I thank Kyle, my 10 year-old son, for introducing me to cedar planks. If it weren’t for his palate, I wouldn’t have made a desperate dash to get the planks and learn how to cook with them.
Here’s what happened: Kyle discovered and immediately adored a meal in a restaurant: chili-crusted tilapia, cooked and served on a cedar plank and topped with chimichurri sauce. He cherished the dish so much, he jokingly nibbled on the plank once the fish was gone. We enjoyed many tilapia-filled evenings at that restaurant over the next two years. Then, one disastrous night, our server told us the tilapia was no longer on the menu. The news almost brought Kyle, and me, to tears.
The next day, I raced out and purchased cedar planks – one thick board intended to last for eons, and a package of thin planks designed for 3-5 uses. Both work incredibly well. The planks are placed in the oven or on the grill and food is cooked on top. By cooking directly on the wood, the warm, smoky flavor of cedar infuses into every heavenly bite. And you don’t need any added fat to cook all kinds of foods on a plank – meat, fish, poultry, vegetables – I’ve tried them all.
Here’s the tilapia recipe I created for Kyle. The fish is seasoned with chili powder, cumin and fresh lemon juice. I also add sugar for a caramelized crust. For the sauce, I learned how to make my own chimichurri, an Argentinean sauce and marinade made with fresh parsley, olive oil and garlic (recipes vary by adding vinegar, lime juice, cilantro and spices). It’s endlessly versatile and typically served with grilled steak, but it’s also amazing on fish and chicken. If you don’t want to prepare chimichurri from scratch, you can find prepared sauces in grocery stores and gourmet food shops nationwide.
Cedar Plank Tilapia With Fresh Chimichurri
4 tilapia filets (about 5 ounces each)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup tightly packed fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
2-3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Place tilapia filets on one large cedar plank or four smaller, individual planks and season the top with salt and pepper.
In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, chili powder, cumin and sugar. Mix well to combine. Spread mixture all over top of tilapia. Bake tilapia (on plank) 10-15 minutes, until fork-tender.
Meanwhile, in a blender, combine parsley, cilantro, olive oil, vinegar, water, garlic, cumin and salt. Puree until smooth. Spoon chimichurri over tilapia and serve.
Nutrition Info Per Serving (1 tilapia fillet, 2 tablespoons chimichurri)
Total Fat: 9 grams
Saturated Fat: 1.8 grams
Total Carbohydrate: 4 grams
Sugars: 1 gram
Protein: 24 grams
Sodium: 191 milligrams
Cholesterol: 57 milligrams
Fiber: 1 gram
Robin Miller is a nutritionist, host of Quick Fix Meals, author of “Robin Takes 5” and “Robin Rescues Dinner” and the busy mom of two active little boys. Her boys and great food are her passion. Check her out at www.robinrescuesdinner.com.