The beauty is in the simplicity of Loimulohi. Pronounced low-e-mow-low-he, this ancient Finnish technique translates to “blazed fish.” To pull this off, you need a pre soaked plank of wood, a couple nails, a hammer, and fire. The challenge of this recipe is in controlling your fire, but with a few tips and a good bed of coals you will have that fire tamed and your salmon will be bathing in the wafting smoke of an open flame. Brush the salmon with a brandy-maple glaze, it’s hard to see why you would ever want to cook salmon any other way. There is nothing more satisfying than cooking your meat outside around a fire—except eating it.
- ½ - ¾ pound of salmon, thawed (any species will do, but king is KING here)
- Coarse salt
- 1 (10-20 inch) long plank of wood*, soaked at least 4-5 hours and preferably overnight
- 3-4 nails
- 1 hammer
- A small fire pit
- 4-5 medium to large chunks of wood
- Drunk Maple Glaze (optional):
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1½ tablespoons brandy
- ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
*Cedar, oak, hickory, popular, ash, or walnut will do.
For Drunk Maple Glaze (optional)
Measure and mix everything together in a small bowl and set aside. Test the brandy a few times to make sure it's good. A swig or two or three … will give you a good indication of its character. A fourth swig may be necessary to confirm its quality.
Chef Harcey’s Quick Wet Brine (optional)
Dissolve 5 tablespoons Kosher or coarse salt per 2 quarts of water. You can cut this in half if you are doing smaller portions. It's 6% salinity. Soak fish in brine for a maximum of 12 minutes. Thoroughly dry with paper towels. Cook fish as directed for the recipe.
Preparing Your Coals
Start your fire in whatever manner you prefer. You can just use newspaper and a match if you want or you can use a bow-drill fire set, it's up to you. Once your fire has grown and your wood is fully burning, you will need to give it about 15-20 minutes to let the flames die down. The logs will then begin to break into perfect chunks of red hot coals. This is what you want for successful open flame cooking. High flames are unpredictable and can be both dangerous and frustrating to cook with. It will take about 30-40 minutes for the fire to be ready.
Once you have a hot bed of coals, you can start cooking your fish. Keep a few extra logs nearby so that you can feed the fire as needed. This will ensure you have a steady source of heat for the entire cooking process. If you don't constantly feed, monitor, and adjust your fire, then you will lose cooking control, which is frustrating. Open flame cooking is not a “set it and forget it” style of cooking, but it's super rewarding and fun.
Any small backyard fire pit will work to make Loimulohi. Once you have started your fire and have built up a good bed of coals, typically this takes about 30-45 minutes. Then about 12-15 minutes before cooking you will want to season your fish. You can do that with a dry brine of coarse salt for about 15 minutes or try Chef Erick Harcey’s quick wet brine for 12 minutes (see recipe below). While the fish is brining, set up a few stones or some kind of stand to prop up the wooden plank vertically about two feet away from the very center of your coalbed and also downwind so the smoke will “baste” your fish. (Spend a few minutes watching the smoke to determine the best location to place your fish.) Test your stand to make sure it is sturdy enough to hold your plank.
Using the hammer and nails, make 3-4 holes in a triangle or square pattern on the plank, depending on the cut of your fillet. For tail portions use a triangle and for large portions use the square. You don't have to go more than a ½ inch into the wood. Pull the nails and lay the fish on the plank with the thinnest part toward the top. This alignment will prevent the thinnest part from overcooking. Nail the fish to the plank using the wholes you’ve just made.
Now it's time to cook! Remember: go slow and low. Prop the fish and the plank up on your stand about two feet away from the center of your bed of coals. Each fire will vary drastically depending on conditions, so the best way to get a consistent slow and low heat is to hold your hand directly in front of the fish, about one inch away and count to 10. If your hand starts to get really hot around 5 or 7, your fire is too close. Move some of the coals away. If you can count to 15 or 17 and your hand is not too hot then your fire is too far away. Bring some coals closer to the fish. This will be your testing method to control the cooking for the next 30 minutes to 1 hour. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish. When the medium thick parts of the fish are starting to flake, it's a good indication that it's time to stop cooking.
While the fish is cooking, use a brush to periodically glaze the salmon with the maple-brandy glaze. (You can glaze the whole time, just at the end, or not at all. But I highly recommend glazing throughout cooking for the most sweet smoky goodness.)
Once your fish is just starting to flake, carefully remove the plank with a glove and rest the fish for a few minutes. Remove the nails, and dig in! Serve with a crisp pilsner, a brandy old fashioned (like a good Wisconsinite or Minnesotian), or a fruity Malbec.
- If you are cooking an especially large piece of fish, use a cast iron skillet or metal tray placed under the plank to catch the drippings.
- Keep 2-3 extra logs nearby to feed the fire while you are cooking. Add the logs to the opposite side of the fire as your salmon and wood plank. If you sense the heat is dying, feed the fire from the opposite side of where you placed the plank and the fish. One log at a time will be sufficient to keep consistent heat. Stoke the coals and get the new log ablaze. If you get a little ash on your fish while stoking, it's no big deal.
- The lower and slower you go, the more smokey and tender your fish will be. If you want to do this fast, move the fire closer and finish cooking in 15-20 minutes, but I don't recommend it. You’ll sacrifice flavor for speed.
- Don't cook with pine. The smoke is harsh and acrid, plus the wood burns too quickly to get good coals. Use anything that doesn't have high resin levels.
- The perfect temperature for Loimulohi is found by putting your hand just in front of the salmon, one inch from the flesh. If you can keep your hand there for 10 seconds, but no longer, it's the perfect distance and temperature to slow cook.
- To regulate the temperature move the fire closer or further away from the fish, instead of moving the fish.
- Glazing with Drunk Maple Glaze is optional, but also necessary. :)
- Lay fish with the thinnest part toward the top of the plank and thicker part toward the bottom to compensate for the higher heat near the bottom of the board.
- If you forget to soak your wooden plank, you will likely get charred wood on your salmon. You need to soak it, even if it's just for an hour.
- Pre drive your nail holes to make it easier to nail the fish to the board. Just line up the predriven holes and tap them in with the hammer.
- If you get some ash on your fish, just brush it off before eating.
- Regulate your fire and keep an eye on it. It's a living breathing thing and needs your attention.
Wild at Home
- with Richie Mann -
When it's 99 degrees with 90% humidity, there is only one logical thing to do: Cook fish over an open flame! We are taking an ancient page from the Finns’ expansive understanding of fish cooking and making a tasty meal in our own backyard. You will quickly learn that controlling the fire and heat is the most challenging but also the most fun part of Loimulohi, second only to biting into perfectly smoked and slow-cooked wild salmon!