Saturday, January 22, 2011

Smoking - Part 2 - Pork Tenderloin and Seafood

Hey kids!

I'm back with more on my new favourite cooking activity: smoking. Now I started out with ribs, which is the meal that takes the longest of the ones I've tried so far. Some day I'm going to give pulled pork a shot, but that's at least 12 hours worth of smoking; not exactly a practical idea for the middle of Winter. So, the hardest recipe has already been accounted for, but the next ones require a little more finesse in flavouring. As I mentioned before, ribs are almost a blank canvass for flavouring. Pork tenderloin also has a certain neutrality of flavour, but it's important to keep an eye out for the danger of oversmoking the pork, thus drying it out. Fish, on the other hand, is very distinctive in its flavour and, while I've not screwed it up yet, could easily be ruined with the wrong kind of wood or too much time in the smoker.

Smoking's easy, even in Winter!


Alright, let's start with the pork tenderloin. The first time I made it, in the Summer of 2009, I used a similar rub to my ribs, about 3 to 1 parts brown sugar to berbere spice. The second time was for a "holiday" party this past December (what my friend, the hostess, calls Chrismakuh) and I wanted to go with a more seasonal flavouring. Here's the rub recipe (as extrapolated from my brain, it might not be exactly what I used):

Pork Tenderloin 'Festive' Rub

- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 green cardamom pods, ground
- 2 cloves, ground
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp rosemary, crushed or ground

Rub the meat with this mix, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for about 3-4 hours. Remove from fridge and let warm up a little.

Prep fire in the smokebox and soak wood chips. The great thing about pork is that it tastes good with almost any kind of smoke flavouring it. In the case of a tenderloin, I would avoid using just hickory or mesquite, the smoke flavour would be too strong. Now, I use maple lump charcoal for everything on my BBQ and just on its own imbues a tasty smoke flavour, but it's a bit one-dimensional. For pork tenderloin, I've used either a mix of hickory and cherry (the first time, which nicely complimented the spicy rub), or apple (for the 'festive' meal). I think apple is my favourite flavouring wood when avoiding the spicy route (you know, the one Columbus was looking for); it adds a distinct yet subtle flavour and sweetness.

Once your fire is going and you reach a cooking temperature of around 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit, place the tenderloin(s) inside the the grill and smoke for 1.5 to 2 hours. Wrap the tenderloin in foil, spray with a bit of apple juice, and return to smoker for another hour. Unwrap and smoke for another 30 minutes to finish. You may need to put it in the oven for 10 minutes at 350 to ensure it's done, but it should be OK. The thing about tenderloin is that it stays a little more pink than other cuts of pork even when it's overcooked. So, don't think that it isn't done just it's a bit pink. If the meat is no longer translucent and juices run clear when you cut it, it's done. Basically that's the rule for all pork and chicken.

Slice pork into medallions and serve any which way you like! The first time, I served the pork as is with some gorgeously roasted sweet potatoes my friend made. For the Christmakuh meal, I made an apple-cranberry compote, but it didn't turn out quite as I wanted, so I won't reprint the recipe here. But if your Aunt Betty or Matante Lise makes a good homemade relish, give it a try with this!


Next up, shrimp. Because they're so small, shrimp don't require much time in the smoker. The only time I ever tried this, most of the space was taken up by the fish I was smoking at the same time (more on that later), but I was easily able to fit a pound worth of shrimp in the gaps between the pieces of fish and they turned out fine.

First step is to marinate the shrimp for an hour or two. This adds a lot of flavour, but also adds a great deal of moisture that will mess up the texture a little bit, but there's a way to fix that. It's up to you if you want to peel the shrimp or not, I don't.

Basically, thaw out a pound of medium shrimp and place in the marinade outlined below.

 Shrimp Marinade

- juice of 1/4 lime
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 2 cardamom pods, crushed
- 8-10 coriander seeds, crushed
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper

Start your fire and prepare shrimp for smoking. I imagine just about any kind of wood will work here since shrimp is such a versatile meat. I used a mix of Apple and Alder wood chips, soaked for a half hour, as always. You'll want your temperature to sit at around 225 degrees Fahrenheit and the smoking process will only be an hour or so.

