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Long time no post … back in the saddle again …

My most recent cooking equipment acquisition is a new grill. This particular grill is pretty awesome. It has a section for cooking with propane for quick weeknight meals that require a hot grill fast, and a charcoal side for when I have more time. The charcoal side also has a smoker box attached to allow for smoking stuff.

My original vision was that I would be smoking large hunks of pig flesh on a regular basis and while I have developed my own technique for producing an awesome pork shoulder (more on that to follow), what I have found to be the best thing yet is smoked steelhead trout. I’ve put it on a number of salads (stunning my wife who didn’t realize I know what a salad is … though I had to add salad as a keyword because of this recipe so …) but the one that I like best is the Caesar salad.

I think the thing that actually sets this apart is less the fish and more the croutons. There was a part of me that always assumed that croutons were just stale bread because that’s frequently how they taste given that crouton instructions are usually something like “Cut white bread in cubes, spread out on a baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and salt, and put them in a 375º oven for 15 minutes.” These croutons are garlicky, salty, buttery (if I’m feeling particularly evil, I’ll use duck fat), and to top it all off, they go in the smoker for a few minutes. Boom.

Now, those are all the things that make this great for eating. From the cook’s perspective, the most awesome thing is that the steelhead and croutons are cooked on foil so there’s not a pot or a pan to clean afterwards.

Equipment

  • Bread knife
  • Offset smoker
  • Salad bowl
  • Small mixing bowl (this will actually go in the smoker so don’t use a family heirloom. I recommend pyrex or metal)
  • Whisk
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil
  • Microplane or cheese grater

Ingredients

  • About 1 lbs steelhead trout fillet. I tend to look for a cut nearer to the tail as that gives you a piece of fish that is more uniform in width. Closer to the head tends to have a thin bit closer to the belly and a very thick area higher up on the back. Also, you can use salmon for this if you can’t find steelhead. If you do, finding the tail pieces is actually even more handy.
  • Dill (preferably fresh, but dried will do as well)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon anchovy paste. In theory, you can leave this out. I ran out one day and it didn’t ruin the dressing, but it did not have the same depth. For the uninitiated, anchovy paste really does not taste fishy unless you are eating it all by itself.
  • Juice from one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 large egg yolks (if you have them, duck egg yolks are even better)
  • 4 cloves garlic (1 for the dressing, 3 for the croutons)
  • 2 sticks butter (or 1/2 cup duck fat), cut into cubes
  • About 1/4 loaf good whole wheat or sourdough bread. This is when you want to get a proper loaf of of bread that does not come pre-sliced in a plastic bag. And you will have leftovers for other recipes.
  • 3 Romain lettuce hearts
  • Parmesan (Tip: if you grate your own parmesan, it tastes better and it actually ends up being cheaper than buying the grated stuff . When you buy grated parmesan, you’re actually mostly paying for air).
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Time: about 3 hours

Yield: Serves 4

Instructions:

  1. Soak your smoking wood. Water will work just fine. I have taken to putting leftover coffee in a jar and using that. In point of fact, it changes the flavor of the food not one iota, but it looks cool. I’ve also used beer that failed in bottle conditioning.
  2. Get your fire started. You want it to settle in a nice, steady 200ºf or so. This should take a half hour to 45 minutes.
  3. While the fire is getting it’s poop together, make yourself a rimmed “baking sheet” out of foil. It should fit the fish with about an inch between the fish and the edge. This does not need to be precise, it’s just to keep fat from dripping all over the place.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375º if you are going to use the oven for croutons.
  5. Sprinkle the fish with a light coating of olive oil, followed by a generous dusting of dill, and some salt.
  6. When the smoker is up to temperature, pop the fish in there on the side farthest from the smoker box. The fish will just sit there for about an hour and a half. When you add your smoking wood to the fire box will determine how much smoke flavor you get in your fish. I have been adding a total of 6 good sized chunks of hickory (about 3″ cubes) with half going in after the first 15 minutes and half going in at about 1 hour.
  7. Mince 3 cloves of garlic and put it in the small mixing bowl with the butter (or duck fat) and set the bowl in the smoker. Take it out when the butter is melted and stir it.
  8. While the butter is melting, prepare the bread:
    1. You want decent sized cubes of approximately 1″. No need to break out a ruler. You can leave the crust on. I remove it because it tends to impede the fat. You want to end up with 2-3 cups of bread cubes.
    2. Tear off two sheets of foil each large enough to accommodate the bread cubes in a single layer. You will be enclosing them in a kind of foil envelope with one sheet being the bottom and the other being the top.
    3. Lay out the bread on your designated bottom.
    4. Drizzle the garlicky butter over the bread coating as evenly as possible.
    5. Cover with the second sheet of foil and crimp the edges to seal. Then give the whole package a good shake. Set the package aside and start on the dressing.
  9. Prepare the dressing (You can do this a day ahead if you want and stick it in the fridge but then you have like 15 minutes where you’re just standing around staring at the smoker drinking beer so …):
    1. Put that last, lonely garlic clove out of its misery by mincing it.
    2. Stick it in your small mixing bowl along with the yolks, anchovy paste, lemon juice, mustard, 1/4 cup or so of grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.
    3. Whisk this mixture and slowly begin drizzling in the olive oil as you continue to whisk. When it is thick and glossy, you are done.
  10. When you have about a half hour left in the fish cooking time, pop the package in the oven for about 10 minutes. I have tried putting them in the propane side of the grill at about that temperature and I’ve also just popped the packet into the fire box of the smoker. The last option is a bit trickier but all three methods work equally well.
  11. Remove the package from the oven/grill/fire box and place in the smoker, tearing a hole in the top to let the smoke in and then let them hang out with the fish.
  12. When the fish is done, remove it and the croutons from the grill.
  13. You can either cut the romaine across the leaves to make nice neat strips, or you can just rip it into bite sized pieces. Then put it into the salad bowl along with the croutons. Add the dressing and toss the salad until well mixed.
  14. Divide the salad among 4 plates.
  15. Using two forks, gently shred the smoked steelhead leaving the skin stuck to the foil.
  16. Divide the fish among the four salads.
  17. Grate some extra parmesan on top and voila!