Pete’s Charcutes: Brown Trout Bottarga

Live from the Acela Boston to NYC route comes this installment of ADB, er, The Pete Is On!  I know I am continuing to struggle with regular posting but I have the meals documented to be doing more gooder.  The issue is mostly just getting old and not having the energy to write these things from 9-12 on a weeknight like I used to.  Plus a slight uptick in work travel lately.  My concern with this one is that the power outlet doesn’t work at my seat and my computer is on its’ last legs for both battery and memory.

A few weeks ago I posted about the hogs head cooked at blog character Dupee’s bachelor party on Webb Lake in Maine.  I also mentioned that some (read: parts) of the fish caught on the trip came home with me, though nothing that Kristi was excited to eat.  Not much logic behind that last point, since multiple whole fish were up for grabs when I left on Sunday, but I felt bad keeping them since I had no perceptible connection to the act of catching them.

A brown trout that was caught late in the day was one of the largest trout I had seen since they were few and far between at the places I’d fished most of my life; Ravine Lake and the Ausable River.  Whipping out the buck knife I carry with me on masculine weekends to offset my fear of bugs, snakes, and loud noises, I volunteered to clean this fish.  Upon opening the brownie, I was surprised by how large and pronounced all of the organs were, particularly the liver, roe sacks and the heart.

I can actually claim negative responsibility for this one since it was caught while trawling shortly after I loudly mocked the idea of trawling for trout.  In the process of cleaning I decided to eat the still wriggling heart raw which was questionable, show-offy, disgusting and any other adjective that can be used to describe this blog as a whole

I can actually claim negative responsibility for this one since it was caught while trawling shortly after I loudly mocked the idea of trawling for trout.  In the process of cleaning it, I decided to eat the still wriggling heart raw which was questionable, show-offy, disgusting and any other adjective that can be used to describe this blog as a whole

Quick sidenote on fish roe.  In my Fish Cakes and Spaghetti blog I discussed how I was introduced to caviar at a young age and have had a lifelong obsession with it.  As a kid my caviar obsession used to manifest itself by saving the roe sacks from trout in Michigan to be fried in bacon grease at the morning fish fry.  Cooked fish roe is mealy, dry, and not that pleasant to eat, but that never seemed to deter me.  More recently I’ve had a lot of trouble tracking down fish roe and yearn for the Italian Market in Philly where you can buy an anonymous mixed bag of roe sacks for a couple bucks.  But, I digress.

It hadn’t been in my original plans for the weekend, but one of the reasons I’d been looking for fish roe recently was to make bottarga, a salt cured version of fish roe.  Bottarga is one of those mystical Italian items that shows up in the ingredient listing for pastas in fine restaurants.  Most eaters don’t recognize and wouldn’t dare appear unknowledgable enough to ask about.  I’m not judgin’ since I am consistently guilty of this and am fully comfortable BSing when Kristi or others ask me to define and ingredient I am barely familiar with.  Let’s just think of bottarga as magical Italian pixie dust.

Taking a fish roe sack and curing it in salt at room temperature for a week or so is what yields bottagra, a dried, crumbly, and very salty stick of funky fish flavor.  The two large roe sacks joined a smaller pair in a heavy coating of salt on a couple plates in the house.

I think the pinkish color of these is so nice and should be appetizing to more people.  Just like the New Jersey Turnpike is a horrifying representation of the state, the Acela really is not kind to traveler’s impressions of New England.  I think I’ve passed four prisons and the back parking lots of seven strip clubs.  That said, high speed rail will give you a 1000x better impression of New England than the pit of humanity that is Logan Airport.  That place makes the accents in the Dish Hopper ads seem understated

I think the pinkish color of these is so nice and should be appetizing to more people.  Just like the New Jersey Turnpike is a horrifying representation of the state, the Acela really is not kind to traveler’s impressions of New England.  I think I’ve passed four prisons and the back parking lots of seven strip clubs.  That said, the high speed rail will give you a 1000x better impression of New England than the pit of humanity that is Logan Airport.  That place makes the accents in the Dish Hopper ads seem understated

My plan was to go the full bottarga route with the larger two roe sacks.  This would require keeping them fully covered in salt for seven days, rotating them and drying any excess moisture regularly.  It also required making sure none of my fellow bachelor party attendees threw them out by accident.  I didn’t help my cause on that front by pulling the smaller roe sacks out of the salt cure after a few hours of firming up, rinsed, and offered them around for a taste test.

