Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cedar Plank Arctic Char with Spinach Topping

MJ here with an adventurous guest and a terrific recipe for you today.

My good friend, R. J. (Robin) Harlick writes a wonderful Canadian wilderness mystery series, with sleuth Meg Harris.  Robin -- seen below with her two poodles on the porch of her log cabin in the Quebec woods -- is a fabulous cook.  Meg? No so much.  But how could she lose with dish featuring some of Canada's finest ingredients?  She's kind enough to offer it to us.  Please join us in welcoming Robin and Meg and poodles to Mystery Lovers Kitchen.

Meg Harris’ Romantic Arctic Char dinner for Two

When Meg Harris was asked to provide a recipe and actually cook it, she almost choked. You see, cooking isn’t exactly her thing. In fact, she burns most of what she cooks, so usually goes for prepared dishes that only require the push of a microwave button to heat it up. Fortunately for her, her significant other, Eric Odjik came to the rescue. A fabulous cook, he jumped at the chance to provide one of his unique ‘off the land’ recipes and turn it into a romantic dinner for the two of them.

Eric had just brought back some fresh Arctic Char caught while on a fishing trip to Baffin Island in Canada’s far north and was dying to experiment.  Since he loves the way cedar enhances the flavour of salmon, he decided to follow the traditional Haida method and barbeque the char on a cedar plank. Closely related to salmon, he figured the char would be equally succulent. He also knew that farmed Arctic Char would be readily available in most fish stores, so no need for anyone to travel all the way to the Arctic.

Cedar Plank Arctic Char with Spinach Topping

1 cedar plank  - 1 in. X 6 in. X 12-16 in., i.e. 2-4 in. longer than the fish
1 whole Arctic Char fillet – about 13–16 oz.
¼ lemon

Eric suggests soaking the cedar plank for at least 4-6 hours in water using Western cedar. Although Eastern cedar will also work, it doesn’t provide as rich a cedar flavour.  Lay the char skin side down on the plank and squeeze fresh lemon juice over it.

Spinach topping

1 ¼ c. fresh spinach – chopped
¼ c. onion - chopped
1 tbls. fresh chives – chopped
1 tbls. fresh chervil – chopped
1 garlic clove – minced
1 tbls. fresh lemon juice
2 tbls. olive oil
cayenne pepper to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and spread evenly over the char.  Eric used the fresh chives and chervil from Meg’s garden. If her sorrel had been high enough, he would’ve used the sorrel instead of the spinach.

Heat the barbecue to 500 degrees and place the plank in the middle of the grate and close the lid of the barbeque to allow the fish to evenly cook. Three or four times during the cooking process, spray water onto the plank, to keep it from burning and to produce steam which will imbue the char with a delicate cedar flavour.  Cook for about 15 minutes, but after 10 minutes start testing for doneness. The char becomes too dry if overcooked.  Delicately remove the fillet from the plank and serve half to each person.

Continuing on the ‘off-the-land’ theme, Eric served the char with fiddleheads at Meg’s suggestion.  With her mother coming from the Canadian Maritimes, she’d grown up with this spring delicacy. Fiddleheads are the emerging unfurled tops of Ostrich ferns and are only available the last few weeks in May/early June.  Eric added a dash of balsamic vinegar to augment the flavour.


Fiddleheads - ½ to ¾ c per person
½ tsp aged balsamic vinegar

Wash and clean the fiddleheads thoroughly and cut off the ends. Place in a pot, cover in water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until very tender. Drain and stir in the balsamic vinegar.

For their romantic dinner, Eric served the char and fiddleheads with tagliatelle mixed with a sage and wild mushroom infused olive oil and fresh sage. Meg added the candles, for you can’t have a romantic dinner without candles. And for himself, Eric added a chilled bottle of Mâcon-Lugny , though any good bottle of Chardonnay would do.  Meg, though, is sticking to water. She and alcohol don’t get along.

Meg and Eric wish you bon appétit.

RJ Harlick, writes the acclaimed Meg Harris mystery series set in the wilds of Quebec. With an underlying Native theme, each book explores not only the motives behind murder, but also issues facing Natives today and their traditional ways. The 4th book, Arctic Blue Death was a finalist in the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel. In the newly released, Silver Totem of Shame, the 6th in the series, Meg Harris travels to Canada’s west coast, to Haida Gwaii, the mystical islands of the Haida, where she unravels a story of betrayal that reaches back to when the Haida ruled the seas.

Robin travels too! She sure gets around doing research and has just completed her second term as president of Crime Writers of Canada.  I'm really glad she has time to write this series!


  1. Welcome to our kitchen Robin! What a delightful meal--it's almost like providing entertainment for the guests while cooking. And happy father's day everyone--I bet anyone's dad would like this dinner.

  2. Thanks, Lucy. And I wish a Happy Father's Day out there to all those Dad's too.

  3. There's something familiar about that fabulous and romantic dinner setting.
    Wonderful post, Robin, Thanks so much.



  4. And many thanks for inviting me, Mary Jane. Now I'm off to Kingston to spend a day in book stores signing Silver Totem of Shame.

  5. Loved this, and also enjoyed finding Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. My first visit, but not my last! Thank you Robin, and Mary Jane.

  6. That dinner looks soooo good. I have wanted to try planked salmon (I don't think we get Arctic Char here and if we did I'd probably need a second mortgage to buy it!).

  7. This looks lovely and inviting.
    But farmed fish? I don't think so!
    Fresh or not at all.

  8. What a lovely dinner. The next time I see Arctic Char at the store, I'll be brave enough to try it. Your cabin looks delightful, and your sweet pups are adorable. I feel like we just visited you out in the Canadian wilderness!


  9. Greetings, Robin! I must echo Krista in thanking you for giving us a little trip to your beautiful Canadian wilderness. Clearly, your books do the same, and I look forward to reading them. Thanks for sharing this keeper of a recipe and for joining us today at MLK. Cheers and Happy Father's Day to all the good men out there! ~ Cleo

  10. Very glad to meet all of you. And to add some clarification of 'farmed' Arctic Char. It is fresh, very fresh, like the farmed Atlantic salmon many of us eat. Instead of swimming free in the wild, the fish are brought up in large pens that are in the sea. Thanks again to Mary Jane for inviting me. I enjoyed introducing you to Meg and Eric.