Friday, April 15, 2011

Appetizing, A Covert Operation - Smoked Whitefish: Charcutepalooza April 2011

This was a covert operation. The plan: Appetizing.

I had just left the bank with a wad of cash burning a hole in my wallet. I dialed a contact named "fishmonger" on my phone.

My instructions came from a dark voice on the other line: "What type of car are you driving? ... Pull into the iron gate and I'll tell the the trooper to let you in."

I pulled through the gate in front of the Governor's Mansion without so much as a nod from the trooper to acknowledge my humanity (I imagine its easier to shoot someone if you don't think of them as a person). Within a moment Chef Buzz appeared with a large unmarked box filled with two VERY fresh Whitefish.

I awaited the stench. My car was already filled with the luscious aromas of fromage from my earlier expedition to Cowgirl Creamery in the Nation's Capital. Yet fish so fresh had no aromatic pull against those stinky mounds of heaven.

I had all the ingredients for appetizing and was ready to return to the Lair of the Big Green Egg (that sounds like a Dr. Seuss book).

You see, appetizing is a noun to the Jews. This is part of why I am so certain of my heritage.  It basically means "foods one eats with bagels", i.e. smoked fish, homemade salads, and cream cheese. And of course you must have appetizers for appetizing, so I usually get mounds of stinky cheese. Since there is no meat on the table, they are kosher.

I stuck to the very basics here. I brought the Whitefish home, already scaled and gutted. I brined the fish overnight in an H²0 solution of table sugar, salt, turbinado sugar, and brown sugar.

Dad helped a lot on this one. While I was busy at work he was awesome enough to follow my instructions. The morning after the brining He removed the fish from the brine and let it dry on a rack for about an hour. This helps the fish develop a pellicle, or tacky surface which better absorbs the smoke.

Then he smoked the fish over alder wood at 150ºF for about 3 hours. He was looking for 130ºF internal temperature reading but I think our thermometer is broken, and that never happened. So he guesstimated. He made me proud. The fish were spectacular.

The flesh was lightly smoky, oily, flavorful and moist. It was exactly what I was hoping for.

My Great Aunt agreed it was better then the Barney Greengrass or the Russ and Daughters we usually ship from NYC for the holidays. Nana said it reminded her of sable.

My only complaint was the texture was not as firm and flaky as what I am used to. I wonder if this is due to refrigeration, or if the fish I am used to could be something other than whitefish? It did benefit from overnight refrigeration, but still wasn't the same.

Besides tracking down an actual whitefish (thanks AGAIN to Mike @ My Butcher and More for connecting me to a chef who could order it) this was easy and would be highly worth the time for the money we save versus shipping from NYC.

Prior to the whole process I did some research and contacted Attman's in Baltimore. They told me that whitefish is a particular type of fish from the Great Lakes which i confirmes on this cool site about whitefish. I also spoke to a smoker at Lake Superior Fish Company who was really generous with his time in helping me to work out the logistics of smoking a whitefish.

I also looked at a few other sites for recipe ideas, including a fellow Charcutepaloozer who smoked some sable... mmmmm. Check em out:

We had the fish with a side dish of Nana's pickled cucumbers. 

From Nana:


I semi peel the cucumbers and score them. Place on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours. Drain ( I also rinse them) Whisk vinegar and sugar in bowl until sugar disolves. Add cucumbers dill and onion and season to taste with pepper. Let stand 2 hours.

Use your judgment for the amount of onion. You don't want it to be overpowering.

We also had a simple cheese plate including this beauteous hunk of Winnimere by Jasper Hill Farm. I am convinced they are the most wonderful creamery ever. This was a stunning cheese. Washed in a local Lambic, from Hill Farmstead Brewery, and wrapped in local spruce bark, its smoky overtones perfectly complimented the fish.

Now I just need a cold smoker for some salmon! Until then I'm stuck on Russ and Daughters.

Check out:

Damn, Tasso Ham! Charcutepalooza April Part 1

and the dual post on

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