Smoked Trout on the Big Green Egg

The smoking adventures on the Big Green Egg continues… this time with trout.  I wanted to venture out with another type of fish since I’ve smoked salmon [we're a big fan of smoked salmon] every weekend since I purchased the Big Green Egg, which was almost four weeks ago.

I bought four whole trouts yesterday, excited to cure and smoke it.  But when I got home, I didn’t realize that the pin bones and spine were still intact.  Ugh.  I felt almost immediately overwhelmed by the idea of removing the bones.  I YouTubed some videos on how to filet trout, and got right in.  [YouTube always comes in handy for situations like this!]  Luckily, the sweet filet knife I recently got came in handy for this daunting task.  It took some time and hacking at the fish before I got the hang of deboning and fileting fish.  Needless to say, I finished without cutting myself [unfortunately, I accidentally cut myself often in the kitchen... it's a combination of clumsiness + hurriedness], throwing swear words left and right,  or giving up , but all four fileted fish looked pretty hacked up.

The final score:
Me 4
Trout 0

Smoked Trout on the Big Green Egg

3 pounds trout, about 3 to 5 ounces each, skin on, pin bones and spine removed, and fileted
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon black pepper
6 garlic cloves, finely minced

In a small mixing bowl, combine the all the ingredients above and mix thoroughly. Liberally pack the trout filets with the brown sugar mixture. Place in a shallow glass baking dish, and cover tightly with saran wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.

Rinse the trout under cold water to remove the brine. Dry the salmon with a paper towel, and allow it to dry in the refrigerator, uncovered. It should dry for a couple of hours up to 24 hours to develop the pellicle (shiny skin) on the surface of the fish. [I allowed mine to dry in the refrigerator for 12 hours.]

Fire up your smoker per the manufacturer’s instructions and your favorite wood chips [I used alder; hickory or mesquite would be too potent for seafood] to around 180 to 220 degrees F. Smoke for about 3 hours. Remove from smoker, allow to cool, and enjoy it with some creme fraiche, cream cheese, on a salad, or pick at it like we did :)

Grilled Shrimp and Corn Salad with Avocado

I need to read more.  I feel well-informed of current affairs from reading various news media, but I don’t read enough books.  I used to love thumbing through books, especially historical fiction novels that had something to do with China and Mao’s Cultural Revolution.  Now I spend the majority of my day at work staring at a computer screen, only to come home to stare at a computer screen perusing through different food-related websites, my blog, and anything else of interest.  And then there’s the television.  I’m addicted to my television.  How pathetic, right?  I love my Bravo station.  Real Housewives of Atlanta, Beverly Hills, New Jersey, New York, and Orange County?  Yes, please!

The sad thing is that I can’t even remember the last time I picked up a book for leisure.  I even bought myself and my partner a Kindle in hopes that it would encourage me to buy books on-the-fly to read, but instead, it sits on my nightstand collecting dust.  At least my partner uses her Kindle and puts it to good use.  She has finished three books in a matter of three days, and working on a new book as we speak, while I sit here lazily on the couch, blogging, watching a recorded show of The Voice, and perusing through Food Gawker and Tastespotting.

Maybe I should finish this blog post and pick up my Kindle :)

Any good book suggestions?  What about Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto?

Grilled Shrimp Salad with Grilled Corn and Avocado (adapted from Epicurious)

1 pound large shrimp
1 large ear of corn, husked
2 lemons, halved
1/2 cup canned black beans, drained
6 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
1 avocado, sliced
Salt and pepper

5 tablespoons orange juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice from grilled lemon
2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Butterfly the shrimps by slicing almost through lengthwise, while leaving the shell on shrimp. Devein the shrimp, if necessary. Toss with olive oil, juice of one lemon, and season with salt and pepper.

Place the lemons, corn, and shrimp on the grill. Grill the shrimp two minutes on each side, until the shells are pink and the shrimp opaque; the lemons for about one minute, or until there are charred grill marks to caramelize the sugars of the lemon; and the corn has also developed charred grill marks around the diameter of the corn.

Combine all of the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

When cool to handle, cut the kernels off the corn cob in a shallow bowl, and peel the shrimp. Arrange the lettuce on two plates or bowls [however, you like to serve your salad], layered with corn, black beans, avocado, and shrimp. Divide dressing between two plates. [You could toss the salad with the dressing instead. I think the salad looks "prettier" when arranged this way.]

Makes 2 servings.

My First Attempt at Smoking Salmon on My New Big Green Egg

My birthday present to myself was a new Big Green Egg, something that I had been fantasizing and longing for, for the last year and a half.  The Big Green Egg is a kamado cooker, or simply a ceramic all-in-one cooker that can smoke, grill (and sear at really high temperatures), and bake.  You can even recreate a “wood-fired” pizza oven-like effect on this thing because it retains heat so well!