Now, when I first tasted the shrimp, it was cooked, but a little mushy. That's probably due to trapped moisture. No problem, the magic "10 minutes in the oven at 350" solution works in this case as well.

Peel shrimp for guests or let them do it themselves! Serve with some kind of dipping goodness, even good old fashioned cocktail sauce if you wish!


OK, now we get into what I think is my favourite exercise in smoking: FISH!!!!

Now I'll be the first to admit that fish isn't to everyone's taste, but it's interesting to note that many folks who would normally avoid fish like the plague get their taste buds in a tizzy when you serve up a gorgeous slab of smoked salmon.

Now, I've never done salmon on the smoker. Mostly because I know what it tastes like and it wouldn't be terribly original. So, back in the early Fall, I was on a mission to find a kind of fish that wouldn't be like the all too familiar smoked salmon or trout. Enter tilapia. Tilapia is a firm fleshed and sweet white fish that isn't chock full of that 'fishy' taste that makes other kinds of smoked fish so distinctive. I gave it a shot after some online research on how to cure or brine the meat. I found a good brine recipe, but cut down the amounts of salt.

The second time I smoked tilapia for a family get-together, I made sure to reduce salt amounts even further and add a few nuances to the brine for flavouring. Here's what I came up with:

Tilipia Brine (for approx. 1-2 lb. of fillets)

- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1/2 cup (white) sugar
- juice of 1/4 orange
- juice of 1/4 lime
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 3 bay leaves, crushed
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 2 cardamom pods, crushed
- pinch cayenne pepper

As you can see, I'm fairly low-tech when it comes to writing down recipes. I bashed the brine/marinade recipes for shrimp, tilapia and Arctic char while at work.

Here is the tilapia brining away. Important to note about brining: NEVER use a metal container. The acidic elements in the brine will react with the metal and leech god-knows-what into the meat. Glass or ceramic are best, but plastic is OK for short term brining.

Brine the fish for about 2 hours. Once ready, ensure you rinse the fish well to get rid of some of the salt, and pat as dry as possible before putting in the smoker.

Start your fire and aim for a steady 210-225 degrees. Use Alder or Apple or both. It'll take about 2 hours to smoke for 2 pounds of tilapia fillets. Once done, I found that the flavour was delicious and unique, but the texture was a bit rubbery. So once again I went to the 15 minutes in the oven fix-all. Not sure why it works so well, but it does! I guess it's because it cooks off any excess moisture that might mess with the texture of the meat.

So, when I committed to smoking a bunch of fish for a family gathering, I had originally thought I was going to do trout as well as tilapia, but when I got to the fish section of the supermarket, the Arctic char was practically leaping out at me. Arctic char is similar to salmon, but with a more distinctive flavour and lighter texture. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to give it a shot.

First was coming up with a good brine. I thought a dose of orange and maple would be good, but I wanted to keep the flavours subtle. Char is so good on its own that trying to do too much with it would be like dousing filet mignon in ketchup. So here's what I came up with:

Arctic Char Brine (for up to 1 lb. fillet)

- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- juice of 1/8 orange
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 crushed garlic clove
- black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill

I smoked the char at the same time as the tilapia and it all turned out in the end. Again, 15 minutes in the oven was the finishing touch. It was sooooo delicious. I'd gladly do that one again!

So, that's about it. Smoking fish is easy and tasty. Don't fear the fish! Next on the "To Smoke" list: chicken, beef brisket and pulled pork!

And, as an added bonus, here are some pictures of fish smoking process before the big family Xmas gathering on December 30, 2010.

The whole shebang marinating/brining.

Fish on the smoker. The shrimp would go on later. As you can see, the one design flaw with my smoker is that the meat on the left, which is closer to the fire, cooks faster. So, you have to rotate your pieces of meat as you go.

The finished product! I whipped together some whipping cream and sour cream for a makeshift crème fraiche. Worked great!

My brother being grabby! Too bad I didn't have a wooden spoon handy to give his knuckles a well-deserved rap!

I also whipped up some crostini-type dealies for an added bonus.

No comments:

Post a Comment