By Paul Suplee
One of the dynamics that has always perplexed me in our industry is when a chef hides his or her “secrets” from people when sharing recipes. I often hear people tell me emphatically, “Chef, I know if I ask you for the recipe for [fill in the blank], you’re going to leave out an ingredient or two, right?” Truth be told, I had a guest say that exact thing to me Saturday night.
And nothing could be further from the truth.
I think I wrote first about this fascinating and ubiquitous condition 12 years ago, and I still stand fast on it today. Let’s face it, cooks and chefs: If you can’t share your top secrets, and what you’ve created is the absolute best that you can possibly come up with, then it’s time to quit the business. We should all be growing, improving, collaborating and sharing, no matter what we do or at what stage we find ourselves at present.
Of course, I can understand if it is a branded and proprietary secret such as the Coca-Cola recipe or something of that magnitude, but a potato salad recipe? Your magical crab cake formula? Really?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work for and with some amazing, world-class chefs. I have been enthralled when asked to work side-by-side with said chefs as they plate a meal for dignitaries and celebrities. And I have yet to be stymied by any of them when I ask them for advice on ingredients, sourcing or techniques. That is the side of our business that I adore the most.
Last year I was approached to write an article for a national magazine, and I interviewed a chef who has been a cooking and writing inspiration for me for decades; Norman van Aken. This is the guy who coined the terms “Fusion Cuisine” and “New World Cuisine” in the 70s and 80s, and his amalgamation of international flavors brought light to an industry that once viewed maraschino- and clove-studded ham as the pinnacle of culinary perfection.
When I asked him about this phenomenon, he shared that this is the kind of thing that drives him crazy. Having worked and collaborated with the best in the world, never was there a time when a good chef held anything back.
Of course, as you’ve read here over the years, I am not a world-class chef. I am not what you would call a genius, and these certainly are not the recipes that would land me at the James Beard House any time soon. But I am a teacher, and technique is everything and makes the difference between mediocre and divine.
One of my favorite things to teach is smoking foods, an age-old technique borne of the necessity to preserve. Great on any summer menu, it is equally satisfying in a hearty winter’s meal. And if asked what my favorite thing to smoke is, I would have to say seafood. There is an art to it, and it will take you a few tries, but attempt this and pay attention to the details.
And for god’s sake, share this with anyone who wants to learn how to do this themselves. That’s the point of cooking in the first place.
1 pound Fresh salmon filet, skinned
1/2 pound Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound large dry scallops, cleaned
1 gallon brine (recipe follows)
2 cup Apple juice
Accoutrements, as needed
- Place salmon, shrimp and scallops in the brine
- Brine for at least three hours
- Drain and place on a wire rack and place in the icebox
- Allow to air out overnight. This will create a sticky pellicle
- Fire up a smoker with your choice of chips. In the early 80s we smoked everything over mesquite, but I wouldn’t do that nowadays since it tends to overpower the medium. I like hickory, cherry, apple and alder or a combination thereof
- Place the apple juice in a pan in the smoker. As long as you are hot smoking and it comes to temp (to steam), it adds a subtle nuance of fresh apple to the finished product
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on hot smoking fish (they are all unique, so I can’t give you an exact step-by-step here, sorry)
- Remove the fish when it is smoked to a doneness of your liking and set back on wire rack in icebox
- Allow to air out for another three hours (minimum). This will lessen the level of smoke. All too often, people will smoke the hell out of fish and pork and it ends up feeling like you took up your nasty smoking habit again. After the third bite, your mouth goes numb from the acrid chemicals that naturally accompany improperly smoked product
- Once it is aired out, it is ready to go, or you can /pack it accordingly. Smoked seafood vacuum-packs very well and if packed this way, will freeze beautifully
- Serve with accoutrements
3 lemons, sliced
3 sprigs thyme
1 cup Sugar
1 cup Apple juice
1 cup Kosher salt
2 Tbsp. Whole black peppercorns
4 Dry bay leaves
1 Cinnamon stick
- Combine in one gallon of water and bring to a simmer just to dissolve the sugar and salt
- Cool to 41F or below before adding seafood