My partner has been a little less enthusiastic about the cooker.  It has been tough trying to convince my partner the idea of buying a semi-expensive the BGE, especially when we have a lot of house projects that we’d like to accomplish… replacing the carpets with laminate flooring, updating our bathrooms and kitchen, and redesigning our backyard to be more low-water maintenance.  And not to mention, my much anticipated hospital bill, which I still haven’t received from my recent hospitalization in February.  So I understand her concerns for spending money on the BGE when we have so much more to do.  I’ve mentioned the BGE to her more frequently these last couple of weeks than I ever had before.  I even tried to entice her by showing her videos on YouTube and explaining to her how it can even bake.  Whatever I did [I think it was the ability to bake on the BGE that sold her] to convince her worked because she was driving me to the only retailer that sells BGEs on my birthday!

After watching the instructional DVD, and perusing through the numerous BGE forums for the do’s and don’ts, I finally mustered up the courage to “break it in” so-to-speak.  I guess you can say I was slightly intimidated by the cooker.  I don’t really know why the BGE was so intimidating, or if it was just me being scared of change and stepping out of my comfort zone of the gas grill.  But after much debate with myself on which recipe to try first, I settled on smoking salmon.  It would be the perfect recipe to try as it would give me the opportunity to smoke something [something that I had always wanted to do], and to play around with the temperature control [which is supposedly really easy according to the BGE manufacturer, but I didn't think it was that easy].

The salmon came out beautifully after three hours of smoking.  I flaked a little piece for my partner to try, and well, let’s just say that she is a new BGE convert :)

Smoked Salmon

1.5 pound slab of fresh salmon filet, with skin on
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup kosher or sea salt (non-iodized)
6 garlic cloves, finely minced

In a small mixing bowl, combine the all the ingredients above and mix thoroughly. Liberally pack the salmon filet with the brown sugar mixture. Place in a shallow glass baking dish, and cover tightly with saran wrap, and refrigerate overnight.

Rinse the salmon under cold water to remove the brine. Dry the salmon with a paper towel, and allow it to dry in the refrigerator, uncovered. It should dry for a couple of hours to develop the pellicle (shiny skin) on the surface of the fish.

Fire up your smoker per the manufacturer’s instructions and you favorite wood chips [I used alder; hickory or mesquite would be too potent for seafood] to around 180 to 220 degrees F. The salmon will be ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Remove it from the heat and devour it right away, or vacuum seal it so that you have it on hand for a while.  The latter may be difficult because you might finish it before you even get to package it away.

Grilled Salmon Burgers with Cream Cheese and Pickled Red Onion

I was craving lox and bagels schmeared with cream cheese, capers, and pickled red onions from this food stand at the SF Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, but I was also craving a salmon burger.  So I thought I’d combine the two into one and created a salmon burger with cream cheese.  It was the perfect compromise :)

Grilled Salmon Burgers with Cream Cheese and Pickled Red Onion (pickled red onion adapted from Rick Bayless’ Authentic Mexican)

1 1/2 pounds fresh wild salmon, skinned
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 large tomato, sliced
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons capers
4 crusty, hamburger buns, lightly toasted
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat outdoor grill to medium high heat. [You can also cook this indoors on a skillet.]

In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and capers. Mix thoroughly, and set aside.

Blanch sliced red onions in a small saucepan of boiling water (enough to cover the onions) for about 30 seconds, and drain in a colander.

Return them to the saucepan, and add the cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and just enough cold water to cover the onions.  Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer the onions for 1 minute.

Transfer the onions and brine to a glass jar and chill.  The onions will turn pink and will get crisp as they cool.  This can be stored in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.  [This process can be done a few days ahead if pressed for time.]

Finely chop the salmon into 1/4-inch dices and place into a medium size mixing bowl. Add to it the lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine. Form 4 patties, and drizzle each with extra virgin olive oil. Flip and repeat. [I prefer the chunkier texture of salmon. Conversely, you could also cut the salmon into large chunks and throw it into a food processor and pulse to a coarse grind meat.]

Cook the burgers for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes or 4 to 5 minutes on each side, for medium or well-done, respectively.

Arrange the burgers with sliced tomatoes, pickled red onions, and caper-cream cheese slathered onto your favorite hamburger bun.

My Chinese Family, Part I (and Chinese chive dumplings with shrimps and scallops)

As I get older and with each year that passes me by, I’ve begun to notice my parents aging.  I still consider them young for their age, but they aren’t as youthful and spry as they once were.  They complain of aches and pains that weren’t present before.   They have ailments for which they need medicate.  They doze off while we watch TV together, just like how they used to complain of their parents doing so while they spent time together.  They’re becoming more forgetful.  They are slowly being adorned with wrinkles and gray hair.  It has made me realize how little I know about my parents.

