The internet is an amazing thing.
I know that’s not a ground breaking statement. But do you ever step back and think about what life used to be like before the internet?
There are so many recipes online! I have a few grilling cookbooks, which I really enjoy and which inspire me. However, I often find myself riding BART home, thinking about how I can use the food I have on hand to create an interesting dish. With my phone and ten minutes of downtime on the train I can put together an idea for dinner. The recipes I find online aren’t always the fanciest, but they are good enough to get me started.
These stuffed peppers were a BART-phone-recipe special. My CSA shipment included these beautiful sweet peppers.
Of course I always have ground beef on hand from the meat CSA. I browned some beef with onion and a collection of seasonings. Then I mixed in salsa, white rice, and soft cheese. I stuffed the peppers then topped them with cheese.
I set the Big Green Egg for indirect grilling and threw on some mesquite chips for smoke. I grilled them at about 350 for 25 minutes or so. Since the meat and rice are already cooked, the goal of grilling is just to soften up the peppers and melt the cheese to a nice, golden brown.
This recipe wasn’t especially quick, with browning the meat, cooking the rice, stuffing the peppers, and then grilling them. However, I was able to work it into a weeknight without too much stress. They were really good, and a fun way to use both the meat and vegetable CSA!
My mother-in-law bought me a great grilling cookbook for my birthday: Charred and Scruffed, by Adam Perry Lang. The author has a unique take on grilling with lots of interesting ideas and techniques. I’m not going to delve into deep detail on this blog when I use his recipes and techniques. If you’re interested in learning more, buy his book!
When I first opened the book, I was immediately drawn to a technique he called “clinching.” The author grills meat directly on the coals! How barbaric! How exciting!
I had to try this right away. I used New York Strip steaks at the recipe’s suggestion. I had two steaks to cook but I decided not to cook them both at the same time. In case of utter failure, I didn’t want to go home hungry.
I was so excited about this process, Mrs. Esquire came out to watch. Spectator grilling! The first steak worked out great. Mrs. Esquire then had the great idea to start filming the action. I was reluctant at first, but the video ended up being pretty interesting.
Now bear in mind, I didn’t start this cook with the intention of putting out a video. I would have done a little more explaining along the way if I’d been thinking about it. I also would have spent a little more time in hair and makeup. But I invite you into my backyard as I “clinch” my second New York Strip Steak. Video Here.
Here’s a photo of the steak down in the coals.
This was really a fun technique. The steaks tasted great, too! Chef Lang is a little heavy on the salt for my palate, so I’ll adjust that going forward, but the steaks had a really nice charcoal flavor. I can’t wait to play with more of his techniques!
A couple of weekends ago I crossed a dish off my barbecue bucket list: smoked salmon.
I was first inspired to tackle smoked salmon on a trip to Seattle. I made the best of a Monday morning deposition by flying up to Seattle Sunday morning and spending the day. The salmon looked so beautiful laid out on the ice at the famous Pike Place Market. I almost bought a whole fish then and there to be shipped down to San Francisco. The only thing keeping me from pulling the trigger was a busy schedule that week, which prevented me from giving the salmon the attention it deserved.
Smoked salmon has been on my mind since that trip. I finally got around to researching it this summer. The first thing I learned was that I needed to find alder wood chips. These are the key to a proper West Coast smoked salmon. I found some on amazon.com and bought a couple of bags. As an added bonus, I’ve found that the alder wood is absolutely delicious for vegetables and sweet corn.
The next thing I learned is that at least three different preparation styles may fairly be called “smoked salmon.” For example, the kind of salmon you have for breakfast in Sweden could be called smoked salmon. It’s usually referred to as gravalox. This is essentially a salt-cured preparation style, and it could be cold smoked or not smoked at all.
Some people refer to salmon grilled slowly (i.e., under an hour) as “smoked salmon.” To me, that’s just grilled salmon. I’ve been there, done that.
Somewhere in the middle lies the smoked salmon I wanted. I found many different recipes and techniques online, most from Alaskan fishermen. I quickly discovered that smoking salmon is just as much about the brining process as the smoking process. I settled on a dry brine preparation – mostly because I don’t have room in my refrigerator for a bucket of salt water.
I started on a Wednesday night. First, I bought about eight pounds of farm raised salmon. This was one full fillet and half of a second fillet. Readers in San Francisco may shudder at the thought of buying farm raised fish. However, this was a conscious decision on my part. Wild caught salmon is quite lean, which makes it wonderful for grilling. Farm raised salmon, on the other hand, has the fat necessary for the meat to stand up to a long smoking process.
Next I mixed a very simple dry brine of 1/4 cup salt and 3/4 cups brown sugar. I spread the rub all over the flesh side of the fish and arranged them in my tray to be covered and put into the refrigerator.
Next comes the waiting – the hardest part! By morning, the dry brine had mixed with the fish’s natural juices to create an oozy, liquid-y brine. I flipped and rotated the fish every 12 hours for 48 hours total, until Friday night. That night I drained the liquid from the pan and laid the fish out skin side down. I then let them dry for another 12 hours in the refrigerator.
I was actually a little bit worried at this point. I expected the fish to be tackier. Some of the methods called for the fish to be rinsed after drying in the refrigerator. Others did not. Since my fish didn’t seem overly brined, I decided to only rinse one of the pieces.
Saturday morning I was up nice and early to prepare the Big Green Egg for smoking. I tossed a healthy dose of alder chips on the fire. As you can see below, I used my raised grill to fit all the fish on the BGE.
Remember how I rinsed one of the cuts? Well, I stupidly put the rinsed piece on the bottom, meaning that it received the juicy drips from the top two pieces. It ended up being the best piece of them all! But not because I rinsed it; on the contrary, it was really good because it drowned in the sugary brine and fat throughout the whole smoking process. While I didn’t really get to taste a rinsed preparation, I’ve decided that I won’t rinse in the future.
My goal was to smoke the salmon for 6 to 9 hours at about 195 degrees. Now it is really difficult (for me at least) to keep the BGE going under 200 degrees. I used my Auber Instruments Pit Controller and still had a few problems. After all was said and done I smoked the salmon on the BGE for about 9 hours, most of the time at 190-195 degrees.
Here’s the final product.
OMG. I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t write with terms like OMG, but that is really the best way I can describe this salmon. Mrs. Esquire and I sampled it after it had cooled for a half hour. It was smoky, slightly sugary, slightly salty, very moist, and very delicious. The juices literally pooled in the skin as we nibbled chunk after chunk. We cooled the remaining pieces to serve to our dinner guests.
High marks all around for this smoked salmon. Mrs. Esquire couldn’t stop eating it. Any barbecue recipe that has her fighting me off for leftovers is definitely a keeper in our household. We have a bunch of salmon in the freezer right now.
(A helpful tip for freezing leftovers from some Alaskan fisherman: put the meat in a freezer bag. Fill a sink with water. Lower the bag into the water until it is almost submerged. This will force the air out. It worked great!)
I’m so glad I never let go of my dream to smoke salmon. My first time certainly won’t be my last! As always, thanks for reading!