Thursday, January 23, 2014

Smoke 'em if You've Got 'em: Smoked Salmon


The other day I decided that I really wanted some smoked salmon.  This craving would be really quick and easy to satisfy if the smoked salmon available in grocery stores wasn't completely dreadful.  Luckily, smoking salmon isn't all that tough, though it does take a little time.

The weather wasn't exactly cooperating with me, but I was not to be deterred.

Yes, that says -10.3 F.  Looks like a good day to smoke some fish outside!

Days like this are why all the instruction manuals on grills and smokers remind you not to use them indoors.

The best smoked salmon that I have ever eaten came from a tiny hole in the wall on the Oregon coast called Karla's Smokehouse.  Unfortunately for humankind, she finally retired, after threatening to do so for a decade or more.  Karla was unwilling to sell her business, fearing that her name could end up attached to an inferior product, but she did write a book.  (If you are interested, you can preview and purchase it here.)

So much fish wisdom...

First, we need to assemble the cure.  You probably have all the ingredients sitting in your cupboard.  Karla's recipe is in the scale of pounds, and I simply do not need that much fish cure on hand at a time, so I weigh things out in the same number of ounces (4 ounces instead of 4 pounds, for example).  She also uses some Prague powder in her cure.  I am not smoking my fish for commercial purposes, so I substitute an equal amount of salt.  Weigh out:

5.75 oz salt (I prefer to use pickling salt, but I have used kosher salt, too.)
1 oz white sugar
1 oz brown sugar

The Cure

Stir the ingredients together, and store it in an airtight container.  I use a pint canning jar.  This is more than enough cure for a home batch of fish.

Next, get your fish.  Karla only uses fresh, wild-caught fish.  I live in Minnesota.  I bought my salmon at Sam's.  It is farmed and previously frozen (don't tell Karla), but it works quite well, and still tastes better than any smoked salmon I've purchased at a grocery store.

Cut the fish into whatever size pieces you prefer.  If you want (and your smoker is large enough), you can leave the fillet whole.  I like mine in strips 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide.  I consider this a single serving, though normal people disagree with me on this.

I had lots of help with the fish.

I bought two fillets.  If I am going to fire up the smoker, I may as well put a big load in.  I grouped my cuts up from thickest to thinnest.

Apply the cure on all sides of each piece of fish.  I start with the thickest pieces first, and work my way to the thin ones.  Put the fish into another container to cure.  It is going to release some moisture.  I use a 9 by 13 Pyrex dish for this.  (A note about the fish:  I prefer to use fillets with the skin on.  There is a fatty layer of tissue just under the skin which is never completely cut away when a fillet is skinned, and it tastes very fishy.  When I use skin-on fillets, that fat stays with the skin when I flake the finished product.  Alas, the salmon at Sam's is always skinned, and skin-on fish at the grocery store costs about twice as much.)


The book suggests curing small salmon for 60 to 90 minutes, but notes that fish that has been frozen will absorb the salt more quickly.  Since this is farmed fish, and less firm than wild, and previously frozen, I cured it for 30 minutes.  If you like your fish saltier, cure it longer.  If it is too salty, cure it for a shorter time next go-around.

At the end of your curing time, rinse each piece of fish very well in cool water.  I start with the thinnest pieces and work my way back to the thickest.


Place the rinsed fish on a rack.  I just put mine on the racks from my smoker.  Go get your smoker preheating, and let the fish rest for 30 to 60 minutes.  I run my smoker at about 170 degrees to smoke salmon.

Cured, rinsed, and ready to smoke.

Load up the smoker, add your wood chips, and be patient.  I use alder chips when smoking fish, though maple or apple work work well, too. 

Loaded up!  I covered the drip trays in heavy duty aluminum foil, to facilitate cleanup.

