Pike Place Market reminds me of when I first moved to Seattle back in 1996. Can that possibly be more than 20 years ago? I’d never lived on the west coast, or in a place with mountains or even one with a major public market. Although I loved to cooked, I’d rarely cooked salmon or mussels, never laid eyes on a geoduck.
My formative years were in Michigan. As a kid, I didn’t know that you could buy fish at a store. This was back before supermarkets felt compelled to offer everything from deli meat to sushi. Our local supermarket chain in Davison didn’t have a fish counter; the closest they came to seafood were the fish sticks in the frozen food aisle, a product that I never once consumed outside of a school lunch.
That’s because my dad was a fisherman. He used to say that they deducted time in heaven that you’d spent fishing on earth, or something like that. Seasons were no obstacle. No matter the weather, we dragged our aluminum fishing boat behind our station wagon from to some lake in search of fish.
In spring, we huddled together under umbrellas in cold, pouring rain. In the summer, we fished until everyone was thoroughly sunburned. Winter brought ice fishing, with the family shivering together, staring at their lines dropped below the hole cut in the ice. For all of that, we had the great reward of fresh-from-the-water fish.
=As my brothers got older and developed social lives and jobs, they fished less often. By her late teens, my sister chose never to fish, but instead lay across the stern of the boat in her bikini, trying to get tan. Eventually, we moved to Florida and that left just me and my dad and our two poles at the Rod n’ Reel pier together, chatting and fishing, staring at the warm, green water. My father had some odd power of fish; even when the fish weren’t biting, he always caught something.
So when I go to the market now and I see the parade of all the fish, once exotic and new, I think of those days with my dad, and how I used to look into the water, wondering how all those fish breathed down there.
Yesterday, I picked out a nice hunk of fresh Alaskan halibut and cooked it my favorite way, on a slab of wood over a hot fire. I paired it with lemon risotto and simple sautéed fiddlehead greens. For the risotto, start with this recipe. Add about 2 teaspoons lemon zest and 1/3 cup of fresh lemon juice plus a tablespoons of butter toward the end cooking. A couple tablespoons chopped parsley is a nice finish.
If you’ve never cooked fish on a plank, give it a try, especially if you’re uneasy about grilling fish as this method slows down the cooking of the fish, making it less likely to overcook. The main benefit to cooking on a plank is that it gives the fish a lovely smoked flavor. Most grocery stores carry planks now, or you can order online for less than $2 each [affiliate link].
You can read all about planking fish here, but here’s the short version. Be sure to soak the plank or planks in water for at least an hour before grilling to avoid having them catch on fire. Lightly brush the plank, put the fish on top, sprinkle on the seasonings. I keep a spray bottle of water handy just in case the edges alight. Keep the lid on for as long as possible. Have a pair of tongs and a metal baking tray handy so that you can easily remove the fish from the grill when it’s done.
Cooking fish on a plank is something that I learned only after moving to Seattle all those years ago. He died when I was young, so I never got a chance to show him all the fish lying looking a bit stunned on those piles of white ice at Pike Place Market. He would have loved all of it.
An Indian friend told me that she was raised to believe the first bite of any meal is meant for God. Whenever I eat fish, I always think, the first bite is for my dad.
Recipe: Spicy, Garlicky Planked Fish
- About 1 lb. halibut salmon or any dense white fish
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- 1 teaspoon mixed Cajun spices
- 1 teaspoons mixed Italian herbs
- Juice of 1/2 lemon about 2 tablespoons
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- Ground black
- 2 to 3 slices lemon
- Soak the planks in water for at least one hour. Prepare the coals. When ready, lightly dry the plank. Brush one side of the fish with a generous coat of olive oil; if the fish has the skin attached, oil that side. Place the fish oiled side down onto the platter. Sprinkle the top with Cajun spices, mixed Italian herbs, paprika and garlic over the top of the fish. Juice half the lemon, slice the other half thinly. Evenly sprinkle the fish with oil and lemon juice. Finish off with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with the sliced lemon.
- Put the plank on the metal rack over hot coals and cover. How long the fish takes to cook depends on the heat of your grill; at 350 degrees, it should take about eight to 10 minutes per pound. Fish is cooked when it's hot in the center (about 145 degrees on a thermometer) and flakes easily with a fork at its thickest point. Take care not to overcook the fish. Serve hot, directly off the plank if desired.
Originally published April 20th, 2009; updated April 16, 2018