Before you think I’ve been playing with those funny mushrooms collected in a cow pasture under a full moon with that “delicious rainbow” title, let me tell about our show production last summer…
We were lucky in that we had shot the raw footage so quickly for the episode that would become the acclaimed, bowyer-edifying Baser Bow Traditions episode, so my cameraman and I decided we had time to fish the American River. Bill Lentz, who owns Cat Creek Outdoors, was all too happy to take us to a place where he was sure we’d get into some German browns if not some rainbows.
The hike down to the river from the highway bridge quick, and I was surprised that aside from construction workers on the road, only the three fishermen we were stood on the gravel bank of the American.
We tried spinners. We tried small marabou jig under a pencil float. Then, I moved away from the deep pools, upriver to the whitewater feeding the string of green emeralds, and tried on a never-say-die, single Pautzke’s red salmon egg on a light line-2 lb line in this case-that the worm turned.
Casting it up into a feeder flow, with a two small lead split-shot squeezed onto the line a foot-and-a-half above the single egg hook in a dropper, it tapped along the bottom with that morose code of communication that a steelheader searches the river for messages: either a solid take, or a silence of the tapping of lead along floor for tumbling waterway, hopefully…
In this case, it wasn’t a 10-pound steelhead that I might have hooked into later in November, below Folsom Dam, but a monster of a fish no less!
It pulled out so much line, with such veracity, that it felt like a salmon, not only in its immediately shooting downriver, but how it never jumped the whole 100 yards it took me over 20-foot boulders and rock outcroppings–I was thinking it was a big carp or river sucker.
–You can be sure I’ll be writing about the adventure in an upcoming column about how to fish effectively for trout in a freestone stream…
When it was all said and done (Lentz climbing 30 feet down to shore to lip the trout, while I kept tension on the line), I’d caught my largest landlocked, stream trout–I was finished for the day (I prefer to just take my catch for the table, instead of practicing catch-and-release with a multitude of fish, risking them to the statistical bracket of 63-percent unintentionally killed: this research by Texas Tech University was collected with the hardy largemouth bass and not the delicate trout) and wondering how to offer a trout, with such beautifully pink, almost sunrise-orange, flesh…culinary respect: this rainbow was to be smoked!
Smoke then salt; these are the first solid signs of civilization. With this knowledge of food preparation, Man was able to move from one area to another in voyages of discovery. Migration led to mixing of cultures and building of societies.
With the advent of refrigeration, the need for salt curing and smoking lost its importance. Were it not for how much smoke and salt, and now sugar, not only preserve, but also improve the taste of game such as deer, game birds, and fish, these skills would have been lost to history. Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Scottish, German, French, all centers of culinary invention have retained the process of putting salt and smoke to meat in order to not only preserve, but make a meal better.
For many, the process can be a trial in “getting it just right.” To brine or to dry cure is often the call sent out.
Having tried both, I really don’t have a preference, other than that dry curing enables me to use less room in the refrigerator.
My favorite salmon and trout cure is one inch of salt over a fillet and let it set for five hours. Then, wash off the fillet with cold water. After patting it dry with a paper towel, layer it over with brown sugar for 6 hours. You’ll notice a nice deep brown shift in color. Again, you’ll have to wash off the fillet.
This time, though, pat it off and let it sit for at least one hour to air dry. This will enable a skin to develop, called a pellicle. A good pellicle enables great adherence of smoke to the flesh, giving that deep smoky flavor for which we enjoy the results.
Two hours on a grill or rack with a fan set next to it does fine.
Make a brine of:
- 1 gallon of filtered water
- 1 cup of Kosher salt
- 1 cup of extra fine granulated white sugar
Put the brine and fish in a non-reactive container, i.e. metallic, (plastic Tupperware is perfect) and refrigerate overnight.
Wash off the fillet in water and then pat dry. Like the dry cured fish, put it on a rack in front of a fan for drying.
Now, you’re ready to smoke.
