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

The Devil’s Playthings

Idle hands are the devil’s playthings and a bit of idle time led to to this take on Deviled Eggs. The History Channel tells me Deviled Eggs may be as ancient as 1st century Roman culture, where they marinated small song birds and stuffed them into eggs. In this case, my good friend Tom gave me the idea to throw a couple of hard-boiled eggs on while I was smoking a pork tenderloin. His previous experiment with smoking eggs lead me to peel them before smoking to allow more smoke to penetrate the eggs and as they were peeled, we smoked them at a very low heat. Here’s the visual history of an experiment:

Tom sends me this picture and a text: "In the middle of  making an 18 hour pastrami and decided to throw a couple hard boiled eggs on for three hours."
Tom: “In the middle of making an 18 hour pastrami and decided to throw a couple hard boiled eggs on for three hours.”

I’m inspired. “Nice! Smoked Gribiche?”

Gribiche is blended hard-boiled egg yolks with oil, then capers, herbs, and whites.
Gribiche is blended hard-boiled egg yolks with oil, then capers, herbs, and whites.
Traditional on fish, this works on vegetables or chicken , as shown here
Traditional on fish, this works on vegetables or chicken , as shown here

So, I throw on a few eggs to smoke the next week-end.

The peeled eggs allow for the smoke to penetrate more fully in less time.
The peeled eggs allow for the smoke to penetrate more fully in less time.

Now, I’ve had a chance to let ideas marinate.

Let’s go with Double Deviled Eggs.

Yolks mashed with roasted garlic, smoked paprika, mayo, and hot sauce. Pickled sweet peppers on top.
Yolks mashed with roasted garlic, smoked paprika, mayo, and hot sauce. Pickled sweet peppers on top.

As a one bite appetizer, the first flavor is the roasted garlic, mayonnaise and sweet pepper, then you become aware of the hot sauce, and the lingering flavor as you finish is the smoke. Fire, to heat, to smoke. A very satisfying little experiment. See what idle hands can do?

Oh, and as a post script, take a look at the 18 hour smoke ring on the pastrami Tom had working. Gorgeous.


On Culture, Caraway…again

The flavor combinations we detailed in our post On Culture, Caraway, and a Computer were intriguing – partly because of the genesis of the recipe and partly because of the use of under-appreciated caraway. The texture of the pudding we prepared, given the bacon and pepper flavors, seemed odd, but the taste was interesting. So we reprised the flavors, but moved away from the dessert approach to an entree. We prepared a pair of pork tenderloins with a spice rub of salt, smoked paprika, cumin, powdered clove, powdered caraway, and powdered dried mushroom. We smoked them over applewood chips, while enjoying a Lakefront ESB Organic Ale.

Pork tenderloin smoked3


We served this with green beans grilled with red onions and a buttermilk gravy made with bacon and black pepper. The buttermilk gravy was really a nice, tangy complement to the smoky tenderloin. The caraway powder was perceptible on the pork, without being overpowering, and seemed to be accentuated by the smoking process. The mushroom powder was not individually detectable, but there was an earthy tone to the pork, which may be attributable to the mushroom addition. So same flavors, re-purposed.  A very enjoyable Great Lakes Cuisine dish.

Pork tenderloin smoked1



Smoked Turkey, White Bean Soup

From the outset of our effort here at, we have believed the foods of indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region should be included in the conversation, both as tribute and inspiration. The failure to celebrate the peoples who thrived in the Great Lakes region before settlement by primarily European immigrants would be a loss of heritage and tradition. Wild rice, venison, and blueberries are staples of that diet, and wonderful flavor components for many Great Lakes dishes. Of course the major obstacle for the current chef is a lack of written recipes compounded by the systemic elimination of the indigenous cultural traditions, breaking the continuity of food traditions as well.

Sean Sherman is promoting a “Pre-Contact” Dinner to be held in coming weeks in Minneapolis. Some of the traditions he draws from are more from the Plains states, which likely had a distinct culinary tradition from the Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, we admire the effort to bring focus to a culinary tradition long marginalized to our collective detriment. The menu will include:

dehydrated rabbit – honey hominy cake – toasted walnut – berry jus – wilted dandelion

stewed white bean – cedar broth – seared smoked whitefish – sorrel

buffalo ribs – wasna cake of dried berries – puffed wild rice – sweet potatoes – watercress blooms

smoked duck – dried blueberry – amaranth cracker – blueberry jus – crisp – amaranth leaf – maple – pepitas

squash puree – maple sun seed – cranberry – mountain mint

There is inspiration aplenty in those dishes and our soup echoes some of the flavors Chef Sherman includes above. The following recipe is hardly “pre-contact” indigenous by any definition, but some of the same flavors and ideas are permeating through this belly-warming offering. A wild shot turkey, brined and then smoked over cherry-wood would be ideal (might we suggest something like this approach adapted for the much larger bird), but you may have to settle, as we did, for the store purchased variety. Leftover turkey breast was well-utilized here.