These look substantially less appetizing than the raw version in my opinion, but so I was a little surprised that multiple people were willing to take a bite.  Can’t say it increased their faith that the hogs head cooking in the cabin would be edible

These look substantially less appetizing than the raw version in my opinion, so I was a little surprised that multiple people were willing to take a bite.  Can’t say it increased their faith that the hogs head cooking in the cabin would be edible

At this point in the curing process, the texture of the roe was gummy, fishy, and, obviously very salty.  Think of a salty and fishy Swedish fish, complete with the sticking to the teeth factor that allowed you to savor the flavor for up to an hour afterwards.  It wasn’t a treat for others but I enjoyed it much more than I should have and ate most of it.

The next morning the larger roe sacks were still leaching water and needed to be re-covered with salt before heading back to Boston.  Back at the homestead, I covered them with another layer of salt, placed on a paper towel, and moved to a cabinet above the sink in the kitchen.  The following 6-7 days were not smooth sailing because those roe sacks got a little stinky and it would sneak up on you while you were doing dishes.  That’s right folks, I discovered a scientific anomaly; fish organs left at room temperature for a week get a little smelly.  These were smellier than I expected, though, and I researched about once a day whether this was a bad thing and if I should throw them out.  I never found the answer, but assumed it was no.

After a little over a week, I had this:

Rock solid and stinky, but finally able to go inside a zip lock bag in the fridge where they would be less offensive.  I expected them to be more rock solid than the crumbly, bumpy sticks I had in front of me

Rock solid and stinky, but finally able to go inside a zip lock bag in the fridge where they would be less offensive.  I expected them to be more rock solid than the crumbly, bumpy sticks I had in front of me

When refrigerated, the bottarga will keep for up to a year, so I had some time to figure out what to do with it.  I’m sure bottarga has lots of uses, but I really only had one in mind which was pasta.  Apparently it is excellent in simple pasta dishes since it give the musty seafood flavor you get from anchovies but in a much more controllable distributed manner.

The opportunity to make said pasta came about a week later with a stay at brother Tim’s house in NJ and Mommy Ryan in attendance as well.  There was a fair amount of questions about what I planned to make, so I decided to make a second pasta as well in case this one turned out, you know, gross.  I got started by boiling a pound of fettuccine al dente, reserving the starchy water and shocking the pasta with cold water to stop the cooking.  Then grated a piece of the bottarga with a microplane.

I expected the product to be a lot more dry and crumbly but the texture was like damp breadcrumbs or sawdust.  I didn’t have the courage to sample it dry either.  Tim mocked me aggressively for bringing my own microplane but couldn’t produce a grater when asked if he had anything that could have done the job.  He probably would have given me a box planar or something.  Stupid anti-air conditioning and vegetable-garden-ignoring jerkface Tim, I’ll show him

I expected the product to be a lot more dry and crumbly, but the texture was like damp breadcrumbs or sawdust.  Tim mocked me aggressively for bringing my own microplane, but couldn’t produce a grater when asked if he had anything that could have done the job.  Stupid anti-air conditioning and vegetable-garden-ignoring jerkface Tim, I’ll show him

I ended up grating about 3/4 of the smaller bottarga piece, which seemed like it would be a good amount for 1/3 of the pound of cooked pasta.  Plus the grated zest of about half a lemon as well.

The guy next to me on the train is catching up on season 2 of Girls  on his iPad.  Every time a Lena Dunham nude scene comes on (spoiler alert: there are way too many) he does this weird cupping thing with his hands shielding the view of his iPad, almost like he is trying to look into a darkened room through an exterior window.  My advice would be to cover the screen with both hands and come back when the daring, soul-baring honesty is over.  That is, for 30-45 seconds before the next nude scene

The guy next to me on the train is catching up on season 2 of Girls on his iPad.  Every time a Lena Dunham nude scene comes on (spoiler alert: there are way too many) he does this weird cupping thing with his hands shielding the view of his iPad, almost like he is trying to look into a darkened room through an exterior window.  My advice would be to cover the screen with both hands and come back when the daring, soul-baring honesty is over.  That is, for 30-45 seconds before the next nude scene

Once the bottarga was grated, I seasoned a couple handfuls of kale along with some halved brown mushrooms and tossed them in oil.  The vegetables went onto a baking sheet with a couple Chester Meat Market Italian sausages and into a 450F oven to roast and get some color.

While those cooked, I sautéed garlic in olive oil in the pan for the bottarga pasta, and sautéed some additional chopped kale for the other pasta in a different pan.  Once the sausage and veggies finished roasting, they joined the kale pan along with 2/3s of the cooked pasta, a ladle of the starchy pasta water and a couple spoonfuls of Tims crappy pesto.

Big surprise, Tim and I almost came to blows over how he makes his pesto.  Luckily, he averted disaster by mentioning how Hub Hollow Jill makes her pesto leading me to considering driving to her home to berate her in person.  Balsamic vinegar in a pesto?!?!  What the hell is wrong with you, Jill???