You can start small or grand, that’s a Smokehouse Little Chief or Big Chief to start, or a large smokehouse in your backyard. While I like to smoke birds in my CookShack smoker, or now my Big Green Egg, I leave my fish to my Smokehouse smokers.
If you’re a smoked foods fanatic like me, you’ll have a smoker collection in no time. I started with just a Little Chief and one Big Chief.
In fact, I just got a French oak wine barrel from our friends Bruce and Ben at Papapietro-Perry Winery in the Russian River Valley, that I’m going to be turning into a smoker this month: I’ve just received an advance review copy of Forgotten Skills of Cooking, Darina Allen’s masterpiece (an understatement, I’m sure you’ll agree with once you get a copy yourself when it comes out in March), and will be preparing my favorite Scottish breakfast from scratch: fried eggs and kippers…what else with a very old Scottish name like Graham?
…Stay tuned for the magic of herring kippering like back in the “Ole Country” and the crafting of a smoker from a wine barrel (you can bet it’s going to do double and triple duty on smoked Teutonic and Slavic sausages this spring)!
I prefer to smoke fish with those having less bite, such as apple. Alder is wood I learned about during my year’s cabin pilgrimage to Alaska in 1990, which makes it my go to wood for smoking all salmon, char and trout. It gives the fish a smooth sweet flavor.
If you’re getting it yourself from a riverbank, be sure to remove the bark, or you might get sick. That was a trick I learned from my BBQ buddy Rick Sanchis, of Anchorage, who owned one of two BBQ pits catering to tourists and those working the Spit down in Homer, AK. Those who were heading to the visiting Texan’s pit were always complaining of bad stomachaches, if not outright vomitting after a meal. Sanchis was the one who taught me about removing the bark, which is what the summer bird pitmaster from Texas didn’t do…
SMOKED TROUT PAIRINGS
Though many like to use smoked trout as an ingredient for something else, like stirred into cream cheese, or a garnish for a soup, I prefer to eat smoked trout in a manner that best brings out it’s smoky flavor and that’s with a Ritz cracker, perhaps a little sliced red onion. Perhaps even a light sprinkling of black pepper. That’s it!
The perfect wine I learned for anything smoked is a good solid Pinot Noir, as I enjoyed in a 2007 Papapietro-Perry, and 2006 12 Gauge Cabernet Sauvignon suggested by my friend John Putnam, a fellow game and fish enthusiast at Gauge Wines.
That’s the thing about some meats, unlike chicken and fish, that go better with a white, smoked and spiced meat marry best with the deep earthy red wines.
FINAL NOTE: In the open of the New Year, I had promised to keep this column running at two, at least one, column a week. The mega-monster flu of the year hit me this week that basically took me out of a number of hunting and fishing opportunities and nearly made me miss my objective…by hours.
My apologies. I hope by next week I’m much better for typing and hitting the field, like an Ever-Ready Energizer rabbit that I am, to bring more helpful, reliable Tuesday and Thursday rollouts as I used to do with my weekly newspaper column.
Actually, weekly column was only once a week, so this is much better!
And we have lots of things to do: I’m now the equipment review columnist for e4Outdoors, and will be attending the ISE Show at San Mateo, and conducting a number of interviews, not the least of which will be with my friend Michael Riddle of Native Hunt, who will be releasing a special and tasty food product related to wild game!
…And don’t surprised if there’s also a special, secret guest, a partner of Michael’s…Hint: Do you love the early 1970s song Free Ride? I do, especially every time I watch one of my favorite films: Air America.
…And final quick note, on how I’ve been seeking solace in reading while recovering with Langdon Cook’s Fat of the Land. Cook is a writer of such great skill, that he brings me back to the emotionally vested writing style of old that drew me to become a writer in the first place: Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, and Remarques’ All Quiet on the Western Front. I look forward to next week and delivering to you my review on Langdon Cook’s great memoir of refusing to leave life experience to only reading about it, and venturing forth to enjoy personally what the Earth and Nature has to offer.
…Until next then, good hunting, good fishing and cooking–enjoy the Bounty of the Earth, and practice Sound Wildlife Conservation!