May 16, 2014

Any Fin is Possible!

Apologies in advance for apundance of bad jokes.

I will eat pretty much anything.  Let me rephrase that.  I AM a food snob (not ashamed) and so I won't ever knowingly ingest things like canned meat, cheese whiz, packaged soup or frozen convenience foods; however, there is little in the way of unprocessed food that I won't mow down, except for the ubiquitous banana.  EEEEEYYYYUUUUUUWWWWWW.

I'm not sure whether I was force fed a banana at a young age, like I was with a tomato, but I can't abide nature's "perfect food".  I did get over my deep loathing of tomatoes when I was in my early twenties, and now I eat them daily - in salads, sandwiches, soups and the dishes that I make for my family's dinner.  But I digress, that is a story for another day.

Look at these nasty bananas:

Ick - gagging here.  They should be illegal.

You, sir, are disgusting...

image courtesy of
Poor bananas.  They really have no idea how I peel about them.

Every couple of months, I try a (revolting) bite of banana and I involuntarily gag.  I can eat bananas in smoothies (very nice mixed with berries, yogurt and juice), and I bake two-dozen banana-chocolate-chip muffins at least once a month (which I scarf down like a beggarwoman), but I can't eat a banana in its natural state.  It's all about the texture.  

I can't eat lox either.  I am o-fish-ally disgusted by it; it's reel-y clammy and reel-y slimy.
Many years ago, I was invited to a friend's for brunch.  The menu was lovely - toasted Montreal style bagels with cream cheese and lox (oh my cod!), and strawberries sprinkled with a bit of sugar.

It all looked very colourful and stylish, and completely delicious.   I ate it all, except for the salmon.  To be polite, I did sample the tiniest, thinnest sliver of fish, but the texture made me recoil in disgust.  The hostess was not impressed with my antics; her pained expression made me think that I was giving her a haddock.  I was actually ashamed of myself.  I can't stand it when people can't or won't try to get over their childhood (childish?) food issues.

Over the years I have tried smoked salmon many times, but the very melt-in-your-mouth texture that others crave leaves me shuddering.

Yes, I am carping on.    

One Saturday morning last winter,  I had cabin fever and so I dragged the family to the Western Fair Farmer's Market.  Trawling for goodies, my son spotted a vendor handing out samples of smoked salmon and trout - big chunks, actually.  I am tenacious and so I tentatively took a piece of fish, popped it in my maw and prepared to gag.  Holy mackerel! The strangest thing happened... I did not retch and the fish was completely delectable - it didn't taste crappie at all.  I was ecstatic.  We bought an eighteen dollar piece of fish, most of which disappeared on the car ride home.  It was truly delicious.  We returned the following week and bought more.  And then more the next.  Our yen for fish was getting expensive; it was a pain in the bass.   

I told the hubby how my Dad used to smoke his fish in a big blue and white striped Union Carbide barrel in our garage.  An avid fisherman, he always had fish to smoke.  What I wouldn't give for a taste of my Dad's fish today.  Big sigh.

Richard told me that it might be possible to borrow an electric smoker from one of his colleagues - Bill - another diehard fisherman.  Here's a shot of the "Big Chief":

After Richard's first batch of salmon, we were hooked.  Bill eventually gave us the Big Chief after borrowing it many times.  He was probably sick of us bugging him for it.  He said that he never used it, it took up room in his garage, yada, yada, yada, so he told us not to bring it back.  SCORE!
The ridiculous part of this story is that, after tasting Richard's salmon, Bill took the smoker back!  He came and got it one day and we were very sad.
Oh-ho.  I just reel-ized something.  Bill was being an Indian giver.  I'm laughing as I type this... okay so I'm not politically correct but the smoker's called a "Big Chief" for cod's sake!
Oh come on people, lighten up.
Floundering here... I really hope I don't get any hate mail, but seeing as this is the very first inappropriate comment that I've made in my blog - chuckling away - I'm sure salmon will say something.

