What is good food — and I mean really good food — meant to do: nourish or entertain? Is it meant to be simply good for your body, or also good for your soul?
My feeling: why choose? Life is too short. Enjoy every part of it, while you can, I say.
I think many agree, and this is why so many stress over what to cook. The choice is often about how to prepare something people will love, without a lot of work. Something they’ll rave about, and something that will transport them.
Enter smoked bluefish pâté and my new bluetooth-enabled electric smoker from Masterbuilt. You think I’m joking? I’m not.
There’s nothing like smoke to transform food from a protein into a transporting experience. Smoke reminds people of camp fires, of traditional lobster bakes on the beach, or of southern BBQ. In other words, it reminds them of good times — of experiences away from their routines. Food like this nourishes the soul by transporting people away from the mundanity or stress of their everyday lives and delivering to them not just a plate of food but an experience and, so often with it, memories.
A french writer once wrote about how a small baked good transported him to the happy days of childhood. If you’ve ever seen the Pixar movie Ratatouille, this is the same principle of the ratatouille that is served to the harsh and humorless restaurant Anton Ego — the dish that transforms him into a softie and a patron of the restaurant he so ardently wanted to close.
And so for me it is with smoke. It reminds me of the smoked salmon that I grew up eating at a camp in Canada, where the smell of it smoking you could smell all week. It reminds me of those lobster bakes where I grew up on the coast of Maine. And it reminds me of the time my wife took me to New Orleans — one of the best trips of my life.
My favorite smoked dish in the summer is smoked bluefish pâté. There’s something about it: it’s the perfect combination of fat, salt and flavor (the three pillars of food, really). In summer, it signals that the fresh fish of New England’s summer have finally arrived. Out of season, it transports you back to the deck with a cold drink and friends or family. (See Ego, above.) At the risk of going too far, I find the process of making a pate of out smoked bluefish transforms it from a fish many don’t like to eat to one people find delicious. It’s like bluefish met the alchemical philosopher’s stone, and emerged a better version of itself.
But I confess, I hadn’t spent a lot of time making it. That all changed this summer.
Smoking meat can be difficult to do on a grill. You have to refuel the charcoal fire just right on a regular basis, and then only use a small portion of the grill surface to actually cook the food. I’ve always found the gas or charcoal grill smoking method to be inefficient and limiting.
And so I wanted to find a smoker that would enable me to cook food — and a lot of it — without the hassle. In setting out to buy a smoker, I set out with these criteria:
- I wanted to be able to achieve a remarkable depth of flavor
- Which meant I wanted a great deal of control over the temperature and the smoke
- Without a great deal of hassle
- And I wanted to be able to do all this without paying an arm and a leg.
My desire for control without the hassle meant that I needed an electric smoker; something without all of the charcoal wood fuel (and thus, ash waste) that, while authentic, is hard to control and involves a fair amount of cleanup. True, hardened barbequers will disagree, but think of it this way: you’re not going to have to buy bags of charcoal, and stoke the embers every hour overnight. Instead, you can sleep. Sold? I thought so.
The Masterbuilt line of electric smokers offer a few conveniences that sold me on the product. You can smoke only a small fillet, or do up to 90 lbs of meat. You can control it via Bluetooth from far away.
This is a great smoker for the serious home cook who likes to smoke things. It’s easy, it controls well, it won’t break the bank at under $300, and it delivers a delicious product. I’ve made smoked ribs, slow smoked pork shoulder, and smoked salmon, and all came out absolutely delicious! I’d highly recommend this smoker.
But how to smoke bluefish? And how to make pâté? Here are my recommendations. Note: If you’re working with smoked bluefish, skip to the pate part below.
How to Smoke Bluefish – Start with a Brine
I eschewed this the first time around, thinking it was unnecessary. But when I did it, I found the fish was more moist, and thus imparted more flavor to the pâté.
The brine is pretty simple. The basics call for you to cover the fish for 2hours or more in water, brown sugar, and salt. Other recipes call for adding bay leaves, mustard, or even soy sauce, but I found those things to be not entirely necessary. Combine enough of the following to cover the fish in a non-reactive dish or bowl:
- 1 quart water
- 1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
- 1/4 cup sugar (I recommend brown, but regular ol’ white is fine)
For how long, you ask? The recommendations vary greatly, but I’d say 4-6 hours is a great time. You can get away with 2, but I’d try not to.
Smoking Method & Time
I’d recommend a going heavy on a wood that gives you a lighter smoke, than light on a wood that gives you a really heavy smoke. For that reason, I went not with hickory — the go-to for many slow smoke recipes for pork or beef — but with applewood. It’s a great smoke — not too harsh, but imbues the fish with plenty of flavor.
I found smoking at the traditional 220 degrees works fine. This usually takes less time than you think, so I’d start checking the flesh about 1.25 hours in, to see how it’s doing.
Making Bluefish Pâté
Once your fish is smoked, it’s time to make the pâté. I like to combine the ingredients when the fish is still warm, but not hot, so leave it on the counter to cool down — and to fill the house with a mouth-watering, stomach stirring smell. (If you’re working with smoked bluefish, all of the rest of this works as well.)
At the foundation of pâté there’s a debate: cream cheese versus sour cream or crème fraîche. I find the latter makes for a texture that is too gloopy and wet. If you want the pate to stick to the cracker, go with cream cheese. If you want more of a dip, go with the latter.
Bluefish pate ingredients:
- 1 lbs. smoked bluefish
- 8 oz. cream cheese — warmed so its easy to work with
- 1/4 cup butter (because what’s not better with it?)
- Minced shallots
- Lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoof Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons cognac
- Black pepper
- Touch of smoked paprika (smoked is way better)
Different people like these ingredients in different amounts, but I fin the above delivers an excellent smoked bluefish pâté. I suggest you skip the greenery — the minced chives or parsley that I’ve seen — and leave this as having a brown coloration, and a thick texture.
While I find you always have to have some right away, I do find this gets better with age — so make ahead, and serve over the course of a weekend. That is — if it will last more than one day.