I have a cheater electric smoker, so the smoking part of this operation requires little finesse.  I check my smoker every hour or so to add more chips, if needed.  Since we are smoking at a fairly low temperature, we don't burn through the chips very quickly.  You want the fish to reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees.  I found that the probe thermometer was lying to me, so I used a separate thermometer to check my fish.  This batch spent six hours in the smoker, though I probably could have pulled it sooner.

Worth the wait.

Allow the fish to cool before packing it up in an airtight container and putting it in the refrigerator.  If you are in a big hurry to cool it down, put it in a paper bag, then into the fridge.  If you put it in plastic or a closed container while it's still hot, it will get slimy on you, and that's no way to treat smoked salmon.

I could eat this stuff every day, and I will be, at least for a while.  So far I have had it with cheese and crackers, as smoked salmon hash, with toast, on a big salad, and in two different pasta dishes.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

T'was the Night Before Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas traditions/rituals is the candlelight Christmas Eve service at church.  I love sitting in the dim sanctuary, singing Silent Night, while candles get lit one by one from a single flame.  By the end of the song, each member of the congregation is holding a lit candle.  It is so peaceful, and it nearly always makes me giggle.  This is why:

There is one Christmas Eve service in particular that is forever etched in my memory.  I was five or six at the time, and my parents felt I was too young to be entrusted with my own candle (they were right).  Megan, a friend of mine who is a year or so younger than me, was sitting further along the row from my family.  Her parents made a different choice on the candle front, and I was rather jealous. 

We were all singing Silent Night, and the candles were lit down my row, one by one.  A verse later, Megan lost concentration, got sleepy, or simply displayed the coordination of a typical four-year-old.  Her candle started to tip over, in the direction of her mother, Ann.  This was the mid-1980s.  Think fuzzy angora sweaters and giant hair, full of flammable hair products.

This is how I remember things happening, though it was probably a little less dramatic:  Ann's fuzzy sweater sleeve erupted into flame, and a fireball was racing up her arm, toward her giant, hair-sprayed 80s hair.  My dad leaped, Superman-like over the people sitting between our family and Ann, and beat the fire out with his bare hands.

I know that at this point I turned to my mom and said, "Mom, why is Dad hitting Ann?"

Ann escaped without any major burns, and with all her hair.  Megan was not allowed a candle of her own again for a few more years.  And I always picture an angora sweater erupting into flame when I sing Silent Night.

Tonight, I took my two-year-old son, Julian, to our church's Christmas Eve service.  It was a family-friendly service with bible lessons and lots of Christmas carols.  Also, no candles.  I think I'm okay with that, this year.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


I went outside to check the mail yesterday and ended up spending over an hour weeding the front beds.  I wish I could say it improved the appearance of my front yard.

While I was working I came across this:

I'm no ornithologist (not even a little bit), but I think this might be a makeshift robin's nest.  My best guess is that a robin was desperate to lay her egg, but couldn't get to her nest during the big snow last week.  This nest is located under the overhang of my house, and would have been snow-free and hidden from view by about a foot of snow right in front of it (and my big, tall weeds).

I suspect that this egg has been abandoned, but I am going to leave it be for a while just in case.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jumping the Gun

On your mark...

The garden is clear of debris from last fall.

Get set...

Seeds have been planted


May 2, 2013

Spring has a sense of humor this year, and brought us 15 inches of heavy snow over the first few days of May.  I am hoping that the seeds I planted have not germinated yet, and have survived the snow.  The garlic, which was sprouting before the snow, is slightly flattened, but still going.  The rhubarb didn't mind the snow one bit.

The summer squash, cucumber, butternut, and pepper seeds are all protected under the tops or bottoms of water jugs.  My hope is that they will act like mini greenhouses.  I guess I'll know if a few weeks if any of my seeds survived the snow!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Getting the Garden Ready

This was what my garden looked like a few days ago:


Yes, snow during the last full week of April.  Winter didn't really show up (or the snow, at least) until March this year.  So much for all those garden daydreams!