My partner has been pushing me to document my parents’ life stories, and to also document the recipes that we grew up with.  She wants to ensure that we can pass down our family stories to the next generation.  You see, I know very little about my family history.  I can recall bits and pieces of my parents’ childhood, but not enough to tell a story.  It saddens me.   I had so many opportunities to spend time with my great grandfather and grandparents to learn more about them and their life in China, but I didn’t.  Hindsight is always 20/20, right?

I lost my heritage while desperately immersing myself into Western cultures while growing up as an Asian-American.  I didn’t want to be Chinese.  I thought I was the ugly duckling next to my non-Asian classmates while in grade school.  I wanted to be the blond hair, blue-eyed girl next door.  If someone asked me what I was, I’d quickly respond with, “American.” I hated checking the “Asian” box for my ethnicity.  I used to always wonder to myself, why did I have to be Chinese?  Why me?  It just wasn’t fair.  I can also recall how I didn’t like to be out in public with my parents because I was so embarrassed by their broken English.  Thankfully, this all changed during the mid-90s when Amy Tan came out with The Joy Luck Club that I gained some pride in my nationality.

I realize that it’s not too late to start interviewing my parents and my relatives.  I just don’t want to keep procrastinating this project or else it might just be too late.  So I’m going to do what my partner suggested, and dedicate a series titled, My Chinese Family.   I hope you’ll enjoy the stories and the recipes, as much as I have as a child and still do as an adult.

To start off this series, I wanted to dedicate this post to my Mom.  She is my hero.  The most influential person in my life.  My brother and I are very lucky to have her as our Mom.  She’s also an amazing chef… we ALWAYS look forward to Monday night dinners at Mama Chang’s!  One of the ultimate comfort foods for me is my Mom’s Chinese chive dumplings with shrimps and scallops.  My Mom doesn’t cook with recipes… it’s a little dash of this, and a little dash of that.  So it was always hard trying to cook with my Mom when I was growing up.  And to this day, it’s still hard because now I’m trying to translate her dashes into measurements :)

Chinese Chive Dumplings (Jiaozi) with Shrimps and Scallops

1 large bunches of Chinese chives, rinsed and drained, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
1 pounds scallops, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
2 pounds shrimp, chopped into 1/4-inch dices
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken broth or water
3 packages pot sticker wraps (or homemade dumpling dough)

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients together, except for the Chinese chives. Using a pair of chopsticks, mix the ingredients in ONE direction [This technique allows everything to combine; whereas, if you were to mix in all directions, the mixture would separate, rather than come together. It works because my Mom says so :)] until thoroughly combined, about 5 minutes. [Your forearms will certainly get a good workout.]  Next, pour in the Chinese chives and mix in one direction for another five minutes until all the ingredients have been thoroughly combined.  This may sound yucky to some, but take a piece of the Chinese chive and place it in your mouth to test the seasoning. If it seems bland, adjust the seasoning with adding a little extra more salt.

Heat a large pot of water to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium. [Trust me, you'll want to do this ahead of time to get the water to boil faster because you'll want to eat those dumplings immediately after their wrapped. And besides, you never want to watch a pot to boil water or else it'll just take longer (or so it seems).]

Prepare a small bowl of water and cut open the pot sticker wraps. Place a small portion (about one heaping tablespoonful or a little more if you are advanced) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Continue with the remainder of the dumplings.

As you get down to the last few dumplings to wrap, turn the heat to high to boil the pot of water. Once it comes to a boil, add a teaspoon of sesame oil [this helps them to not stick] and half the dumplings, giving them a gentle stir so they don’t stick together. Bring the water to a boil, and add 1/2 cup of cold water. Cover and repeat. When the dumplings come to a boil for a third time, they are ready. Carefully drain and remove. If desired, they can be pan-fried at this point.

Serve with your favorite Chinese dipping sauces. I love to dip mine with a mixture of soy sauce, white distilled vinegar, and a homemade Chinese XO sauce. Yum.

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

Homemade spicy tuna handrolls are our go-to meals when we feel like having sushi.  We have a great fishmonger, Stan, that sets aside fresh ahi tuna for us.  He’s so convincing, too, because when we’re not there for fish, he’ll tell what he has in fresh that day, and we immediately order a pound or two.  Like last weekend when we were there specifically for ribs, and walked out with five pounds of ribs and one pound of ahi tuna.  We even told ourselves in the car on our way to the market that we were only there for ribs, and nothing more.  If only we weren’t so easily convinced…

It had been some time since we had spicy tuna sushi, and we were craving sushi that day, too.  So it really worked out in our favor.  The only problem was that I was too lazy to make rice.  I know.  What in the hell kind of Asian am I?!  I’m questioning myself, too, as I type this sentence.  I know it’s not hard, but I was too lazy to pick myself off the couch to make rice, and by the time I looked up at the clock, it was already nearing 1 p.m.  And I didn’t want to eat too late because we had plans to eat yummy things for dinner.  So, I had to forego the rice :(

