I fell off the blogwagon for a bit, but made a resolution to step up the postings in 2010. With the restaurant closed for the month of January every year, my routine is really changed up. In fact, for the month of January, I don’t cook. That’s my rule. I cook for everybody that walks in the door for 11 months of the year–last year over 5,000 meals from my little kitchen.
But in January, my stove is OFF.
My family is totally sick of pizza, Subway, Wendy’s, Tim Hortons, KFC, take-out Chinese, grocery store deli—you name it, we’ve carried it home and wolfed it down. It has actually been a good exercise in remembering why we decided to open a restaurant 3 years ago. And why we decided to specialize in cuisine that is fresh, local and organic.
I broke my January NO COOKING rule over the weekend, though, when our next door neighbor brought us a “feed of smelts.”
Smelt are tasty little fish that are speared through the ice from inside ice fishing shacks, and a “feed” is just what it sounds like—enough to feed your family. At one time this winter fishery was no doubt essential to family survival, but now smelt fishing is mostly recreational. Bags of fresh smelts are sometimes sold, but more often are given away to friends and neighbors.
When you are lucky enough to receive a bag of smelts, they have to be dealt with. Like fresh corn on the cob, smelt taste best when they are cooked and eaten quickly after they are caught. The ones Brian handed me in the driveway were mostly still alive, just pulled from Bedeque Bay a few short kilometers from our home. Talk about being a locavore!
Cleaning smelt isn’t too bad, but cleaning fish is cleaning fish. Heads and tails off, guts out, ready to go. I used several old newspapers under and around the cutting board and sharpened my knives before I started. It took me about a half hour to get them ready. Take out the trash immediately after or you will regret your laziness—guts get stinky fast.
I ran across a website that claimed 36 ways of cooking smelt.
It made me start thinking of Bubba in Forest Gump reciting all the ways to cook shrimp. But you know, smelt need to be fried. Smelt is not for fancy dining. Although we don’t normally deep fry around here, we make an exception for smelts. Once only, then we have had our smelts for the year.
I decided that since I was going to waste a quart of cooking oil, I would also make some homemade potato chips. Talk about simple—slice a potato thin! Throw the slices in the hot oil! Fish the chips out and add salt!
It helps immensely to have a thermometer to determine when the oil is hot enough. I use an ancient thermometer from my dad’s kitchen that has an arrow next to the word ‘fish’. It doesn’t even have numbers, just words on the dial like ‘hard crack’, ‘potatoes’ and ‘fish’.
I mixed a cup of white flour with salt, pepper and spices and dredged the smelts through it. Tossed them in the hot fry oil and waited for them to turn brown. About 5 minutes.
We drained them on paper towels and ate them as standing up in the kitchen, burning our fingers, washed down with cold beer.
It was worth breaking the January NO COOKING rule.