon-
To grill the salmon on wood planks-Heat your outdoor grill to medium-high heat. When you’re ready to cook, turn off one side of the burner. This is the area where you’ll place the salmon on the planks for grilling. If using a charcoal grill, heat the coals until they are white hot. Push the charcoal to one side of the grill. Place the grill grate over the charcoal.
Drain the alder planks from the water. Place each salmon filet on one of the planks. Brush the salmon filets with olive oil. Sprinkle the salmon filets with the mustard powder and season with salt and pepper.
Place the salmon on the side of the grill with the heat turned off. If you’re using a charcoal fire, place planks off to the side away from the charcoal. Cover the grill and cook the salmon until firm about 10 minutes. A meat thermometer inserted in the salmon should read 120-125.
For oven-roasting the salmon-heat the oven to 400. Sprinkle the salmon filets with the mustard powder and season with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the salmon filets and cook on each side, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast the salmon for another 4-5 minutes or until the salmon is firm to the touch and done. A meat thermometer inserted in the salmon should read 120-125.
While the salmon roasts, make the greens. Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Swiss chard and stir-fry until the greens are wilted. Add a few tablespoons of water if the greens become dry.
To serve, place some of the greens in the center of a plate. Top the greens with one of the salmon filets, then drizzle the pumpkin seed vinaigrette over the salmon and around the plate. Garnish the salmon with some of the toasted pumpkin seeds.
Salmon is best for this dish, but halibut and cod also work well. The vinaigrette goes well on salads, with chicken or game birds and any grilled meats.