However, on the flip side of this, I got to eat more of the spicy tuna “handrolls” because it was guilt-free eating without all the carbs! :)

Rice-less Spicy Tuna “Handrolls”

1 pound sushi grade fresh ahi tuna, cut into 1/2 inch dices
1/4 cup flying fish roe
2 stalks of green onion, chopped
2 1/2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce, plus more to adjust level of spiciness
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Salt, to taste

Nori seaweed sheets, cut into 4″x 3″ strips

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salt and mix well. Add more Sriracha sauce if you prefer it to be more spicy, or add less to begin with if you like it less spicy. Mix well again. Adjust seasoning with salt to your liking.

Spoon spicy tuna mixture into the middle of each Nori strip, and enjoy! :)

Ahi Poke Tartare

I don’t have very much time to experiment in the kitchen because I work every other weekend, and work very, very long shifts where I’m home anywhere between 9:00-10:00 p.m.  And when I get home from work, I’m usually preparing a sandwich wrap, salad, or something quick for my next day’s lunch and dinner for work.

So when I finally do have some time off, it’s usually a race in the kitchen to cook anything and everything that I have been pondering for some time.  I eat, dream, and think food every moment I can.  Some say it’s an obsession.  I call it a favorite past-time.  I digress.  I will spend most of my day at various grocery stores or farmers markets looking for the perfect ingredients that I need, or that might inspire me to create or recreate something new.  Grocery stores are what art stores are to artists.  Liquor stores to alcoholics.  You’re probably thinking “wow, I can’t believe she just went there.”  Yes.  Yes, I did.  I think you get the point.    Again, I digress.

Well, I finally had a chance to stock up on some supplies that I’ve needed for my kitchen at Sur La Table.  One item in particular was a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter.  You would think that this was standard in any kitchen.  But cookie making was never something my Mom did while I was growing up.  And if she did make cookies, fancy cookie cutters and such were not necessary.  Her style was rustic.  So it never occurred to me to keep a cookie cutter around.  Well, I had been wanting to make ahi tuna tartare and a few other ingredients, and finally found the perfect opportunity to buy a cookie cutter.  I know.  It’s silly.  You’re probably thinking, “who needs a reason to buy kitchen supplies?”  It’s the Asian in me.  Is that a reason?  Okay, maybe I’m stereotyping.  It’s the way I was brought up in my family, where saving every little penny and spending very little was hammered into us.  So I like to justify the reason for such a purchase :)

Speaking of justifying costs, I couldn’t bring myself to spend about $200 on Lowel Ego lights.  I have been scoping out Lowel Ego lights for months now.  Reading user reviews, perusing through foodie blogs that utilize the lighting system, and basic information on the product.  The lights are an ingenious idea to use in a home studio.  Albeit, natural light is always the best; I, unfortunately, do not have the best natural lighting through our home to utilize.  So, I needed a home set-up.  I had a hard time bringing myself to buy the lights, because there were other items at the top of my list that I needed.  So, one glorious night after work, I was unwinding by looking at do-it-yourself light set-ups, and came across a website for do-it-yourself Lowel Ego lights!  Low and behold, my project after my first day off, I made my way to four different hardware stores to gather the supplies, and constructed two look-a-like Lowel Ego lights for $40.  Yep.  Read and weep.  Heehee :)  I was extremely excited to photo my first subject… ahi poke tartare!

Ahi Poke Tartare

1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, diced into small cubes
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 (0.4 ounce) package of NOH Hawaiian Poke Mix
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tobiko
Sriracha sauce or La-Yu Chili Oil
1 medium avocado, cut into thin slices
1 sheet of Nori seaweed, cut into thin strips

2.5 inch round cookie cutter

Rehydrate the ogo (seaweed) in a bowl of water, and allow to steep for about 2-3 minutes.  Squeeze the water out of the ogo, roughly chop it, and place it into a bowl with the ahi tuna.

Add two teaspoons of sesame oil, green onions, tobiko and the rest of the NOH Hawaiian (Hawaiian salt and red chili flakes) package to the bowl of tuna.  Mix well.  I didn’t find the red chili flakes to be spicy, and we like our poke spicy, so we added a tablespoon or two of Sriracha to spice things up a little bit.

Place cookie cutter onto small plate.  Spoon poke mixture into cookie cutter and pack it down with the back of the spoon.  Gently lift cutter up and away from stack.  Place a few slices of avocado on top of the poke, and top with a few strips of Nori.  Make 5 more servings in the same manner.  Enjoy immediately.

If time is of the essence, or you just don’t want to have to mess around with cookie cutters and such, simply enjoy the poke out of the bowl.  We made some poke handrolls with rice, Nori, thin strips of cucumbers, and thinly sliced avocados.  It was yummy.

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