One of my new year’s resolutions: more fish. So far, I’d say I’ve hit the mark as this is the third batch of smoked fish this week! First atlantic salmon, then ocean char, this time: farmed steelhead trout.
Yes, farmed. And yes, I have mixed feelings about farmed fishes. Clearly, practices and methods can get dodgy. Mucking about with the ocean’s delicate ecosystems just seems intuitively wrong, and there certainly seems to be an endless list of terrible things various sources claim about farmed fish. Somehow, they’re still freely available for purchase, which makes me question if the science backs the doom and gloom.
But from a ‘hate it cause it’s not as good as wild on the table’ – there I don’t agree. I kind of wish it DID underperform, to tell you the truth – give me a solid reason to avoid it. I do love my wild salmon. But much like with other meats, I am in the camp that tends to appreciate fat. And a fish that doesn’t move much – much like a cow that doesn’t move much – sure puts on the fat! Secondly, I’m a cheapass – partly by choice and partly by necessity. I also use hyphons a lot.
So since I was doing evil deeds eating evil fat, from evil farmed fish, I figured I’d add insult to injury and brine it in some evil salt and evil sugar, then add some evil smoke carcinogens to the mix. I’d share the recipe for my evilness, but I got the cure recipe from a close source and havn’t asked permission to share. What I can tell you, is there’s smoke in it.
Excuse: 2 day seminar, attended by myself and a good friend who enjoys food and wine. Result: 8 courses paired to 4 beverages, 1 hangover. This wasn’t my first time with a menu of this scope, or wines of this caliber – but something – perhaps the reprieve of boredom from sitting through sessions on our butts all day – made this evening connect. I tried hard with the pairings – but I always do. Maybe I just got lucky on this menu. Whatever the case, it was fantastic, and here’s what went down:
First wine to pair: 2006 Paul Zinck Riesling Grand Cru Pfersiberg. I’d tasted it at the winery in Alsace, and scored it a 92. Found it here, had to try it. Fortunately, my geek streak left me with tasting notes to help with pairing: lemon and rock predominated on a dry structure.
First course: salmon sashimi. I always opt for the belly, which is in the center of the plate, but I was intrigued by the fat in the loin section, which are the foreground bits. The loin surpassed the belly – not a typical result. Yen put me on to fleur de sel to cut the fat, and this version had a light dosing of lemon and good quality olive oil. The lemon notes in the wine and the fish danced.
Second course for the white: salmon noodle soup. Fresh pho noodle, chive blossoms, lemongrass poached salmon, and broth. Simple, and parts worked well with the wine. Carbs and hydration were important inclusions in the menu.
Smoked salmon gummies on smoked salmon mousse. Still with the white. The texture from the cure was unlike any I’d experienced. Akin to gummy bears. The smoking was done in a flash post-alarm-not-going-off-pre-seminar. 25 minute smoke, so it was light, but the whole worked with the wine.
Seared but basically raw pronghorn antelope tenderoin with rutabaga and carrot, and horseradish. This method with antelope loin, nevermind tenderloin, is sublime. This paired with a 2003 Schulz Marcus Shiraz Old Vine, the best shiraz either of us had ever had. And my guest collects good Aussie shiraz. Smoothe, supple, alluring, concentrated, with lucious seared red meat. Man. Parker scored it 97, we were 98+.
Second course for the shiraz. Aussie shiraz has frequently given me cooked ginger and meat – ginger beef, essentially, on the nose. I wanted to go bold in flavor and asian. This is wok charred yu choy, with seared game, two textures. Both were marinated along the vein of Korean kalbi. First was calf elk loin, second was calf moose heart. We were both blown away by the heart – super tender and tasty. Best heart we’d ever had, and the dish rocked with the wine.
The next course with the red was a roquefort noir…but….having had lots of wine by that point already, I forgot to snap a photo. This course was paired with a Pelliterri Vidal ice wine: homemade whole-wheat bread with strasbourg foie gras mousse and compotine de fruits secs. Simple, rustic, but man does this classic pairing work. Anything sauternes/icewine/lateharvesty and foie gras.
Last course. Kind of. We went back to the antelope course cause it was so good. But finally, last pairing was with Williams Pear Etter. I paired it with a caramel sauce with anjoy and bartlett pears atop a creme brulee powered by vanilla bean from papua new guinea. The pairing, again, worked.
The denouement of the evening was a few crappy hours of sleep followed by a hungover morning of seminar sessions. In this case, a small price to pay.
A whole char is a pretty thing to behold. The skin is spotted and pinky-peach to a point that seems surreal for a fish. The three fish all had markedly different flesh colors ranging from paler pink to intense red like a sockeye salmon. Three of us batted around ideas of what to do with the fishes, and here’s what we came up with.