Big surprise, Tim and I almost came to blows over how he makes his pesto.  Luckily, he averted disaster by mentioning how Hub Hollow Jill makes her pesto, leading me to considering driving to her home to berate her in person.  Balsamic vinegar in a pesto?!?!  What the hell is wrong with you, Jill???

In the bottarga pan, I added the remaining pasta and a ladle of the starchy pasta water along with the bottarga, zest, and about a cup of pan roasted corn.

Walkers farm stand in Little Compton consistently has the best corn I have ever had in my life, so I needed to make use of the extra from the night before.  Corn and seafood, even very fishy seafood flavors, always go excellently together.  The only thing worse than the lighting in Tim’s house is Tim’s house on a 90 degree day

Walkers farm stand in Little Compton consistently has the best corn I have ever had in my life, so I needed to make use of the extra from the night before.  Corn and seafood, even very fishy seafood, always go excellently together.  The only thing worse than the lighting in Tim’s house is Tim’s house on a 90 degree day

As the liquid cooked down, the sauce coating the pasta took on an almost creamy texture and the smell of the bottarga was noticeable but not that different from a standard shellfish pasta.  It also looked pretty innocuous, but appetizing.

Really been loading up the captions in this post.  I was trying to stay traditional which is why I went with olive oil over butter, but would likely make it with butter next time around

Really been loading up the captions in this post.  I was trying to stay traditional which is why I went with olive oil over butter, but would likely make it with butter next time around to make it rich and creamier

And with that, I plated up a little for everyone, though Kristi stuck with just the sausage/mushroom/kale combo.  After a bite or two I realized the bottarga pasta would be far better with a little lemon zest grated over the top along with a pinch of salt.

Dueling pasta is a wonderful plate of food in my opinion.  I could do four on one plate, I love having different textures and flavors

Dueling pasta is a wonderful plate of food in my opinion. I could do four on one plate, I love having different textures and flavors

The sausage, kale, mushroom, and pesto pasta was solid.  Lots of flavor, and the texture from the roasted kale added a nice texture and flavor contrast to the rich mushroom and sausage flavors.  Can’t go wrong with roasted vegetables, sausage, and pesto in a pasta.  The main event for me was the bottarga pasta which, when topped with the extra zest and salt, I found extremely enjoyable.  The flavor from the bottarga was definitely fishy, and slightly musty, though not overpowering and mostly noticeable only when you took a deep breath in while eating.  It reminded me of dishes I had with dried shrimp in them while I was in China.  The sweetness from the corn was a nice addition, as usual.  I can’t wait to cook with it again, possibly pushing the fishiness further with some shellfish as well.

Got some Sunday football meals coming up.  Promise.

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Pete’s Charcutes: Salmon Gravlax

I’ve started to frame how I think about food as being most similar to flight patterns when you live near the airport.  For a few months here and there, maybe you’re in the flight pattern and you have to deal with it, then without notice it goes away and you barely recognize that the change has happened.  That’s generally how my interest in cooking food cycles.  This one has been in the thought pattern for awhile now.

Recently I haven’t been as intrigued by cooking offal at home.  I still enjoy eating it (I ate a pile of Burmese pig ears and organs at my desk, courtesy of Dupee, this week) and have a freezer full of it waiting for me.  But, I can’t think of anything to cook with it.  On the other hand, I am back into cured meats and their wealth of possibilities.  Gravlax has been on the brain since the delicious version I had at the Vergennes Laundry last winter.

Hell of a sandwich.  I alternated between loving that I brought Janet with me (because she was waving to people and laughing) and disliking it (cuz she ate all my gravlax)

Hell of a sandwich. I alternated between loving that I brought Janet with me (because she was waving to people and laughing) and disliking it (cuz she ate all my gravlax)

Not sure where I had eaten gravlax before that fateful day in VT, but previously I always thought of the cured salmon dish as a pickled, sweet and vinegary concoction.  It’s much more similar to smoked salmon with the same buttery texture, minus the dried outside, and with the light flavor of smoke replaced by dill.  After the Laundry, I was on board with gravlax and heard it was pretty easy to make at home.  And now, here we are.

After a little research, it started with a nice piece of wild caught salmon.

These white plastic cutting boards and I are going through a slow break up.  I recognized last week that I have put them through hell and they were showing the pain of that treatment, so its time to let them go and have a chance at a second life.  Hope their next owner like sticky cutting boards that never feel clean

These white plastic cutting boards and I are going through a slow break up.  I recognized last week that I have put them through hell and they were showing the pain of that treatment, so its time to let them go and have a chance at a second life.  I wish them the best and hope their next owner likes sticky cutting boards that never feel clean

When buying a large portion of salmon (this is about 2 pounds), you gotta go to Costco.  Sure you could throw caution to the wind and buy a $10/pound cut of farmed salmon, but your gravlax will likely end up tasting like liver pellets and mud.  Costco has the wild caught stuff for $13 a pound.

