8 February 2015

Freezer and Pantry Valentine: Part 1. The Appetizer

Make an impressive three course meal for two for Valentine's Day using ingredients you already have.  For the appetizer, smoke your own fish and make pickled berries.  (I told you it was impressive.)

Frozen fish, frozen berries and stale bread make a smoky and bright appetizer worthy serving to the love of your life.
Tea-smoked Cod Crostini

For the tea-smoked cod:

frozen cod*, thawed (as much or as little as you have**)

*Don't have cod?  Don't worry... use whatever other fish you have in the freezer. Allergic to fish? Tea-smoke a couple eggs (boiled for 6 minutes, peeled and cooled first), or pull something else out of the fridge or freezer.  You can tea-smoke just about anything, but consult the miracle of the internet for appropriate cooking times.

**As long as it fits on your smoking rack, see instructions below.  And bearing in mind this is for an appetizer for two, so you don't need very much... of course, any you don't use for Valentines day would be good on a sandwich or salad the next day.

Genmaicha tea comes with the rice already in it, but feel
free to substitute any leafy tea and raw or toasted rice.

4 tbsp genmaicha tea (or 2 tbsp loose leaf green tea + 2 tbsp uncooked rice)

1 tbsp demerara sugar
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 star anise
1/2 tsp fennel
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1 twist of orange

For serving:

a couple slices of stale bread
quick-pickled red currants****

***Or olive oil or bacon grease or drippings...

****Any berry from your freezer will do, the tarter the better.

MAKE AHEAD: You probably don't want to be running around like a crazy person feeling harassed and frustrated on Valentine's Day.  So make the smoked cod and the quick-pickled currants the day before.  We did a one-quarter-ish recipe of the Pickle Girl's recipe (link above) for the currants... and used the excess brine and pickled some wild blackberries to eat with cheese.

You need a heavy dutch oven or casserole or other pot with a lid.  You also need a good bit of aluminium foil and a heatproof rack that fits inside your pot.  We used our cast iron dutch oven and an old metal trivet with a bent leg (caribougrrl finally wins the why-are-we-keeping-all-this-useless-stuff game!).

When you see wisps of smoke rising from the tea mixture,
it's time to put the fish on.

Line your pan with tin foil in two directions, leaving a lot of overhang on all sides (enough to wrap the lid in later). Mix the tea, sugars, and spices together.  Spread these across the bottom of your foil-lined pan, add the orange peel, and place the rack over top.  Heat the smoking ingredients over medium-high until wisps of smoke begin to rise.  Put the fish on the rack in a single layer, put the lid on the pot, and wrap the lid with the overhanging foil.
Seal up the pot with tin foil turning it into a stove top smoker.

Let the fish smoke***** for about 12 minutes per inch of thickness.  You can tell if it's cooked the same way you would if you were baking or grilling it: the fish will be firm and fat will be coagulated on the surface.  White fish is delicate so remove it from the pan to cool rather than allowing it to cool in the smokey pan.

*****Your house is going to smell a bit smoky, but fragrant smoke, like incense.  Go ahead and run your exhaust fan, but there's a lot less smoke than you think, especially if you've used enough foil.  If you're still worried about it, take the whole pot outside when you open it up.

To serve:

Cut your stale bread into serving sized pieces.  For bonus points, cut it into heart shapes.  Butter (or oil or grease) lightly and fry in a skillet to toast.

Top toasts with flakes of smoked fish and a few pickled berries.  The bright and salty berries are the perfect counterpoint to the rich, smokey fish.

The tea-smoked cod is done when it's firm and flaky, and the fat has coagulated on the surface.


So, you might glean from the all the notes, that the important thing is not following the instructions exactly so much as using what you already have on-hand and following the idea.  Save your money for one good ingredient for your main or for a really good bottle of wine or for flowers, or (let's be honest) for your heating bill.  The point is, you can probably make something fantastic with things you already have sitting in your freezer and your cupboards.

About the tea-smoking.  We bought Skye Gyngell's A Year in my Kitchen several years ago and have always been tempted by the tea-smoking technique but really intimidated by it too.  When I saw the step-by-step in Showfoodchef's post about tea-smoked salmon, it all suddenly made sense and seemed accessible enough to try.  As it turns out, not only is tea-smoking possible, but it's surprisingly easy and surprisingly tidy.  Give it a try, you'll be amazed by yourself.

Stay tuned for a miniature version of a classic main, perfect for candle lit dinner.

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