What Is Loimulohi?

Dan Harkins

Saltwater and freshwater salmon is prominent in many traditional Finnish recipes, primarily due to the vast network of rivers throughout Finland, many of which feed into the Atlantic Ocean to the west. A popular way to cook salmon and even trout in the country, particularly for those outdoors, is called loimulohi. This method involves a wooden plank with pegs that hold the seasoned fillets in place, which is driven into the ground near a fire for a slow and easy sear.

Loimulohi is a popular way to cook salmon in Finnish cuisine.
Loimulohi is a popular way to cook salmon in Finnish cuisine.

With loimu meaning "glow" in Nordic, and lohi meaning "salmon," this method has been used for several generations by native Finns. Very little is needed besides a roaring fire, a successful day of fishing, and enough planks and wooden pegs to cook up the catch. Also, the salmon must be fully cleaned and filleted to remove all the bones.

Loimulohi is a way to cook salmon fillets Finland.
Loimulohi is a way to cook salmon fillets Finland.

Before cooking the loimulohi, it is customary to lightly season the fillets. Besides salt and pepper, some cooks will also rub the fish with some oil and herbs like thyme. If seasonings are unavailable, it would not be uncommon to wrap the fish in some seaweed to impart a little briny flavor.

The wooden planks, preferably cedar for the flavor it imparts, should be drilled completely or partially through beforehand with holes the same size as the pegs that will used. If a drill is not available, some use a knife, or even rust-proof carpenter's nails, to bore small holes in the wood. Then the fillets are placed onto the planks, and the pegs are pushed into the wood. For a large fillet, the loimulohi planks should have at least four or five pegs, spaced well apart.

Imperative considerations when preparing loimulohi are the proper placement of the fish on the planks and their distance from the fire. The skin side of the fillets are placed against the wood, with the exposed flesh of the fish facing the flames. Placement of the planks in relation to the fire is crucial for proper cooking. If placed too close and the fish will burn on the outside before cooking through. Setting the planks too far away will take the salmon too long to cook, and it will not have any sear at all.

A rule of thumb is to hold a hand before the fire where the planks will be placed; it should feel too hot after about 10 or 15 seconds. If the hand does not need to be removed, the planks need to move closer. If the fire is instantly too hot to the hand, the planks should be moved back. The goal is to cook the fish in about an hour or two, allowing the natural fat from the salmon to ooze out and form a crispy coating.

Salmon is not the only protein to receive the loimulohi treatment. Trout is another common Finnish fish to be seared this way. Even wild game is not immune, though cooking times might be much higher for red meat.

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