You Can’t Tuna Fish, But You Can Smoke It!

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Ah, REO Speedwagon back in the early eighties.  I had traded in my Britannia Bell Bottoms, silk shirts and platform shoes for thin black ties, Guess jeans, and high tops.  The air bristled with “Roll with the Changes” and “Time for Me to Fly,” (the latter became the song for my 1981 graduating class) well maybe not bristled, but tousled, maybe combed; not sure, anyway Natalie and Pierre are coming over and I thought I’d finally smoke some fish.  Since Gabriela, though Brazilian, began her life in Sweden, we’ve put together a Scandinavian table with Creamed Potatoes and Dill, along with a Beetroot Salad.  We’re also going to throw in some goat cheese on rye crackers and homemade Swedish Rye bread (Gabriela is taking care of the bread). There seems something Viking about the meal.

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Actually, this is probably more of a Great Helm worn in the twelfth century that Demian’s wearing in Dublin, so we’ll just move onto Airline Seafood Market on Richmond Avenue.

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I walk in and immediately I have a choice of grouper, mahi mahi, salmon, catfish, shrimp, mussels, clams, sea bass, scallops, crabs and more.  I decide to buy a couple pounds of catfish from Louisiana, large shrimp from the Gulf, and trout from Idaho.  I definitely will return.

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Back at the house, I splay the fish on my favorite black granite (which he forgot to wash afterwards-Gabriela) and now it’s time to make the brine. Harold McGee points out in On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen that salting fish started in Europe as a way of preserving fish in a temperate area.  “A day’s salting would preserve many fish of several days more, long enough to be carried inland, while saturating the fish with around 25% salt keeps it stable for a year.”  Now, I don’t want to walk any further into Texas than I am, and I don’t need to save this fish for next year, so my salting is about taste and moisture.  Salt as it dissolves unwinds proteins in muscle fiber. The brine allows water to work between these proteins, and even when the fish heats up in the smoker the water and natural juices remain in the fish.   So, what’s my brine?  Cold water, sea salt, brown sugar, soy sauce, a few crushed garlic cloves, black pepper, and Asian five-spice seasoning.  Mix and dunk the fish for four hours.

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Time has passed, I’ve read Sir Albert Howard’s An Agricultural Testament, played a game of chess with Demian, and talked to Gabriela about the watering schedule for our new Purple Diamond plants.  Very, very exciting. Time to smoke.  I have a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker, which has served me well smoking chicken, pork belly and vegetables.  Now it’s time to light up the sea.

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I use Real Hardwood Charcoal and hickory wood chips.  I keep the temperature between 200 and 220 degrees, and a couple of hours later . . .

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Yes, I know the lighting is low.  A bulb on the back porch died and I couldn’t get the flash on the phone to work, so darkened / smoked fish. Here are more darkened photos of Gabriela and Demian, Natalie and Pierre on the back porch with the smoked fish, Swedish Creamed Potatoes with Dill and Beetroot salad on the table.

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Now, you might ask, what beverages did you pair with this Nordic meal? Why Rosé and Hefeweizen, of course.  I’ve been reading David Lebovitz’s new book My Paris Kitchen and he has a nice chapter on ice in rosé.  He writes,

Rosé wine is another thing that took some people a while to love [the other being anchovies], both in Paris in elsewhere.  (I am an anomaly because I took to it right away.)  But during the time I’ve lived in France, sales of rosé have surpassed white wine in the country.  Although some credit for that belongs to the people in provence who serve it in big pitchers and carafes filled with ice, I’ll take credit for doing my part in Paris.

Now you should also know that Pierre hails from Paris, Natalie (a former student of mine) met him there while she was working on her dissertation, they married, moved to Houston, and now have the pleasure of teaching me French and setting up a Paris trip for University of Houston Honors College students.  Possibly, that’s not the only reason they returned to Houston.  Somewhere in all of this is the reason I bought a Bieler Pere et Fils Rosé 2103 and a Domaine de la Sanglière Cuvée Spéciale 2013.  Both marvelous rosés with strawberry, melon, raspberry and tartness on the tongue.  The hefeweizen came from Real Ale Brewing Company in Blanco, Texas (I’m drinking one right now as I write).  I’ve enjoyed their Full Moon Pale Ryle Ale, the Fireman’s #4 Blonde Ale, and Devil’s Backbone–a Belgian-style tripel.  All went well with the salty, smokiness of the fish.  The catfish delighted with its fat proving a wonderful landscape for the smoke to saturate, and the shrimp (which I brined and smoked in their shells) had plenty of moisture.  (It made me pine for those Swedish smoked eels: delightfully fatty and slightly sweet-Gabriela). As for the rest of the evening, we ate, drank, laughed and as always were amazed by “the boy.”  Cheers!

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