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Smoked Salmon

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!

Barbecued Oysters

Point Reyes National Seashore is one of our favorite destinations for a quick Saturday getaway.  You can hike in the redwoods, on the beach, and through rolling meadows.  You can also find delicious fresh and local food.  On a visit to Tomales Bay a stop for barbecued oysters is a must.

If you plan ahead, you can reserve a picnic table right on the bay and spend the day grilling oysters (and anything else you bring with you).  The oysters come right from the bay.  Talk about farm to table!  Mrs. Esquire and I ate barbequed oysters one time in Tomales Bay but didn’t plan ahead.  This meant we paid $3-$4 per oyster to have them grilled and brought to our table, instead of the $1-$2 for fresh oysters to shuck and grill yourself.  It left me wanting to grill my own oysters.

Fast forward to yesterday. I visited a new (to me) fishmonger in the neighborhood.  What a great shop.  We will definitely be back!  The bins of oysters in the corner of the store caught our eye right away.  After some consultation, we settled on a dozen Drake’s Bay oysters.  Drake’s Bay is directly opposite Tomales Bay, on the ocean side of Point Reyes. Along with our oysters we bought an oyster shucker.

Neither Mrs. Esquire nor I had every shucked oysters.  Mrs. Esquire did the dirty work as I prepped the grill.  She did a great job!  After Mrs. Esquire finished shucking the oysters, I dropped a dollop of garlic parsley butter (recipe below) on each.

By this point, the Big Green Egg was warmed up to about 400 degrees, set for direct grilling.  I put the oysters directly on the grill.  Ideally, the oyster shells will be deep and will sit evenly on the grill.  Otherwise the sauce leaks out the side.  A few drips aren’t the end of the world, though.  A butter flare-up adds some nice smoke.

You can see that the butter melts nicely after a minute or two on the grill.  I grilled these guys for about five minutes total, until the butter started bubbling.  The oysters simmer in the melted butter.

The oysters were absolutely delicious!  What a special treat in the backyard.  We’ll probably mix this in as an appetizer during a future dinner party.  There a many recipes online for different sauces.  I may experiment in the future, but the butter sauce was really easy and really quick.  Thanks for reading!

Recipe Recap

  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp parsley
  • Juice from one lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Cayenne to taste

Mix ingredients together in a bowl.  Place a small spoonful of butter in each oyster prior to grilling.

Vacation grilling

I’m back from vacation!  Thanks for coming back to me after my time away.

It turns out you can take the man away from his grill, but you can’t take the grill out of the man.  I had quite a few interesting grilling experiences while I was away.  While each one probably deserves its own post, I’m going to give you a few quick hits so I can clear my blogging brain and move on to bigger and better things!

We hung out for a week in rural England.  I’ve always enjoyed checking out grocery stores and food markets while I’m traveling.  Food is a window into culture!  Mrs. Esquire got a kick out of me checking out the butcher.

There’s a funny story behind this picture, though.  For the first few days, I couldn’t get over how expensive the meat was in England!  Eventually I realized an error in my pound/kg to dollars/pound conversion.  I multiplying by 2 instead of dividing by 2 when going from kilos to pounds, meaning all my numbers were 4 times too high.  I was not about to spend $40 a pound for fresh sausage!

I bought these pork chops at a little village market in England.  It was a very interesting cut – they left the skin on!  I trimmed the rind off the chop before eating, then threw the rinds back on the grill. My goal was to make chiccarones.  Unfortunately I was using a Weber.  I closed the vents in hopes that the rind would cook slowly for a good, long time.  It was a good idea but they didn’t really turn out.  Maybe I’ll keep an eye out for this type of cut and try the chiccarones at home, on my Big Green Egg.

This was Mrs. Esquire’s least favorite night of our trip – and it might have been my favorite.  Summer storms in Northern Minnesota can whip up in a flash and knock you on your backside.  For a California transplant, a good summer storm is an essential part of a trip back home!  We were watching the radar on this night, knowing that the storm was on the way.  We needed to make a judgment call: put the salmon on the grill and try to beat the storm?  Or wait it out and eat late?

As you can probably guess, we decided to go for it.  And, of course, the storm beat us.  What a fun time – grilling in the pouring rain, driving wind, and pounding hail!  There’s something so primal about cooking food over an open flame in the middle of a storm.  Of course, there’s also something primal about a new mother telling a new father not to run around in a lightening storm holding metal things.  So there were definitely two perspectives in our cabin regarding the awesomeness of this grilling adventure.

Looking at this picture makes me want to go back to Maine!  What a wonderful part of the country.  My takeaway from this grilling event?  Sure, you can create a gourmet meal with a fancy grill, special fuel, and lots of unique spices.  But if you have fresh scallops, olive oil, lemon juice and a mini-Weber, you can still cook up something special.

As the old saying goes, however, “there’s no place like home.”  After a long time away from my BGE I was suffering from separation anxiety.  So of course I took advantage of a laid-back weekend to smoke up a pork shoulder.  Here’s a little treat for you if you’ve never pulled pork.

Four Dishes, One Egg

I sometimes dream about my ideal backyard.  I would love to have a full outdoor kitchen.  Besides a functional sink, prep area, and storage, it would be equipped with a variety of grills.  I’d need a Weber, a big fancy smoker, a Large Big Green Egg, and an Extra Large Big Green Egg.  I often describe this future outdoor kitchen to Mrs. Esquire and she always has the same response.  Who is going to eat all this food?!?!  (The answer, of course, could be you, gentle reader.  Move to San Francisco if you don’t live here already.)

In reality, however, it doesn’t take much to bring my large Big Green Egg to capacity.  This is especially true when I’m making foods with varying cook times and which require lots of flipping or stirring.