Smoked Turkey Soup

Smoked Turkey, White Bean Soup

1 Smoked Turkey Leg
4 cups Turkey Broth
4 cups Water
2 bay leaves

1 medium onion diced
2 cups raw corn kernels
2 15 oz cans of white beans or 4 cups cooked beans
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder

2 cups cooked turkey breast, large dice (leftovers work well)
1 bunch fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, or lemon thyme work well)
Feta or Cotija for grating (frozen, see note)

Bring broth and water to boil in a large stock pot. Add turkey leg and bay leaves and return to a boil then reduce to a simmer for two hours. Discard bay leaves and remove leg and set aside to cool. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 tbs. butter with the onions. Cook until slightly caramelized then add the corn. Continue to cook another 3 minutes stirring often and then add entire contents of skillet to stock pot. Add white beans and seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. While soup is simmering, remove all meat from the turkey leg, paying attention to remove all of the long pieces of cartilaginous “quills” from the meat, then dice into 1/2 inch pieces, set aside.

After beans have simmered for 30 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove approximately half the beans and puree until smooth. Take care when pureeing hot liquids. Alternatively, use a stick blender to puree approximately half of the corn/bean mixture right in the pot. Leaving half of the corn and the beans whole adds some textural appeal to the soup. Return the puree to the pot, then add both leg and breast turkey meat and bring to a low simmer.

We served this with a herb oil, by taking the herbs and pureeing with just enough olive oil to liquefy and a clove of garlic with a pinch of salt. But this could just as easily be served with finely chopped fresh herbs. Our preference is for lemon thyme, which we grow in the backyard, but during the winter this is a bit harder to come by.

Lemon Thyme

So in this version we went with the cilantro which adds a nice brightness. We’re assuming Sean Sherman in his white bean soup listed above is using the native wood sorrel (oxalis) rather than the French imported variety. Either would be a nice addition, but the wood sorrel would keep the recipe truer to our purposes here. The feta here is served grated with a Microplane grater after being frozen.  We have used this approach before with blue cheese over a beet salad and similar applications. The cheese loses none of the flavor appeal as it warms in the soup, but the fine grate creates a more even dispersion. Not necessary, but a fun little wrinkle. Clearly the cheese is not an indigenous item, so leave it out if desired, though it adds a nice saltiness and creaminess to to the finished soup. In the end, this is more of a melting pot dish than a culturally accurate one.

Prepare this soup over an outdoor fire with house-smoked wild-turkey and the result would likely be far better and far closer to a more “pre-contact” experience. Inspiration can from anywhere, but history is a particularly rich source for Great Lakes Cuisine.

Welcoming Autumn

Seasonality is a foundational idea in Great Lakes cuisine. The seasonal cycles in the region are pronounced and the agricultural traditions respond accordingly. The traditions of preservation, so important to Great lakes cuisine, is clearly derived from the seasonality. Some of the traditional meals also fall in line with the turn of the seasons. As summer fades into the golds of autumn, apples are one of the many fruits which reach full harvest. Here we use our bounty of apples in a variety of ways to add a bit of flavor to our smoked turkey.
 Turkey Dinner1
Apple-Glazed Smoked Turkey
1 Turkey Breast (Preferably bone-in, skin on)
Prepare brine:
4 cups apple juice
1 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Bring to a boil, then simmer 5 minutes.
Add 4 cups ice (ice will chill brine and bring to proper salt level.  I prefer an “ocean water” level of salt, rather than some more heavily salted brine recipes.)
Place turkey in large non-reactive container, just large enough to hold it. Cover with brine and allow to marinate at least 4 hours, but no more than 8 hours.
Prepare smoker with applewood chips to 250 degrees. Place turkey on the smoker for 3 hours or until internal temperature of 160 degrees.
While the turkey smokes, prepare the glaze:
1 cup apple juice
2 bay leaves
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Over medium-low heat in a sauce-pan, reduce by half, then remove seasonings.
Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, reduce over low heat until a thick syrup.
Brush Turkey with glaze every ten minutes for the final 30 minutes of cooking.
Remove turkey from smoker and allow to rest for ten to twenty minutes before carving.
 Turkey Dinner
We served this with our mulled cranberry sauce (recipe below), pureed roasted sweet potatoes, and grilled zucchini dressed with winter savory leaves and flowers. Winter savory flowers have a mild, peppery finish which adds a nice flavor, in addition to the visual appeal.
Mulled Cranberry Sauce
It is worth noting, the apple variety we used in the cranberry sauce was a Zestar, a cultivar more recently developed by the folks at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, the same genius minds that brought us the Honeycrisp. You can use any variety well suited to applesauce.
1 lb fresh cranberries
1 apple grated (skin on, cored)
1/2 cup apple juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 cup organic brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground clove
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Allow the sauce to thicken, about 20 minutes. The majority of the cranberries will begin to burst and the natural pectin will thicken the sauce as it cools.  Allow sauce to cool overnight or at least 8 hours. Taste for flavor. Add maple syrup to reach desired sweetness.