But today was lovely!  I decided to get a little work done in the garden.  I had been itching to get to work, but I knew that anything I planted would croak with the weather we were having.

I had to clear out some debris from last fall.  I spent about an hour today picking up dry bean, squash, and tomato vines, and then I tilled up the soil.  I have the blisters on my hands to prove it.  I didn't get any planting done today, but at least my beds are ready to go!

Garden Goose approves.

(I left the front bed alone since it is planted with garlic.  The garlic doesn't seem to mind the weather we've been having, and is sprouting.)

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Life-Changing Discovery

Okay, so this isn't exactly a cure for cancer or anything, but I'm still pretty excited about this little discovery.  I learned how to peel garlic.

That's right.

And maybe this isn't exactly life-changing, but I'm pretty darn excited about it.

I love garlic.  I hate to peel garlic.  I was listening to a podcast of  "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" at the gym yesterday, and I heard Martha Stewart share this gem.  Incidentally, listening to "Wait Wait" at the gym can get you some funny looks.  I guess normal people don't bust out laughing while lifting weights or buzzing along on an elliptical machine.

Anyway, according to Ms. Stewart, this is the best way to peel an entire head of garlic:

First, get your garlic.  Also, give your toddler a snack cup of Cheerios to buy yourself some time.

The last head of garlic from last summer's garden.  Sad.

Next, get two mixing bowls of approximately the same size.

Put your garlic into one of the bowls.

Put the other bowl on top of the first, like a lid.

Hang onto the rims and shake.  There is no picture of this step because I have yet to grow a third arm.  That would be handy, though.  Ha.

You only need to shake for a minute, maybe less.  Admire the results.


Amazing!  Separate the cloves from the chaff.

Now I just need to think of something to do with two heads of garlic.  I was so jazzed to test this trick out last night, that this is the second head of garlic I've peeled.


Anyway, this may not change your life, but hopefully it will make it a little easier.  Or maybe you knew this little trick all along, but you never told me, in which case, why?  Why would you hide such an amazing tidbit of knowledge from me?

So pretty.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

English Muffin Bread

Damian loves English muffins.  If we have home-baked bread and store-bought English muffins in the house, he will usually go for the muffins.  Alas, I am too lazy to make English muffins from scratch.  Then I came across this recipe for English muffin bread.  This was perhaps the easiest bread I have ever baked.  I scaled the recipe down, since I only have two loaf pans and the recipe makes three loaves.

Here is what you need for two loaves:

  • 3 2/3 cups warm water
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 packets instant yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 7 1/2 cups bread flour (all purpose will do, too)
  • melted butter (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • cornmeal
  • non-stick spray
Start by stirring the water, salt, sugar, and yeast together in a mixing bowl.  I used my stand mixer with a paddle attachment, but this can be mixed by hand, too.

Add the flour and mix until the dough just comes together.

The dough will be loose, stringy, and very sticky.

Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap sprayed with non-stick spray, and set it in a warm place to rise.  

You want it to double in size.  It will take about an hour, though this batch was ready to go after about 30 minutes.

Prepare your loaf pans by spraying them with non-stick spray and adding a handful of cornmeal.  Turn the pan to coat the bottom and sides with the cornmeal

Spray your hands with the non-stick spray and divide the dough between the loaf pans.  You want the pans to be only about halfway full.

Did I mention the dough is very sticky?

Cover the loaf pans with your oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise again.  Preheat the oven to 350 while you wait.  You want to be ready to go when your dough is!  The bread is ready to put in the oven when the dough has risen to the top of the pans.

Bake for 30 minutes, then brush the tops of the loaves with the melted butter.  Then put the bread back in the oven for ten more minutes.

Turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack immediately, and brush with melted butter again.  Allow to cool, then enjoy!

This bread was a huge hit.  The first two loaves disappeared in only a couple days.  I'm pretty sure my toddler ate about half a loaf by himself yesterday.