I’m really into experimenting with smoke lately. Or maybe I always have been; from lighting fires in my bedroom trashcan and melting all my barbie dolls, to smoking lots of pot in high school, and all the way to the present, where I’ve just added another variable. Smoking is kind of magical, an intangible ingredient that takes your food to another dimension. A dimension which doesn’t find a home within the universally recognized flavors: it’s not salty, sour, sweet, umami-rich or bitter. It’s smokey. It’s in a category of its own.
My method is simple: I place soaked hickory wood chips in a pot over low heat, put whatever I want smoked in a steamer basket and put a tight fitting lid on top. I couldn’t find anything about it on google so I was a little hesitant at first but it works exceedingly well.
Using this method, I recently smoked blood orange peels (yay for using things you usually throw away) to make a smoked citrus salt with. It tastes great but the smell…the smell is intoxicating.
I was looking through an old French cookbook the other day and ran across a recipe for ‘gratin poisson fumé’ which led to this. Well, buying 4 heads of cauliflower last week is what actually led to this. I forget that they’re consistently significantly cheaper in winter vs summer and get the ‘better hoard!’ mentality when I see them less than $5/head. Plus we eat a lot (a lot a lot) of cauliflower. The only dish I still look forward to eating after doing so 3+ days in a row: Roasted Cauliflower & Chickpea Salad. Today’s recipe only calls for half a cauliflower, I highly recommend roasting the other half for the salad.
This is a perfect side dish. Low effort, moderately healthy, doesn’t need to be served super hot, bakes a long time letting you negate your attention elsewhere, it’s rich and complex but not filling. And if you’re having a dinner party, its smell will attract your guests the moment they step out of their car. Burton said he could smell the fish smoking from the sidewalk when he got home from work last night.
Cauliflower, Kale & Caraway Gratin with Smoked Tilapia
3 fillets of tilapia
1 cup hickory wood chips, soaked 30 minutes in water
1/2 large head of cauliflower (about 2 cups) cut into florets
3 cups kale
1 tsp+ of caraway seeds
1 cup milk
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp potato starch
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup Montamore or parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
for garnish – hemp seeds
for garnish – chives
Over low heat, add wood chips to a thick-bottomed pot, put tilapia fillets in a steamer basket and cover with a tight fitting lid. Let smoke ~1-2 hours. Insert a thermometer or thin fork into the fillet for 10 seconds. If the thermometer feels warm, the fish is done.
Preheat oven to 375.
In a saucepan, combine the 2 tbsp of butter with the potato starch and make a roux. Whisking constantly until combined, then slowly pour in the milk (might not need the entire cup). Once thickened and completely incorporated, add the shallots and parsley. Cook 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat, add the cheese. Pour 1/4 of the mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish. Mix 1.5 cups of kale with the mixture and press firmly into the casserole dish. Toss half the cauliflower in the sauce and layer above the kale. Add the smoked tilapia. Repeat until the casserole dish is full. Top with extra grated parmesan.
Cover with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove tin foil, add hemp seeds and cook another 15 minutes. Garnish with chives.