Thursday, April 14, 2011

Appetizing, A Covert Operation - Smoked Whitefish: Charcutepalooza April 2011

This was a covert operation. The plan: Appetizing.

I had just left the bank with a wad of cash burning a hole in my wallet. I dialed a contact named "fishmonger" on my phone.

My instructions came from a dark voice on the other line: "What type of car are you driving? ... Pull into the iron gate and I'll tell the the trooper to let you in."

I pulled through the gate in front of the Governor's Mansion without so much as a nod from the trooper to acknowledge my humanity (I imagine its easier to shoot someone if you don't think of them as a person). Within a moment Chef Buzz appeared with a large unmarked box filled with two VERY fresh Whitefish.

I awaited the stench. My car was already filled with the luscious aromas of fromage from my earlier expedition to Cowgirl Creamery in the Nation's Capital. Yet fish so fresh had no aromatic pull against those stinky mounds of heaven.

I had all the ingredients for appetizing and was ready to return to the Lair of the Big Green Egg (that sounds like a Dr. Seuss book).

You see, appetizing is a noun to the Jews. This is part of why I am so certain of my heritage.  It basically means "foods one eats with bagels", i.e. smoked fish, homemade salads, and cream cheese. And of course you must have appetizers for appetizing, so I usually get mounds of stinky cheese. Since there is no meat on the table, they are kosher.

I stuck to the very basics here. I brought the Whitefish home, already scaled and gutted. I brined the fish overnight in an H²0 solution of table sugar, salt, turbinado sugar, and brown sugar.

Dad helped a lot on this one. While I was busy at work he was awesome enough to follow my instructions. The morning after the brining He removed the fish from the brine and let it dry on a rack for about an hour. This helps the fish develop a pellicle, or tacky surface which better absorbs the smoke.

Then he smoked the fish over alder wood at 150ºF for about 3 hours. He was looking for 130ºF internal temperature reading but I think our thermometer is broken, and that never happened. So he guesstimated. He made me proud. The fish were spectacular.

The flesh was lightly smoky, oily, flavorful and moist. It was exactly what I was hoping for.

My Great Aunt agreed it was better then the Barney Greengrass or the Russ and Daughters we usually ship from NYC for the holidays. Nana said it reminded her of sable.

My only complaint was the texture was not as firm and flaky as what I am used to. I wonder if this is due to refrigeration, or if the fish I am used to could be something other than whitefish? It did benefit from overnight refrigeration, but still wasn't the same.

Besides tracking down an actual whitefish (thanks AGAIN to Mike @ My Butcher and More for connecting me to a chef who could order it) this was easy and would be highly worth the time for the money we save versus shipping from NYC.

Prior to the whole process I did some research and contacted Attman's in Baltimore. They told me that whitefish is a particular type of fish from the Great Lakes which i confirmes on this cool site about whitefish. I also spoke to a smoker at Lake Superior Fish Company who was really generous with his time in helping me to work out the logistics of smoking a whitefish.

I also looked at a few other sites for recipe ideas, including a fellow Charcutepaloozer who smoked some sable... mmmmm. Check em out:
Blue State BBQ
Edamame Eats Smoked Sable

We had the fish with a side dish of Nana's pickled cucumbers. 

From Nana:


I semi peel the cucumbers and score them. Place on rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle with salt. Let stand at room temperature 2 hours. Drain ( I also rinse them) Whisk vinegar and sugar in bowl until sugar disolves. Add cucumbers dill and onion and season to taste with pepper. Let stand 2 hours.

Use your judgment for the amount of onion. You don't want it to be overpowering.

We also had a simple cheese plate including this beauteous hunk of Winnimere by Jasper Hill Farm. I am convinced they are the most wonderful creamery ever. This was a stunning cheese. Washed in a local Lambic, from Hill Farmstead Brewery, and wrapped in local spruce bark, its smoky overtones perfectly complimented the fish.

Now I just need a cold smoker for some salmon! Until then I'm stuck on Russ and Daughters.

Check out:

Damn, Tasso Ham! Charcutepalooza April Part 1

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bangkok Garden- Columbia

Bangkok Garden
5810 Robert Oliver Pl.
Columbia, MD 21045

That was awesome.

Yesterday I got my hairs done. I have been seeing the same hairdresser for 10+ years. I know she loves food but I never ask her where to go. So I did. Genius move.

Tonight the Friendly Food and Beverage Brigade went on an excursion to Bangkok Garden in Columbia.

On top of including two ingredients I have never tried, ALL of the dishes were delicious.

We all started with really well made Thai iced teas that weren't too sweet. I prefer the richness of Bangkok Oriental's just slightly over this, but definitely the 2nd best Thai Iced Tea I have tried to date.

We shared the Chicken Curry Puff.

Thanks again to another Yelp! review for this recommendation. As described in the review, these are similar to a samosa but have a creamier filling, and stronger curry flavor. They came with a stupendous dipping sauce.

