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Through the Smoke a Delicious Rainbow

Posted on 10 January 2010 by Cork Graham

Cork Graham on the upper American River with a fresh rainbow trout.

Cork Graham on the upper American River with a fresh rainbow trout.

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.

My setup was a Super 180SX that US Reel had just sent me to try out, mounted on my trusty 10’6″ Fenwick HMXS 105XL-2R steelhead and trout float noodle rod.

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!

SMOKING TROUT

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Freshly smoked American River rainbow, about to be enjoyed with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon

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.

DRY CURE

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.

BRINING

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.

SMOKERS

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)!

BEST WOOD

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!

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Harvesting from the Earth

Posted on 10 April 2009 by Cork Graham

Many of you have written me after watching cooking show after cooking show, asking:
“Why?”

It all goes back to my understanding of conservation, and real conservation goes back to
the origins of stewardship of the land. Originally  just a king or landowner, or  a
farmer or rancher who the conservationists who worked or had someone work with the land and reaped
the rewards of that labor.

Nowadays, we pay agencies and corporations to do that work for us. For many of us now,
conservation really means preservation, practicing catch-release. For others like me, the
cycle of life, building water collection sites, clearing out pollutants and fencing it off
from cattle, planting feed plots for deer and then harvesting from those endeavors is
most rewarding: not only on a societal plane, but also environmentally for all other
game and non-game animals, birds and fish that benefit.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a very important place for catch-release programs,
especially in areas with no restocking programs that are close enough to urban
populations that non-stocking or catch-keep practices would wipe out an in a week. It’s just that we can’t forget how we got here and what works best, where, and when…

As for the cooking shows, I’m a firm believer in what I heard Master Chef, hunter, and
entrepreneur Marco Pierre White
comment on cooking game. He was walking with
Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations and showed how to cook a rabbit with a filling
of grass taken from the land where the rabbit had been shot: match the game and fish to the land.

For us here in Northern California, that’s wine and grapes, and blackberries and hops and
madrone and alder. Take a steelhead from the river and cut a few of the many stands of
alder (be sure to remove the bark or you’ll get sick) from the waterway which you’d
taken the trout, add a sugar and salt brine and you’ve got the makings for an amazing
smoked steelhead.

Take a Chardonnay from the Napa, Sonoma or Russian River Valley, match it with garlic, and a
turkey taken from the same vineyards that produced those wine grapes and you’ve got the
makings for a heavenly “Turkey Scallopini”! Or, as we just did in our latest episode with a
Russian River Valley 2007 Chardonnay from Peters Vineyards and bottled by Papapietro
Perry Winery
, a steelhead poached in wine and served with a phenomenal wine-butter
sauce!

The more that I can re-instill that pride of gathering and preparation that used to be so
prevalent all over the world, before children began thinking that their burgers, chicken
patties and fish sticks magically came from a machine that made food from cellophane
wrappings, I’ll do it!

Our friend and fellow outdoorsman John Putnam at Gauge Wines let us in on what’s
happening up in the Mendocino area. There’s an organic foods movement that has been
rising in strength, starting in Northern California, with such culinary luminaries and
Thomas Keller at The French Laundry and land shephards Don and Sally Schmitt at
The Filo Apple Farm
: The Philo Apple Farm prides itself on not even making produce deliveries
further than a tank of gas away out of respect for local grown food freshness.

With more activity like that, our populations will eat more healthily and the land will benefit
through that enlightened husbandry—and what better way to make sure that our following
generations will have a great place to live than to bring back that understanding that all
our ancestors automatically received from day-to-day life on family farms and ranches!

Well, amazingly realistic photo-imaged, inflatable decoys from Cherokee Sports just came in and so we’re off to Lakeport at the north end of Clearlake to match them with the Decoy Sled for our next Remington Arms turkey production!

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Two in the Can…Two More This Weekend!

Posted on 03 April 2009 by Cork Graham

Ziggy's first half of hunt birds.

