Smoked Whitefish Mousse

For nearly 300 years the Ojibwe thrived on the shores of Gitchii Gamig, what we now call Lake Superior. Fishing on the creeks, smaller lakes, and on Lake Superior was a near constant through the seasons, using nets formed of branches in the summers and fishing through the ice in the winter.

One of the prized treasures was the Adikameg, a slender, silver bullet of fish, now known as freshwater whitefish. The flesh is tender, flaky, and beautifully white when properly prepared. Available around the world, this member of the salmon family has thrived in Lake Superior waters for ages, were the dark cold waters provide the perfect environment for them to thrive. Fishing both by line and by net, the Ojibwe harvest could be prepared for immediate consumption but also preserved for longer by drying on racks in the sun or over low fire.

Whitefish Smoked

The dried whitefish would be added to stews or corn meal and likely was used more the way bonito flakes are prized today. They would have added flavor and protein to dishes and proper drying would preserve them for far longer than fresh fish would be palatable. On a recent trip to Hawaii I was re-acquainted with Dry Aku, their version of dried skip jack which undergoes a far simpler process than bonito flakes and may be a bit closer to the historic process of the Ojibwe.

The recipe we share here for smoked whitefish is a world away from those dried fish preparations, but the base ingredient is the beautifully delicate flakes of whitefish taking on the smokey flavors of a hardwood fire. We feel it falls right into our Great Lakes cuisine traditions.

Smoked Whitefish Mousse

1 lb fresh whitefish fillet

1 tsp sea salt

½ cup heavy cream

8 oz. cream cheese

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1 Tbs. fresh chives, chopped

Prepare smoker for a low heat, hardwood smoke. We used applewood chips for our preparation. Place whitefish fillet into the smoker with a sprinkle of sea salt. We went for an hour on a fairly thin fillet shown above, but time will depend on fillet thickness and smoking temperature. When in doubt, on this preparation go longer rather than shorter as whitefish firms up as it smokes and a bit of texture is helpful in this approach. Allow to rest over night.

Remove skin and flake fish into food processer. Add heavy cream and blend until just fully mixed then add cream cheese and lemon. Continue blending until smooth. In a bowl, mix whitefish mixture with chives. Chill 4 hours or overnight to allow flavors to blend. Serve with crackers, rye bread toasts, or on cucumber rounds.

Whitefish Smoked1

New Purveyors Added

We’re happy to announce that we have added three new sources to our Purveyors page, two processed meat sources and one for smoked fish.

In Port Washington, WI there is a small, white storefront tucked back off the main street, where you can find a variety of Great Lakes area fish that have been brined and smoked at Ewig Brothers Fish Company.  The company is descended from the fishing operations started by brothers Herman and August Ewig in 1882 in Milwaukee, WI. In 1894 they moved their business to Port Washington and operated a highly successful fishing venture until the late 1960’s, when a decline in the fishing industry forced the Ewig’s to sell their boats after four generations of Ewig’s had worked the lake as active fisherman. But they still source much of their fish in the Great Lakes region or a number of Canadian sources further north.  They offer smoked Canadian whitefish; the variety of fish that was the centerpiece of the once thriving Lake Michigan fishing industry.The smokehouses and retail market are across the street from the location of the original market.

Our two other additions are from Traverse City, MI, which claims the title of Cherry Capitol of the US and is home to National Cherry Festival, so it is no surprise that both vendors offer a combination of Michigan cherries with their signature products. My most recent adventure with Michigan cherries has been to soak them in a combination of sugar, vanilla, and George Stagg bourbon to create a unique addition to a Manhattan.  With a bit of diligent sourcing, I think I could create a “Michigan” – maybe Grand Traverse Distillery Rye as a base and then search out a fortified wine and some bitters from the area, with my cherries to finish it off.  Perhaps when I’m in Grand Rapids later this month I can do a bit of hunting and gathering, but I digress.

Traverse City is developing a bit of reputation as a “modern gastro-paradise”, so claims none other than Mario Batali in Bon Apetit, who likes to summer there with his family to get away from the bustle of his ever-growing culinary empire.  He actually posted a bit of write-up about Michigan in general, and Traverse City in particular. And when Mario talks, the culinary universe listens.  A nice article about Traverse City appeared in the Summer/Fall 2013 edition of Touring and Tasting magazine, where they mention dishes such as slow-cooked and pulled duck, smoked rabbit salad, whitefish roast in grape leaves and Northern walleye pike in roasted tomato cream sauce. Unfortunately, they fail to mention the restaurants or chefs that feature these dishes…more hunting and gathering for me, I guess.

The first Traverse City vendor we are adding to our Purveyor page is Deering’s Market, home of many varieties of jerky including venison, elk, and buffalo along with the more traditional beef.  Of course they offer both a beef and turkey version infused with the Michigan cherry flavor. The second vendor, Pleva’s Meats, doesn’t simply use the cherry juice, but actually adds ground ground cherries to their meat products including their signature burger and fresh sausage.  We have featured the Door County Cherry Landjaeger in these pages before, and the tart, yet rich, flavors of cherry are a natural pairing with meats. Worth noting, Pleva’s also offers a number of specialty sausages such as Blood Sausage and Head Cheese along with Pierogis filled with cabbage, or potato with cheese or mushroom – classic ethnic offerings. A combination of local ingredients, ethnic specialties, and a bit of innovation, tastes like a bit of Great Lakes Cuisine cooking up in Mario’s backyard.