SMOKED WHITEFISH, MOREL & BIRCH SYRUP PASTA
Smoked whitefish is a classic, and smoking it with birch was one of many projects while in ‘Birch Camp’. The practicalities of living in the bush in February made some decisions on how this was actually fabricated - things like: fish brined in a cooler with water scooped out of a freshly augered hole. Not useful for a recipe. So this will be a collection of concepts, primarily.
We’ve been working on cure recipes lately, because to be plain, most resources suck on this topic. Most are salt-box methods that require you add a particular ratio of salt and sugar and then wait ‘until’. Until what? Until it’s salty enough. Sadly, not all fish are uniform in size, making any prescriptive time estimate impractical. What we’re currently believers in is what’s called the ‘equilibrium’ method, widely used in much of the charcuterie space. The salt applied is 2% of the weight of the fish. If you like it on the less salty side, go 1.5%, keeping in mind that salt performs a preservation function here, so your trading your taste for the salt’s capability to do its job. Regarding sugar, start with 1:1, salt:sugar. We’re playing with 1:4 right now, so there’s a lot of wiggle room there, depending on how sweet you want your smoked fish. Our smart friends tell us that sugar penetrates more slowly than salt.
The whole point of smoking whitefish in this episode was to make good use of birch smoke. Alder would be another great choice. Please, please, please do not go to a box store to buy bags of chips or dust or anything similar. Look around you - at the trees in nearby forests. Those are the flavours we really should know intuitively. Mesquite makes sense if you’re in the SW US, or Mexico. Birch makes sense up north. If you don’t believe in birch’s inherent qualities for such a thing - one of the highly acclaimed top restaurants in our city uses exclusively birch, and smokes with it all the time - with a room full of gushingly happy diners. It also has our stamp of approval. We also use fruit wood from our yard.
THE DISH PROPER
This dish was very few ingredients: Smoked whitefish, a garlic cream sauce, pasta, morels, and grilled red pepper. Why? That’s the important bit. For starters, cream carries smoky flavours really well. And garlic and cream are friends. So if you stop there, you’ll still win. Morels were added for roundness and depth of flavour, and could easily handle any smoke layer we threw at them. We also had a morel foraging expert in camp. (hands up shrug shoulders emoji) The grilled red peppers? Some sweetness, a pop of colour. And because #vegetables. And these were grilled peppers you buy in an Italian grocer - any bell pepper in camp would have been frozen solid. The cream froze solid. The ‘maybe too far’ component to the dish was a finishing drizzle of birch syrup, but considering the purpose being birch-centric, it made sense.
In this case we were making hot cups of chaga from melted snow as a pairing. Ice jugs were frozen. We also drank birch water (partly frozen). If not in winter camp, a nice acidic white to cut the fat and balance the sweetness would be lovely. Or a medium bodied beer. In camp they'd just be...frozen.
You can see the whole story here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/fromthewilds6
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(no they're not a sponsor, or affiliated, just friends that do a great job in the wild food space)