Cut from the belly. One of the mildest fishes I’ve ever tasted, and I felt like I could eat a whole plate of it. These particular lake fish were extremely lean, so it lacked the fat to be luxurious, but shone in it’s cleanliness of flavor profile. It struck me as having the flavor profile more the direction of rockfish sashimi more than salmon. Best pairing – Riesling
Tail pieces, gently pounded thin, seasoned with lemon, lime, red onion, salt, pepper, oil. The bed of zest and seasoning under the fish was a great idea, and the texture was lovely. Reminiscent of tartare presentations I’ve made a few times, it’s a style of eating raw fish that I think would appeal to even the non-raw-fish-eater. Best pairing – gewurtztraminer
Poached loin with Chive Beurre Noisette, Chard, and Thyme-Rice
I dig this dish with salmon, and it didn’t disappoint with char. I think this would be more successful with a thicker piece, done more med-rare, but otherwise, I was really happy with how this turned out. I chuckle every time I think of char being complemented with chard. Heh. Pairing: pinot noir
Almond Crusted Schnitzel
This dish was slotted as the one to go for crispy skin, and although it didn’t get there, the skin was memorable for me. It is so delicate, that in this preparation, we ate it with the flesh, and could hardly tell. It is tender, soft, and extremely easy to eat. We preferred it with a healthy squeeze of fresh lemon. Although robust from being fried, this dish worked better with white wine than red.
While filleting and deconstructing the whole fishes, it felt wrong to discard any, so it went into a stock pot. I’d also wanted to do a dish with cream sauce. Someone suggested chowder: genius. This was another of the top dishes for me. Yukon gold, a subtle fish vibe, saffron, mushrooms, heavy cream, and lots of tarragon. It was fantastic the next day as well.
Chili, citrus, onion, and fish just works. Plain, simple, on a round of toasted home-made baguette. Clean, flavorful, vibrant – very solid. In hindsight, this was a fortunate place in the menu to put this dish, as the freshness could act as a palate cleanser between two very savoury courses. Wine: Riesling.
Yellow Curry with Red Lentil
Indian yellow curry with coconut milk, on a bed of red lentils heady with fish stock and fresh garlic. The char collar atop the lentils got me excited every time I lifted the lid, and the curry filled the house with great smells.
Candied Char, 2 Ways
I’d have loved to cure and smoke char, but time constraints disallowed proper execution. So instead, we went with a ‘dessert’ course, candying the char as much as possible in the time we had. There were two camps, both in conceptualizing, and in preference for the final product. One went lavender-honey cure, and I went with the classic brown-sugar and kosher salt direction. The brown sugar one, with 2-3 hours time, resulted in a fruit-jelly-gummy-thinger texture. I preferred it rinsed of its cure. The lavender one was good, largely dominated by the lavender…and the lavender added from the garden.
It is important to note that these were freshwater char from the Yukon. They were extremely lean and delicate – which presents some unique challenges in their preparation. For example, we were excited to get some ‘fishyness’ out of the fish stock that was very lightly perfumed – not a typical problem with fish or seafood in general. Always fun to take a wonderful ingredient in multiple directions, this will remain a memorable night. Or perhaps ‘morning’ would more appropriate than ‘night’, as I believe the clock hit midnight and we still had 4 courses or so to put out.
Wine-pairing-wise I was quite pleased. We had a 2004 Paul Garaudet Monthelie Cuvee Paul from Burgundy that was a nice treat, and a good complement to the fish. Pinot Noir and perhaps gamay would be two of the only red varietals I’d go with for Char. One the white side, we had a 2005 Leon Beyer Riesling Reserve - clean, fresh, with vibrant acidity which made it a solid pairing. We also had a 2006 W. Gisselbrecht Gewurtztraminer Reserve that worked well with the more forcefully flavored dishes, as its heady nose of citrus fruits and perfume could stand up to quite a bit.
Rather than sliding into bed at my usual time last night to do some reading, I was just getting started on an 8+ course, 3 wine pairing dinner with friends. What else does one do when a guest arrives from the arctic, bearing fresh-water char?
next: the 8 courses, and some thoughts on working with the fish
What does one do with oil that has been dirtied with deep fried fish? Make more deep fried fish. That, and store it outside in the meantime, as there are far more pleasant odors to have lingering in your kitchen.
For the potato debaters in yesterday’s comments: today’s were red norlands. I liked them better. Maybe it was the oil temp, maybe not. Didn’t have russets, as we didn’t grow any last year.
Yesterday I was maintaining my oil temperature at a 4-5 setting on my electric range. I normally deep fry on gas outdoors, so this is new to me. Today I held my oil at 7-7.5. Notice the golden crispiness? I knew yesterday’s execution was weak at the time, and figured I knew why, so it was satisfying to step it up many notches tonight.
