Just when we thought we had mastered almost all the fancy terms a fine restaurant’s menu could throw at us, we come across yet another: charcuterie. Charcuterie is the hot new trend, from artisan butcher shops to the menus of the hippest hole-in-the- wall eateries. Young, tattooed chefs everywhere are coming up with curious menu items like galantines ballotines, confit and crèpinettes. (You may fire up your Google search engine now!)
Charcuterie is the term used to encompass the art of making sausages and other cured, smoked and preserved meats. Preserving meats in this way descended from an era before refrigeration, when curing and smoking meat was used not only to enhance the flavor, but also to prevent spoilage. Originally, the word charcuterie was used to refer only to products made from pork. In traditional Jewish kitchens, however, where pork was forbidden, creative cooks came up with similar kosher versions, like duck prosciutto and beef sausage. Today, the term charcuterie is used to describe any product pre- pared using these traditional methods, including poultry, fish and meats. In addition, although not considered charcuterie, things like vegetables, nuts and cheeses gain incredible flavor with the enhancement of apple wood, cherry wood or hickory smoke.
There are two ways to use smoke when preparing foods: hot smoke and cold smoke. While cold smoking provides flavor, hot smoking not only brings flavor to the party, but simultaneously cooks the food. In general, use cold smoke to impart a smoky flavor to foods that don’t need to be cooked, like cheese and nuts, or foods that you plan to cook later. Use hot smoke to both flavor and thoroughly cook foods such as meats etc.
A couple of years ago, after a guided fishing trip left me with a surplus of fresh trout, I went to my nearby outdoor store and bought myself a small smoker box. I could have spent several hundred dollars, but for less than $100 I picked up a Big Chief smoker and some alder wood chips that have changed my life! After brining the fish in salt, sugar, lemon and spices, I patted it dry and allowed it to sit uncovered in the refrigerator overnight to develop a “pellicle.” A pellicle is a tacky surface the smoke will stick to. Yes, the fish will still pick up smoke if you don’t give it a chance to develop a pellicle, but the end result will be superior if you do. After the fish was suffused in alder wood smoke for about three hours, I finished it in the oven for about 10 minutes. Bacteria breed fast at temperatures under 140 degrees, and since my Big Chief doesn’t get that hot, I made sure to bring my fish up to a safe temperature of between 165 and 180 degrees. The result was so delicious that I have been smoking fish this way ever since. I especially love this smoked steelhead salmon.
HO– USE-MADE ALDER WOOD SMOKED STEELHEAD FILLETS
You will need a non-reactive glass or plastic dish long and deep enough to hold the salmon submerged in the brine laying flat.
3-4 lbs. whole salmon or steelhead fillets, skin on, bones removed with tweezers
4 cups very hot water
1 cup kosher salt
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Old Bay seasoning
2 lemons (Meyer lemons if available), sliced thin
4 cups ice
4 cups very cold water
Place the hot water in the dish and add salt, sugar and Old Bay. Stir to dissolve. add ice, cold water and lemon slices. You should have enough brine to completely submerge the salmon; if not add a bit more cold water. When the brine is very cold, add the fish, skin side up, and allow fish to brine for about one hour. remove fish from brine and pat dry. Place the salmon on one of the racks from your smoker and lay it in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Place it in the refrigerator overnight to develop pellicle. Put fish in smoker with alder wood chips and allow to smoke for three to four hours. it should take about three to four pans of chips. When thoroughly smoked, put fish back on foil-lined baking sheets and place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on thickness of fish) to finish cooking. Fish should be slightly firm to the touch, but be careful not to overcook. Enjoy smoked salmon on toasted bagels with cream cheese, simply with cheese and crackers, or as an addition to your favorite pasta or salad.