'Viands' is for those who know that preparing food can be an end in itself, not just a means of getting something to eat. It's an irregular chronicle of play in the kitchen, emphasizing two areas: Processing techniques like charcuterie, salting, smoking, and so forth, and also the creative use of leftovers. Anyone can go out and buy everything needed to make something good, but to work only with what’s found at hand is a far greater challenge and, in the end, perhaps more satisfying.

Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday Smoke

The smoker is hard at work this morning. Today it’ll do the pork loins for Canadian bacon, some dry-cured salmon fillets, and some very small whole fish. I also have a chunk of commercial bacon to throw in for 45 minutes or so of extra smoke, which improves it considerably. I hate to run the smoker for just one thing so I usually try to accumulate items to make the effort more worthwhile.

To that end, I dry-cured a few pounds of salmon and, yesterday at the farmer’s market (the real one on Alemany Blvd, not the over-gentrified sideshow at the Ferry Building), picked up some interesting little six-inch fish. When I bought them I thought they were some member of the sardine family, but after getting them home and taking a closer look, followed by consultation with the Field Guide to Pacific Coast Fishes, I concluded that they’re some sort of silversides (smelt, grunion, etc.) They best match the description of grunion, and since those are running south of here and are in season right now that seems most likely.

At any rate, they were gutted, washed, and brined for a while before being rinsed and left in the refrigerator to dry overnight. Never having smoked such small fish before, I have no idea how long they should stay in the smoker so I’ll have to check them out fairly often to see if they’re done.

The vendor adjacent to the fish truck had live chickens and rabbits on offer. I was tempted by the latter (after tasting last week’s duck confit I’ve been planning to make some from rabbit), but my 11-year-old son vetoed that possibility. His position was quite clear: He’d be more than happy to help clean them and eat them if they were already dead, or to shoot them in the field if they were wild, but he felt strongly that butchering these pet-like domestic bunnies at home was out of the question. To be honest, I think I agree with him.

Last week's bresaola is out of the cure and ready to hang downstairs for three weeks or so. The aroma, full of herbs and wine, tempted me to take one of the two pieces, soak out almost all the salt, and try braising it as a sort of pot-roast. I think that might be very good, but in the end decided to stay with the original plan.

I'll let you know how the dry-vs.-brine Canadian Bacon competition comes out.


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