Cedar planks add fire-cooked aroma and rustic class to seafood. The planks work in ovens as well as on the grill. In making this dish, I supplemented a few Crimini caps given to me by a friend with pieces of dried oyster mushrooms.
We are convinced that one of Alaska’s best kept secrets is that it is a food-lover’s paradise. Many Alaskans harvest wild game such as moose, Sitka deer, caribou, mountain sheep and ptarmigan. Ranched reindeer, bison and elk are available as well.
The growing season may be short, but with long hours of sunshine, markets in central and southeast Alaska are typically full of locally grown produce. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cloudberries, currents and more can be found growing wild or purchased at local markets, making Alaska one of the best places on earth to get a slice of pie or a jar of jam. Meanwhile, foraging for mushrooms and edible plants, including seaweed, remains an important part of the culture up here. Not long ago, we were treated to a salad featuring young fireweed shoots, and the seaweed salads we’ve had have been delicious. While the wines we pour with this bounty are shipped up, we don’t have to go far at all to enjoy superbly crafted local beers.
But the centerpiece of Alaskan food is without a doubt seafood, starting with salmon. All five Pacific species are abundant, and they all have their place in the kitchen. Fresh halibut is a revelation on the palate, not to mention one of the most versatile fishes one can cook with. People who eat a lot of fish often find that they end up preferring various species of delicately flavored rockfish. Our own top choice is sea-run Dolly Varden – a char with pale orange flesh, a delicate flavor, and just enough fat to be self-basting. Aside from these fin fish, there are oysters, sea scallops, clams and several species of crabs, all of which benefit from Alaska’s clean, cold seas.
And, of course, there are shrimp. Known as amaebi in Japan, the shrimp of Alaska’s waters are prized for their natural sweetness. The recipe offered below has many possible variations. For example, try a shiso leaf instead of the tarragon, freshly picked chanterelles or Portabellos instead of Crimini mushrooms, or, for a lighter flavor, sea salt instead of soy sauce. Ginger, lime zest, sherry or a sprinkling of sake would add yet another dimension.
Cedar Planked Sweet Alaskan Shrimp on Mushrooms
- cedar or alder plank, soaked for at least 2 hours
- 12 Alaskan shrimp, peeled, deveined, butterflied, tail on, and if large enough, lightly scored
- 12 fresh mushroom caps or 12 appropriately sized pieces of any good mushroom
- 2 tablespoons clarified butter
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- freshly cracked pepper
- Preheat oven broiler to hot (500 °F).
- Heat clarified butter in frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and mushrooms. Add soy sauce, sprinkling on mushrooms and in butter, and move mushrooms around to coat with butter and soy sauce. Cook till mushrooms are just cooked, turning once.
- Remove mushrooms from pan and place on plank. Sprinkle each piece with dried tarragon, or add leaves of fresh tarragon. Place shrimp on mushrooms, fixing in place with toothpicks. Add freshly cracked pepper.
- Place plank in oven and broil for 3 – 5 minutes.
If you make more than a few of these, your guests will not have room for dinner. They are addicting. They’d be terrific prepared on a grill, too, and would pair beautifully with hot sake.