On that note, I’m pretty proud of a recent four course meal I prepared on the BGE.  The meal included potatoes and onions, zucchini and squash, ribeye steaks, and halibut steaks.

The “order of operations” was the subject of much discussion and debate as I warmed up the grill.  A few considerations: the steaks needed to be directly on the cast iron grill.  The potatoes needed the longest cook time, and the zucchini and squash were the quickest.  The fish was in tinfoil and was the only part of the meal that didn’t need attention while on the grill.

I began with the potatoes and onions.  These potatoes actually took awhile – perhaps because I raised them and perhaps because I cut them into fairly large chunks.  I pulled them after almost 40 minutes and wrapped the stones in tinfoil.  They redware really retains the heat.

As the potatoes cooked I prepared the rest of the dishes.

Look at those beautiful ribeyes from Marin Sun Farms!

Here’s the Halibut.  As a side note, I usually don’t buy fish steaks like this but they were the best thing my fish guy had on hand.  I was actually surprised and how great they tasted!

And now, for the fun part!  Luckily I had a great wing man and photographer for this cook (no offense to Mrs. Esquire or women in general).  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Whew!  Lots of involved maneuvering over a 500 degree fire!  We had a great time with it, though.  There’s something very satisfying and primal about preparing four dishes over an open flame.  I’ll close the post out with more pictures.

Surf and Turf and Sprouts

According to Mrs. Esquire, Sunday night’s dinner was our best in quite some time.  It was really quite simple, but so delicious!  Sometimes you just need to let the food speak.

We’ve been enjoying Brussels sprouts lately.  So for a side, I prepared Brussels sprouts and leeks in the redware.  I tossed them in olive oil and seasoned them with white pepper, garlic salt, and freshly ground five pepper blend.

I threw the Brussels sprouts on the big green egg first, for about 20 minutes at about 425.

The star of the dinner was a long shrimp and pineapple kabob.  I seasoned the shrimp quite simply as well: juice from one Meyer lemon, olive oil, salt, and cracked pepper.

Just for good measure, I threw on a small New York strip, seasoned with Montreal Steak seasoning.  Since my steak was quite thin, and my shrimp were, well, shrimp, the final portion of the cook was really quick.  I started the steak with a two-minute sear.  Then I flipped the steak and threw on the shrimp.  After two more minutes, I flipped the steak again and tried to flip the kabob around.  Turns out flipping a flexible kabob circling the grill is easier said than done.  After another minute I gave the steak one more flip and the kabob one more attempted flip.

I pulled the steak first and ran it upstairs, meaning the shrimp and the steak each got about six minutes at around 500 degrees.

The combination of the lemon juice and pineapple gave the shrimp such a fresh and delicious taste!  The quick, hot cook left the shrimp very tender and juicy.  Mrs. Esquire and I were really happy with the results.  Of course my steak was delicious, too.

As always, thanks for reading!

Recipe Recap – Brussels Sprouts

You’ll need Brussels sprouts, a leek, white pepper, cracked black pepper (or five pepper blend), garlic salt, olive oil.

Wash and dry Brussels sprouts.  Trim the knob off the end of each sprout and slice in half.  Slice leek in half lengthwise, then slice into 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide slices.  Toss sprouts and leeks in olive oil.  Season to taste with white pepper, cracked black pepper (or five pepper blend), and garlic salt.

Grill in redware or a stone at 400-450 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.  Watch for char on the leeks and outer flakes of the Brussels sprouts.  Remove from heat when sprouts are tender and you’ve achieved sufficient char.

Tinfoil Time

I think I’ll start using more aluminum foil when I grill fish.  Last Friday I had a big piece of salmon for my Big Green Egg.  It wouldn’t fit in my redware.  I decided to lay it out in tinfoil.

I don’t know why, but I used to feel like there was something wrong with putting fish on aluminum foil.  Like it was cheating or something.  Or perhaps the foil would interfere with the airflow and the grilling process.  This salmon taught me otherwise.

I poured a good bit of olive oil into the foil.  I sprinkled the salmon with an interesting rub from Favorite Son, a Minnesota company.  I know what you’re thinking – a Minnesota company making barbecue rubs?  Isn’t that like the Jamaican bobsled team?  Or that old commercial – “This salsa’s made in New York City!  New York City?  That really chaps my hide.”  But the salmon rub is really good.  For true Minnesotans they have a rub called Minnesota Nice – with a “Scandinavian Kick!”

I digress.  Back to the foil.  To make sure I didn’t lose the flavor of the Big Green Egg, I threw on a bunch of apple chips.  I gave it a good hot smoke at about 425.  Plenty of good flavor!

Another Weird Fish

One of the joys of living in the Mission is the easy access to unique foods.  Tonight I branched out again.

I stopped by my normal fish guy hoping to buy some salmon for the Big Green Egg.  Much to my dismay, his shop was closed!  Apparently their ice machine is broken.

No matter.  There’s another fish shop on my way home.  I’ve never tried it because it seems kind of sketchy.

So I strolled in tonight.  Not much selection in the case, but they had some nice looking fillets of Vietnamese barramundi.  Barra-what?  The guy assured me that barramundi is a delicious white fish similar to seabass.  His preparation tip was to keep it simple.

OK, so I’ll keep it simple.  I drizzled the fish with some olive oil, sprinkled some pink sea salt, clipped some fresh herbs from the garden, and topped it with some sliced lemons from our tree.

I grilled it over direct heat at about 425 for 20-25 minutes.

Here’s the final product.

So what do I think?  Like the Gasper Goo, I’m not a big fan.  I guess mystery white fish just isn’t my thing.  I’ve moved on to chips and salsa for the rest of the (DVR’ed) Punt and Kick Championship game.