Monday, May 28, 2012

Northern Pike Tacos

Northern Pike. A species of carnivorous fish which is found throughout the northern hemisphere and beyond. They are often found in sluggish streams and shallow, weedy nooks in lakes as well as in cold, clear rocky waters. My first few ventures into the boundary waters canoe area, some 10 years ago now, had me fishing northern pike from my canoe in the marshy, shallow areas along my route.  Although they were great fun to catch, we never kept the fish for eating. Pike are more of a prized game fish, and are fished more for sport than for consumption. The flesh is considered boney due to the substantial amount of "Y" bones, and I never really liked hanging out in the fly infested shallows for too long. We preferred to catch lake trout while trolling around the deeper lakes in our canoes. Pike just isn't a popular eating fish in these parts, and so when my partner brought home about 5 pounds of fresh pike, I wasn't really that excited. I was secretly hoping he was going to bring home lake trout or walleye while fishing up the Gunflint trail with his old college pals. Maybe he would take a side trip to Leo lake and bring home a few rainbow trout like I suggested. Oh what I wouldn't do for some Rainbow Trout stuffed with fresh herbs, wrapped in bacon, and roasted in the hot coals of a dwindling fire.....anyway, this traditional fishing trip, which happens every year follow Mother's Day, has them fishing the same fish, in the same spot, case closed.

The flesh of the Pike is white and mild tasting, and over the years the previously mentioned college pals have learned how to fillet the fish around the "Y" bones, leaving an almost boneless fillet to work with. And with a little research, I learned that Pike has quite a history in cuisine. I vaguely remember a puree of northern pike which we created in culinary school. We added cream, herbs, and spices, formed the mixture into quenelles, and lightly poached them in flavorful fish stock we had made from the fish carcasses. Yeah, I certainly wasn't going to attempt that project on a weeknight, after working all day, with a young child and a Labrador retriever to wrangle. When was the last time I shaped anything into a quenelle anyway? My days as a Chef seem so long, I decided on Northern Pike tacos. I marinated the flesh in lots of cumin, garlic, and lime. I used the zest and juice of the limes which gave the fish an almost ceviche quality. What I mean by ceviche, is that the acidity of the lime juice started 'cooking', or breaking down the fresh Pike meat. It really infused the flavors into the meat, which made for tasty fish with minimal effort. I then fired up the grill and grilled corn tortillas alongside the marinated fish. I assembled each taco with a slather of fresh made guacamole and fresh cilantro. It was fabulous. No children or dogs were injured in the pre-dinner wrangling, and all bellies were full. The end. Belly up!!

Marinade for fish:

3 cloves garlic
2 limes, zested and juiced
2 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1/4 cup tequila
1 lb. fresh fish

Place all of the above ingredients, except fish, in a food processor and process for about 45 seconds. Place the fish and the marinade in a 1 gallon sized zip-lock plastic bag. Gently squeeze the bag to remove any excess air before sealing the bag closed. Place the bag of marinating fish in the fridge for about an hour. Remove from fridge, place on pre-heated grill, and grill for about 2-5 minutes on each side (depending on fillet size), making sure not to over-cook the fish.

Pair fish with grilled corn tortillas, fresh guacamole, fresh cilantro, and any other fix'ns you desire: thinly sliced cabbage, radishes, and/ or onions would be nice. Grilled peppers and goat cheese would work too!!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mama's ribs

Happy Mother's Day Mom! Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there. I was going to cook something dainty and sweet this weekend for Mother's Day.  Then I realized that women dig foods that are hearty and robust just as much as any guy I know. Plus, I am madly in love with a carnivore addict, and he brings out the 'pit- master' side of me. I settled on ribs. I bought a full rack of pork ribs, rubbed them down with a very simple rub, seared them on the grill, allowed them to slowly roast in the oven with beer, and then finished them on the grill slathered with sauce! Sounds a little putsy? Well, maybe, but that's kinda what I have grown to love about BBQ.

First the rub. The rack I had bought was a bit too big to fit on our grill, so I started by halving the rack. Then I sprinkled each side with sea salt, lots of fresh cracked pepper, brown sugar, and chili flakes. I wanted a touch of sweetness and lots of kick, hence the hefty sprinkling of fresh cracked pepper. The chili flakes add additional spice, different from that of the black pepper, and could be omitted depending on your personal taste. Normally I go a little nuts coming up with spice blends, but I kept it simple this time. Cumin, smoked paprika, allspice, cocoa powder, and ginger would be great additions. Play around with it. You'll probably come up with something really interesting. I allowed the ribs to hang out, all rubbed in spices, while my fella and I went for a 6 mile hike around the Devil Track River.

The searing. When I cook ribs, I go to the braising method. Braising is a combination cooking method using both moist and dry heat. Typically the food is seared over high heat and then finished in a covered pot with liquids. Pot roast would be an example. So, I seared the ribs on the grill so they would have the smokiness and a bit of the charred edges, which I am fond of. Just before I removed the ribs, I brushed them up with apple cider vinegar. Then I removed the ribs from the grill, placed them in a roasting pan with 2 cups of chicken stock, and 1 Sam Adams Cherry Wheat beer.  This particular beer was left behind from a seasonal sample pack of beers. While it may not be my favorite drinking beer, it's cherry notes worked perfectly with the pork. Hard cider would be a good choice too. I let them roast for about 1 1/2 hours.

The finish. Remove the ribs from the roasting pan, and place them on a preheated grill. I like to add more smoky depth and crisp up the exterior a bit at this point. Now is a good time to slather on BBQ sauce if you like, and allow it to grill into the meat. Below is a run down of the BBQ sauce I came up with.

Remove the ribs from the roasting pan, and you are left with about a half of a cup of reduced liquids. This stuff is gold. Place the roasting pan on the burners of your stove top. De glaze the  pan with a splash of red wine or beer, whatever you happen to be drinking. Scrape up all the bits and juices. To this pan add:

2 Tbl apple cider vinegar
2 Tbl agave (honey or maple syrup would do wonderfully)
1 Tbl stone ground mustard
1 Tbl chili powder
1 tsp chili sauce ( I used Sriracha)
1/2 cup ketchup
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
smoked sea salt, to taste

Whisk all of the above ingredients together with the pan juices. If it seems too thick, add more liquids to thin it out. Here again, I encourage you to create this to your own tastes. Everyone's palette is different. Maybe some of you like more tang. Up the vinegar.You've got a sweet tooth, up the sweetener. I kept it simple again, and kept with the black pepper and chili spices. I try to balance the sweet, smoky, tang, and spice. Hope you enjoy! Belly up!!