Archive for December, 2010

Holiday Pork Butts.

Joy to the Butt!  Or, perhaps I should say Jingle Butts?  Or maybe Deck the Butts with Gobs of Dry Rub?  Well say what you will, but slow cooking  two, 10+ pound pork shoulders for lunch tomorrow is definitely worth singing about. 

Two butts on the grill today.

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Smoked Whitefish

Smoked whitefish

Smoked Whitefish freaked me out as a kid.  On football Sundays, my parents would buy these yellowed, wrinkled whole fish at the deli that looked so disgusting, you wouldn’t feed them to your cat.

At the game, they’d peel back the butcher paper, spread this cold, nasty-looking meat on Melba Toast, and go “Mmm… Mmmm…” while devouring it with their oily fingers. Nauseating, the whole thing.  Or maybe that was just because the football team was so bad, I’m not sure.

Anyway, I had written off smoked whitefish as repulsive until, a few years back, my wonderful wife declared that she loved the stuff.  No doubt, I had to give it another try.

Yeah, I was wrong about smoked whitefish.  A lot wrong.

Smoked whitefish is a salty, smoky treat that works as an appetizer, as an alternative to boring old tuna fish in sandwiches, or as my parents seemed to understand, something to keep your mind off how bad your football team is playing.

First a note for any beginners… (or skip to the recipe further below)

…about the fish

My first question was: What is a Whitefish, anyway?  This took me a while for me to figure out.  Is white fish a type of fish, or fish that just happens to be white? I learned that most smoked whitefish is cod, whiting, haddock, hake or pollock.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t use other types of fish.  I used Mediterranean seabass (aka: branzino, bronzini or branzini).

(For an update, please see  Smoked Whitefish: The Mackerel Edition.)

Apparently, what you’re really looking for are fish with a high oil content, because hypothetically, the fat does a good job at soaking up the smoky flavor.  My theory is that fatty fish is better because it’s fatty, but hey, I’m no marine epicurbiologist.  I may have to do a smoked fish taste test one of these days.

… about smoking fish safely

As for smoking fish, it is a pretty simple process of brining then cooking at ridiculously low temperatures over a lot of wood.   I was a bit concerned that I was going to smoke fish in the Kamado and not an official smoker, but that wasn’t a problem at all.  The Kamado did a great job smoking the fish, and it was frankly easier to keep the Kamado below 200 than at my usual slow cook temperatures.

The only source of conflict I found among fish smoking techniques was “at what temperature does one declare the fish safely done?”   In fact, the word “conflict” doesn’t quite capture it. Who knew there was so much bitter controversy in the otherwise happy world of barbecue?

The majority of sources will tell you not to smoke the fish past 130 degrees.  But official sounding sources (aka: sources that have legal representation), will tell you fish isn’t safe to eat unless it hits 165 degrees.   Other sources say fish is safe to eat after some time at 145 degrees.  Yet, many of us happily eat sushi and enjoy our fish not cooked at all.

So, I decided to rely upon the academics.  I followed the guidelines in this article from OSU, which basically says, cook it low for 3 to 5 hours, then turn up the heat to get the fish to 160 at the end just to kill any nasties that may have developed.   Read this for the full recommendation: http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/PNW238/PNW238.pdf

Oh, and I also took a few clues from this guy:

Ok, on to the Recipe:

Brining – 12 to 24 hours

I placed scaled, gutted and cleaned (but not filleted, and heads still attached!) fish into the following brine mixture:

6 cups water

1/3 cup sugar

½ cup Kosher salt

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 Tbs of minced garlic

½ tablespoon pepper

4 whole bay leaves

Mix up the brine thoroughly. Place the brine and the fish into an airtight container, and refrigerate until 1 hour before you intend to start your cook.

Prepping for the cook   

Light your grill as usual. While it’s heating make the following preparations.

Make a foil bath for a hickory chips, and get the wood soaking

Remove the fish from brine, pat dry with paper towels, but do not rinse.  Place on a cooling rack to dry.

Dispose of the used brine.

Stabilize your grill temperature at or near 130 degrees.

Place the foil bath directly on top of the coals, but in addition to that, add several handfuls of dry hickory wood chips directly on top of the coals. You may need to add more later.


Cook at the 100 to 130 degree temperature for at least 3 hours, but it may take much longer depending on your fish and temperatures. Some argue that anything more than 6 hours doesn’t really add much additional flavor.

The hickory chips should be providing plenty of smoke. If not, add more.

Using a good thermometer, you’ll want to see the flesh of the fish reach 130 degrees.

Crank up the heat (e.g. to between 200 and 225 degrees) and keep a close eye on the fish temperature.

Once the fish reaches 160 degrees, lower the temperature again to below 200degrees – just enough to  keep the fish at or slightly above 160 degrees for 30 minutes or so.

That’s it.

I ate the fish both warm and cold, and I have to say, I much preferred it chilled.  I also prefer it on a cracker to a bagel, because I like to taste more fish than bread.

My hope is to try a variety of different kinds of whitefish to determine what I like the best.  If you have a favorite, definitely let me know.

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