Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Smelt Po'boys with Wild Remoulade Sauce
We've been in eat-out-of-the-freezer mode for a couple weeks now. When there's not enough space in the freezer to chill your martini glass, you know something has to be done. I'm not really a hoarder of stuff, in general, but I am something of a pack rat when it comes to food. My refrigerator is a pickle museum; I curate a jam and jelly collection there, as well. Apparently I have a horror of endings, for I keep jars that contain a half-inch of blackberry preserves, one lonely cornichon, some scraps of fermented vegetables. Sometimes I find jars of pickles entirely absent of pickles, nothing left but the brine. And then, frighteningly, I'll return that jar to the fridge, thinking, hmm, there was that pickle brine rye bread recipe someone sent me eight years ago, maybe I'll make that....
As for the freezer, that's more of an archaeological situation when it comes to determining what's in there, scraping back through layers of time, discovering freezer burned trout frames, sacks of berries of dubious provenance. I swear to god, I recently pulled out a zip bag containing a frozen block of something, and in the space where you note the contents, it said "SOUP?" That got tossed.
But there's good stuff in there, too. A lot of the very best fish we eat comes frozen, believe it or not. On our trips to the South Shore of Lake Superior we always stock up on fresh fish at Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia. Sometimes the fish is frozen and vacuum-packed there, and sometimes we bring the fresh-off-the-boat lake trout, whitefish, and herring home and freeze what we won't use fresh.
So in our freezer clean-out mode, courtesy of Halvorson's, we've recently had burbot bourguignon (eelpout in red wine, by another name), fish tacos also made with burbot (an intriguing freshwater cod that Amy "Sourtooth" Thielen writes about here ; I'd really like to get up to the Eelpout Fest this year). And our last frozen fish from Corny was a package of smelt that had been in the freezer for at least a year, so I had my doubts as it thawed, but you know what? Here's what: Fish that is packed absolutely fresh, and properly frozen, and kept frozen, is great even a year later. The vacuum-packing provides no opportunity for freezer burn or staling. The smelt had very little "fishiness" to them; rather, they had a cucumber-y, watery scent like some oysters have. Their fate was to be dipped in a light tempura batter, fried, and served on homemade rolls with a remoulade sauce perked up with chopped pickled ramps and salted milkweed bud "capers" on a north-meets-south po'boy. We don't do a lot of deep frying, but a few times each winter we'll fry up fish or shrimp for po'boys or tacos. It makes for a fun and summery meal, most welcome in the depths of January.
It's a joke around our house that writing a cookbook is a rather elaborate way of organizing one's recipes, but damn handy once it's done. There's truth in the gag, too--putting together this meal, I made the buns from the Cornmeal Honey Butter Bun recipe (p. 120), shaping oval buns of about 5 ounces of dough.
The remoulade started with a batch of mayonnaise (p. 219), to which I added some mustard, worchestershire, finely diced celery root, salted milkweed buds, and chopped pickled ramps (p. 224). The tempura batter is in the Walleye Taco recipe (p. 165). And alongside we had Oven-Fried Roots (p. 192)--potato, celery root, and mystery pumpkin (yes, I know, pumpkin is not a root; but it cooks up sort of...rootish).
The beer, Bitch Creek Extra Special Brown, was an impulse buy purchased for all the wrong reasons--because it's from the Grand Teton Brewing Company, and Mary used to live in Jackson Hole, in the shadow of the Tetons; and Bitch Creek is a famous western trout stream, and there's a fly pattern named for it . In spite of that, it was excellent--deep, dark, toasty, and bitter (as I poured out the last few drops to rinse the bottles this morning I got to thinking of beef short ribs braised in Bitch Creek ESP, lots of leeks and onions, maybe a dash of cocoa, some allspice...).
We still haven't made much of a dent in the freezer inventory, and chances are that some day soon I'll get it in my head that I can't go another week without a piece of grilled lake trout, a plate of Herring Milkweed Meunière (p. 171), and I'll hit the road for the South Shore, returning with a cooler full of fish, most of which will go in the freezer.
Hey, I just remembered, there are still some whitefish livers in there. Now, if I can only find them....
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw