We were just talking about drinking, so I figured it was time to move on to smoking, right? (And then we can talk about the really interesting vices…joke.) There’s only one type of smoking I can get behind, and that is the smoking of meats. Fish in particular. I don’t know how to do it myself, and therefore I choose to picture it as an esoteric mystical practice, kind of like a druidic rite, in which slippery pieces of fresh fish are enveloped in wafting clouds of smoke, amidst some hand waving and muttered incantation, and then they come out rich and flakey and salty and as delicious as candy (if candy were rich and flakey and salty, which, perhaps, more of it ought to be).
I have met a man who owns a shop that sells smoked meat and fish, I’ll call him ‘Eric the smoker’, and he makes the most unbelievable smoked salmon and whitefish. It’s pretty hard to believe anything that good could be legal. (His pate is in a class of its own as well. Mine is not bad, though.) At his shop they also sell posters with heavy woodblock prints and funny slogans. My favorite is “Fish: The healthy smoke.” (My other favorite is “Cheese: the adult form of milk.” I own both.)
Admittedly, some nutritionists may argue that smoked food is not good for you. Smoking meat can produce some carcinogens that you then ingest. But, allow me to go on a little scientific
rampage tangent, and just point out that these carcinogens have only been shown to be carcinogenic in lab animals. Now, if a chemical that you apply to skin or something of that sort is carcinogenic in lab animals, we should take it seriously. And, we should take it seriously for food too, but with a caveat. You see, these carcinogens are produced by the cooking process, and humans are the only animals that naturally eat their food cooked. Growing evidence points to the possibility that we’ve been doing so for a loooooooong time. In fact, it may be what allowed us to evolve into humans!
(If you want to learn more about this, read Catching Fire by Richard Wrangham.) Now, I can’t say for sure, but I am guessing that early, early humans weren’t cooking their game sous vide. They were throwing it onto a campfire and it was getting smoked and scorched! We’ve been eating smoke infused food for eons! So it is something that I would bet we’re fairly adapted to. Better adapted to than sugar, that’s for sure.
I wouldn’t recommend eating smoked fish or meat every day (although to be perfectly honest, I know I for one would be very happy eating smoked fish every day), but I don’t think you have to cause yourself a headache over potential carcinogens if you’re eating it once in awhile.
I would imagine there’s some source of smoked fish in Boston that is both wonderfully delicious and wonderfully priced, but I haven’t sniffed it out yet. And this makes me sad. Where can a girl bum a smoke around here? I got an answer to this question from a most unlikely place, Trader Joe’s. A good friend of mine and I swung in to TJ’s a few days ago so she could grab some camping food, (I, in the meantime, accidentally stocked up on malbec while we were there) and she explained to me that she had become newly addicted to the Trader Joe’s smoked trout.
They have smoked trout?! Yes, they have smoked trout! It’s tucked away with the canned fish because it is, in fact, in a can, which makes it look rather like it’s sardines. But it isn’t, it is indeed smoked trout, packed in oil (my major beef with it is that it’s packed in canola oil, instead of olive oil or a nut oil, which I suppose is cheaper, but vegetable oils – even canola – simply are not good for you! We’ll duke that one out later.), and it’s surprisingly good.
It’s not ‘Eric the smoker good’. That is to say, it’s not fish candy. That would be too much to ask. Nor is it Russ and Daughters good – which I’ve never actually had, but I did read a very convincing article about the quality of their smoked fish once. However, it has the firm flakey texture, taut browned skin, and balance of salt and sweet that I crave in smoked fish, and it is pleasantly permeated with a light, but not overbearing or fake, smokiness.
I bought a whole stack of cans, which teetered precariously as they balanced on my basketful of wine bottles. I’m sure the cashier had some questions about what was going on as he checked us out (my friend’s camping food list was just as odd, and included another half-dozen cans of smoked trout), but he didn’t raise an eyebrow. Maybe they frequently have customers come in and clean them out of canned smoked fish, you know, to store under their beds in case of emergency.
Anyhow, then it came time to determine what to do with them. Answer: just eat the fish on crackers, duh. But, fish and crackers do not a supper make, at least not in this house. Er, well, not on that day at any rate.
I decided it would be more satisfying, and more fun, to craft a smoked trout salad, curating a jumble of vegetables with chunks of fish perched atop. See, doesn’t that sound nice?
I raided the refrigerator for the choicest morsels from our CSA pick up the day before. Boy are we ever closing in on August! Ears of corn, ruby tomatoes, bunches of sweet onions, and a jungle of basil in a jar on the counter made for a perfect line up. I just quickly sauteed the onions and corn kernels then tossed them with the chopped tomatoes and basil, leaving everything in simple, pure form. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some smoked trout crumbled over the vegetables finished the job. Summ-ah on a platter (yes, you have to pronounce that summ-ah with a sultry and steamy drawl, and come to think of it, you should probably say platter that way too)!
And I got to have my smoked fish fix. The livin’ is easy.
Summer salad with smoked trout (serves 2)
- 2-3 ears of fresh corn on the cob
- 1 large sweet onion (or red onion)
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 medium-large ripe tomatoes
- a big handful of fresh basil (about a dozen leaves)
- 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
- 4-6 oz. smoked trout
- salt and pepper to taste
- Remove the husks and silk from the corn. Stand each cob of corn on its end and cut with a knife the long way, under the kernels, right next to the cob, to cut the kernels off. I like to do this in a big baking pan, rather than on a cutting board because then the kernels stay in the pan after they fall off, rather than scattering everywhere.
- Peel and finely chop the onion. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the chopped onion, stir, and sautee until the onion is softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Then, stir in the corn and cook for about 2 minutes, until the corn is just heated through.
- Set aside to cool very slightly. In the meantime, core and chop the tomatoes, and slice the basil. After the onion-corn mixture has cooled for 5 minutes, stir in the tomatoes and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the balsamic vinegar.
- Divide the vegetable mixture between two plates. Flake the smoked trout on top. Accompany with some whole grain bread or crackers, if you wish. A glass of white wine would be good too. It’s summer, after all.