I think it was honey, a hint of vinegar, chilies and red onion. That alone was worth the 45min car ride. It was perfect because unlike a vinegar based sauce, the honey didn't moisten the crispy fried shell of the puff.

I had to try to the Chive Dumplings since the boys were both having soup courses. These were as you would expect, lovely thick rice dumplings filled with sauteed chives. They came with a savory soy chili dipping sauce, tempered with rice wine maybe?

Dong had Tom-Yum Soup, which is basically Thai hot and sour soup. No egg noodles, but similar flavors. Lots of fish sauce in this one. It came with two huge shrimp.

Chris had macaroni and cheese soup. Ok, thats just what it smelled like... in a good way. It's really Tom-Kha Gai, or chicken galangal soup. It's the combination of coconut milk and fish sauce that smells like kraft macaroni and cheese to me. This had huge chunks of chicken in it and was very flavorful. Lots of umami. I loved it most for their restraint on the galangal.

I am pretty sure galangal is the reason why Thai food and I don't get along well. It is said to act as a stimulant, and like coffee it stimulates the digestion. Heartburn plus stimulation just leads to trouble. That's as far as I am going with that. It must be easy to go overboard with galangal because I can tell what Thai food to avoid based on the strong galangal aromas wafting from certain dishes. It's pretty potent with flavors and aromas that are soapy and sweet like ginger mixed with cilantro, minus the herbaceousness.

For my entree I had Shrimp Pad-Phed-Prik on the waitress' recommendation. This dish is shrimp in a spicy sauce with green peppercorns and Thai eggplant. I have never had green peppercorns and on the stem, nonetheless. If you have never had a green peppercorn they are kind of like caper berries mixed with peppercorns in both flavor and texture.

The eggplant is a bit like a thick skinned cucumber, its texture was very firm in this dish. The flavor is cucumbery to me as well. Inside are seeds that remind me of the texture of figs, but the actual flesh of the fruit is very thick and the skin has a big crunch, but you can cook it till it softens. It looks like a zebra tomato. The dish is a traditional preparation and was incredibly yummy. The chilies were fruity and fresh with a huge kick. Everything melded wonderfully.

Chris had Panang Shrimps. This did have more galangal in it, but was still restrained. I steered clear, sans a small piece of salivation inducing shrimp. The curry was nice and spicy, not separating much like most panang. Tons of rich creamy peanut flavor.

Dong had Bangkok Calamari with garlic so sweet and crispy we thought it had to be some form of unidentifiable fermented animal product. The clamari was perfectly cooked and not greasy or heavy. Even though there was a pretty thick coating of batter it didn't weigh on the calamari. These weren't your cute little sliced bands of calamari these were nice long steaks. The whole dish was covered in fried Thai basil and had another great dipping sauces.

For dessert I had the Taro Cakes in Coconut Milk, Dong had Mango Sticky Rice, and Chris had Rice Custard.

The Taro Cakes were small round balls, almost like mochi, but not as bouncy. Maybe like a soft gnocchi. The broth was hot and sweet and coated your throat, soothing the burn from all of the chilies.

I liked the Mango Sticky rice because they sprinkled toasted rice on top which seems more authentic than peanuts like Viet-Thai Paradise. Bangkok Oriental's rice is still best. Much more creamy.

Chris' rice custard was fine but I'm not a custard person. Only one I have ever liked is Bangkok Oriental's Caramel Custard with Sticky Rice when they don't have the mango.

Overall it was a wonderful meal. No complaints. Except its not closer to my house. Which is really my fault. I should move closer to it.

On a side note, always listen to your hairdresser.

I'm gonna go enjoy my food coma.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

1600mg OF SODIUM!!

Wow! That is the current average amount of sodium in kids school lunches.

I remember when I was a kid (when did I get to be old enough to use that phrase?) I freaked out when I saw that lunchables contained 1,700mg of sodium.

My earliest memory of label checking was the day I looked at the side of the lunchables box. I've loved playing the games on food boxes. I guess I'd played the 'Get Lucky to His Lucky Charms' maze game too many times, and so I moved on to the ingredient lists and nutrition facts. I didn't know what all those long words and numbers meant, but I had fun comparing how much more fat was in a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with 1/2cup skim milk, vs Lucky Charms. I remember feeling smart for my ability to pronounce such long words.

Once at day camp I had my favorite treat, a lunchable, and I was amazed at a quadruple digit number for anything. Specifically 1780mg of sodium!

I'm not even sure I knew what sodium was, but that freaked me out.

Nowadays I believe lunchables aren't quite as bad. But according to an NPR podcast the USDA has just now proposed cutting the sodium from 1600mg(just shy of a lunchable) to around 700mg.

I knew school lunches were bad but I never thought they were that close to a lunchable.

Thank god I spent my lunchtime inhaling toxic chemicals in the art department, and skipping lunch, right?