It was also superior because of the Tuborg and Pilsner Urquell. What a fine pairing, greasy food and beer. They helped with the batter, which I eyeballed rather than following a recipe. Here’s roughly what it was:
Beer Batter About 2/3 of a 1/2 liter can of Tuborg that I dropped on the floor, open, which proceeded to foam all over our kitchen floor, requiring significant cleanup, and making my socks stick to the floor afterwards. Tsp of baking powder 1/2 tsp kosher salt I added flour a little at a time until the consistency was like a heavy crepe or loose pancake batter. I figure maybe 1/3-1/2 cup. I mixed with a fork just enough to blend, and to try to preserve some of my drop-on-the-floor-foam-achievement. Bubbles in the batter are good.
It is worth noting that my wife and I found the Northern Pike a little too soft for deep frying, relative to say cod or even pickerel. So it won’t go very high on the list of ‘favorite fish for deep frying’. And yes, we’ve done halibut, and for the record, in my opinion, halibut is too firm. [I really don't get why people freak out about it, to be honest]
It’s good to have ‘sources’. Today, a whole 8 lb Northern Pike found its way into my kitchen. After much gutting, skinning, and deboning [boning being the correct term, but deboning sounds less vulgar, no?], I had a good platter full of fresh fish to play with. And a copious collection of veg oil that I didn’t want to bring with me on our impending move. So:deep fried northern pike with yukon gold fries.
Not that there was much debate. As soon as I heard a fish was coming the decision was made to deep fry some of it. Ever since this post, I’ve wanted to do some more local lake fish. Execution could have been better, but it was a treat nonetheless.
I’m a pretty big fan of Steelhead Trout. I know. It’s farmed. And yes, I’ve made fun of Walmart for labeling it ‘Steelhead Salmon’. But it tends to be a good value, and I dig any fish even closely resembling trout or salmon.
Night One. My wife suggested I poach it. Did I? No. I pan fried it. Looks nice, but was okay. And man, when you’re showing your home in an effort to actually sell it, this is NOT a dish to be making. Talk about fishy smelling odors. Yucka.
So on night two, still from the same fillet, I actually listened to my wife and poached it. Poached fish doesn’t seem to be something that people do a lot at home, and I don’t get it. I creates a giant margin for error on doneness, and preserves the delicate moistness that I love so dearly in fish. Screw roasting and baking and everything else [except maybe deep frying..], poach that fish!!
In this case, the fish was atop what I like to call a ‘grain and veg mush’. Yeah, been making a tad too much baby food around here. Brown rice, red lentils, mirepoix and red pepper brunoise.
Henry just called. For those of you who don’t know, Henry is a friend, cousin, and professional fisherman. He’s the man. We’ve waterskied together, written a record together, butchered meat together. He called to let me know that his mother-in-law [my great aunt], passed away today. That kind of news always puts a fresh spin on things.
So this evening, I thought I’d share Henry’s method of making boneless salmon steaks. I think it’s quite genius. See, I don’t mind picking bones out of fish for the most part, but I am not a fan of picking out bones that have been cut into a million little pieces during the conventional steak cutting process. Those million little bones, and the propensity towards freezer burned belly sections make me a non-fan of salmon steaks.
Method: debone a fillet, skin-on. Cut a 2 inch strip off the fillet [perpendicular to the length]. Then cut that 2inch piece lengthwise down the middle all the way to, but not through the skin. Then flip it so the skin is touching against itself, and you get what you see above. What this also accomplishes is uniform steak thickness – as it will be 1″ thick regardless of whether it’s cut from the thin tail or thick shoulder.
On the left: lake Perch ‘Meuniere’ with potatoes, carrots, and herbs from the garden. Simple but good. While cleaning the fish, I was eyeballing the milt [sperm sac] – but decided to only go down that road with extremely fresh fish. Once again, I have my dad to thank for the supply of lake fishes from the clean waters of Northern Saskatchewan.
Below:another vegetarian dinner – 100% from the garden. Tomato, basil, olive oil and balsamic, and a potato pancake with chive and dill. Note to self: don’t ever ‘fry’ dill. Barf.
I got a phone call last night, and providing the bad weather doesn’t make the geese do anything weird, I’m slated to be in a field very early tomorrow morning.
So bizarre. This thing is hard like a chunk of lumber. And the bones are dang sharp – sharp enough to make you bleed, apparently. It’s also bizarre to have a fillet of fish in your fridge for weeks, and it not smell of anything but a faint suggestion of fresh fish.
So now I have this brick of salt cod in my fridge, that will apparently store for months…at least that gives me some time to figure out what the heck to do with it. I really can’t see how this can have a nicer flavor and texture than fresh fish. We’ll see about that.