Soooooo... moving along... the salmon that my husband makes is usually devoured by the 10 year old fishpig, aka Nathanimal, in a matter of seconds.  The remaining pieces are individually wrapped in plastic film, and popped into the freezer.  They stow it someplaice sneaky, a place that is not obvious to me.  It's hardly fair.

So buoys and gills, I have decided that it is time for me to smoke my own fish, which I will then wrap and hide in a remote corner of the downstairs freezer (heh heh - like in a box of frozen burgers, which would never get eaten in this house), shellfishly hogging it all (and becoming a fishpig myself).  I am reveling in my cleverness here.  :-)

Here is my $56 worth of salmon, purchased from Costco, one bag of "wild" and one of "farmed":

I read that the salmon can be brined either wet or dry, so just for the halibut, I did half and half.  If you're dry brining, you can use frozen fish (I brined it for 5.5 hrs in a sea salt and brown sugar mixture).  The brine extracts the liquid from the fish and replaces it with flavour and seasoning (i.e. the ingredients in your brine).  

Packets of wild salmon:

Here's the fish resting in the sugar and salt dry brine:

Here it is again, after 5 hours.  The moisture in the fish has reduced the brine to a thick, honeylike substance:

Here's my wet brine recipe. If you can't read my crappie writing, I have also added another recipe farther down the page which also promises stellar results.

This brine recipe is from the

1/2 C. Salt
1 C. Brown Sugar
1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
1/4 tsp Liquid smoke-your preferred flavor
1/4 tsp Lowry's seasoned salt
4 Tbsp Molasses
Juice of one fresh lime
1 Qt Water

Here's the farmed salmon soaking in the brine; it has been defrosted before being added.  I'm about to pop it in the fridge overnight.  The floaty yellowish bits are fresh ginger:  

I'm just happy that the devildog didn't get it.  Django steals everything:  whole chickens, raw meat of all kinds, and yes, even $30 of salmon fillets.  

After removing the salmon from the brine, be sure to rinse and pat it dry with a paper towel so that the pellicle will form.  Here's some more information about that, also from the Examiner:  
The pellicle is a dried coating of proteins and ingredients in your brine that seal the surface of the fish... resulting in a more moist and flavorful product. First, remove the fish from the brine and rinse lightly under cold water then pat dry with a paper towel. Lay the fish on a rack, skin down, so that air may circulate. If the outside temperature is relatively cool you can set it in the shade for two hours.  Many people refrigerate the salmon to form the pellicle.  
My pellicle has formed (after a couple of hours in the fridge) and it's ready for the smoker:

Time to preheat the smoker.  I put my mixture of alder and maple chips in the pan on the bottom and plugged it in.   After fifteen minutes, the fish goes in:

The smoke smelt amazing!

Richard, brain sturgeon that he is, told me that it would take at least 5 hours for the fish to be done.

It did not.

In fact, it took less than three and so I overcooked some of it because of this.  The fish is still delish and so I am not too put out.  I am thinking that it was quite cool outside when Richard last used the smoker and so his fish may have taken longer.  He didn't use the barbecue cover as an insulator either:

Here's the finished product:

Looks cod awful, but tastes delicious.  The white goo on top of some of the pieces is fish fat.  It is fine to eat, but people try to avoid it because it looks a bit unappetizing (I don't have an issue with it).  I read that this can be controlled by smoking your fish at a cooler temperature, but seeing as my smoker doesn't have a temperature gauge, I'm not sure how to proceed.  

I should also note here that I prefer the fish that has been wet-brined.  The dry brined fish is a different texture - a little drier - although that could also be because I overcooked it and the pieces are thinner.   I will buy another bag of the wild salmon and try it with a wet brine and see what happens.

My verdict:  not so bad, but I cod dolphinitely do better.  

Oh and if you can think of some batter fish puns, be sure to let minnow.  nyuk nyuk.  

Musical accompaniment is Fish Heads by Barnes and Barnes (1979):