Ziggy's first half of hunt birds.

If I could only shoot and not have to deal with editing, creating episodes would be a complete slam-dunk: but it’s in the editing that shows are made or destroyed!

And sometimes it just fun going out for a hunting or fishing trip and enjoying it for what it is. Two weeks ago Ziggy and I went to Birds Landing Hunting Preserve to make sure the Zig-meister had a last chance at pheasants during their shoot-out. First time trying the place: great place to hunt, with nice folks…but make sure your pup has its Frontline–ticks galore!

For an 8 months old pup he pointed 8 birds, two of which were dead. As can happen, other hunters lose their birds, either because their vest is flimsy or the bird falls out as they’re bending over. Or, more often, a bird is crippled and never found–if you’ve ever wondered why a good bird-dog can cost so much this is why… If a bird is killed that day, I have no problems adding it to my bag.

If you feel the same, feel free to pick up those birds and add them to your limit [this was an end of season “Shoot-out”, so there was no limit, hence 8 birds!] What I do is smell the bird to make sure it’s fresh, though.  And as a sign of age, if I see maggots already at work, I know for sure it’s been a day since the bird was killed and that’s where I don’t retain the dead bird. 

Funny part was that I’m now getting an idea of what he’s pointing. If Ziggy’s tail’s up, it’s a live bird holding. If his tail’s down, it’s a dead bird, time of death not yet determined. Needless to say we’ve got a lot of birds to work smoking and BBQ recipes with. Just did a couple birds in the 10 year old Model 8 Cookshack smoker: bulgogi marinated and applewood smoked–came back from my year working for the ROK Army to find it kaput, but a replacement of the heating element and that’s all it needed!

As for other show’s we’ve getting ready for release, we’ve been editing the wine-poached steelhead that we used a wonderful  Papapietro-Perry Chardonnay on. It came out very well as you’ll see in the coming how-to episode.

Hope your turkey opener was spectacular! I was the cameraman on the lastest episode we shot for our friends at Mathews last weekend. Started off with a perfect ground blind setup, but devolved into a call and run and shoot: wait ’til you see how Marv DeAngelis shoots at 15 yards, if that!

Marv DeAngelis with his trophy gobbler

Marv DeAngelis with his trophy gobbler

For this weekend’s shoot, our friends at a Rvfshr Products and Kramer Tackle and Guide sent a collection of lures to try on steelhead. So, we’re dedicating a couple episodes to jigs and pink worms, and spoons and spinners. Can’t wait to try them! They look fishy and you’ll notice that many lures meant to catch fish, as compared to anglers ,can seem very muted when you use them, jigs and worms aside. More on that later in an actual feature article…

It’s kind of a bittersweet as we move into later parts of the season. The Russian is lowering and we’ve probably just got another two weeks left of steelheading there. The American is still on, and perhaps another two weeks after than and it too will be done. Then it’s trout and bass and halibut and spearfishing and so many great activities to do in the outdoors that put  you in the thick of it as a true conservationist–preservationists need not apply… 😉

As for hunting, we’ve definitely got many opportunities for turkey, mainly Rio Grandes, but a few Easterns in the mix through cross-breeding. Briley and Kick’s Industries sent us their special turkey chokes to try on my trusty Remington SP-10. You may be surprised to know that I actually enjoy shooting the SP-10. It’s more enjoyable to shoot than many 26″ barrel 12 gauges. Yes, it’s heavy, but as you know from my comments about shooting heavy-kicking firearms, I’ll definitely take the weight any day. And what I love most is when that load from a 10 hits, it’s lights out: turkey or geese–perfect load/perfect pattern! It’s the magnum shooter’s 16 gauge…

More on program scheduling: my favorite, wild pigs, is still on the menu this spring, though with the rapid heating/non-winter and lack of water it’s a question of what it’ll carryon to be…

Well back to the Russian for steelies on jigs, pink worms, spoons and spinners!

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