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.
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.