In order to make the filet relatively symmetrical, I trimmed off the belly meat strip and a bit of the end.

I strove for symmetry yet seemingly had no eye for it when taking this picture

I strove for symmetry yet seemingly had no eye for it when taking this picture

I saved the trimmings for the grillfest I was planning for later in the weekend and cut the filet into two roughly equal sized portions.

As I quickly learned, the beauty of gravlax is in its complete simplicity; the only other ingredients consistently recommended were sugar, salt, and dill. Although the recommended proportions of each varied widely.

For starters, I roughly chopped most of a store bought bunch of dill and threw away the stems.

One of Jack Ryan's favorite stories involved telling someone that they couldn't give a nun dill bread because it was made with dill dough.  Say it out loud and it will make more sense.  Now you get my sense of humor?

One of Jack Ryan’s favorite stories involved telling someone that they couldn’t give a nun dill bread because it was made with dill dough.  Say it out loud and it will be more clear.  Now you get my sense of humor?

To the dill I added 2/3s of a cup of kosher salt and 1/3 of a cup of white sugar.  This proportion was the subject of much debate (in my mind) since every recipe called for a completely different ratio with many recommending more sugar than salt.  With my memory of crappy sweet pickled salmon from my first gravlax experience, I elected for the greater salt amount.  Also, I zested half a lemon in as well since citrus was recommended in about half of the recipes I saw.  Stirred that up so that all ingredients were well distributed.

Could have used less of the salt/sugar since i left a lot in the bowl, but I definitely don't mind being wasteful with that stuff for some reason.  Yet I have a sprig of dill in my fridge that is way past its prime that I am hoping to find a hail mary use for

Could have used less of the salt/sugar since I left a lot in the bowl, but I definitely don’t mind being wasteful with that stuff for some reason.  On the other hand, I have a sprig of dill in my fridge that is way past its prime that I am hoping to find a Hail Mary use for so I don’t have to throw it out

I placed the two halves of the salmon filet on parchment and pressed/packed the dill curing mixture onto the meat until it was fully covered with a thick layer.

Again, very simple process: press a bunch of stuff onto the salmon.  Definitely had the potential to get out of hand if I had continued to try to fit the entire bowl of dill/salt/sugar on there but I gave up with about a quarter left and decided not to try and fit more on

Again, very simple process: press a bunch of stuff onto the salmon.  Definitely had the potential to get out of hand if I had continued to try to fit the entire bowl of dill/salt/sugar on there but I gave up with about a quarter left and decided not to try and fit more on

Then, with all the grace of when you’ve put toppings on both sides of your sandwich bread, I indelicately slapped these two pieces together.  Then, the usual sandwich process of scooping up everything that fell out and attempting to press it in from the sides. Eventually I had a salmon sandwich.

I'll admit it, I trimmed the salmon end wrong.  It needed to be a mirror image of the other side and I cut the angle opposite.  Made for the one end being mismatched.  If I was a kid and this was the bread used for my grilled cheese I would have lost my effing mind and believe the sandwich to be inedible

I’ll admit it, I trimmed the salmon end wrong.  It needed to be a mirror image of the other side and I cut the angle opposite.  Made for the one end being mismatched.  If I was a kid and this was the bread used for my grilled cheese, I would have lost my effing mind and believed the sandwich to be inedible (though I would have eaten it eventually because grilled cheese is delicious)

Using the parchment, I wrapped the salmon up burrito-style, folding in the ends as I rolled so I would have a nice compact package.

Not m'best burrito rolling.  On a scale of Annas Taqueria to Chipotle in terms of quality of burrito rolling, I would give this a Qdoba, meaning it looked about as good as Chipotle, but was inexplicably sh*ttier

Not m’best burrito rolling.  On a quality scale of Annas Taqueria to Chipotle in terms of burrito rolling, I would give this a Qdoba.  Meaning it looked about as good as Chipotle, but was inexplicably sh*ttier

Every recipe I saw recommended some extensive plastic wrapping at this point to seal all air out.  Following a brief temper tantrum when I discovered we were out of plastic wrap, I realized that the Food Saver vacuum sealer would do as good a job and definitely have less risk of leakage.  So, I sealed it up and put it in the back of the fridge with a one pound weight (package of ground turkey meat) on top.

Over the next 36 hours I flipped the the package over about once every 8 hours and replaced the weight on top.  The goal was to avoid one side spending too much time sitting in the salty/sugary liquid that formed.  Around breakfast the second day, I removed the package from the fridge.

MMMmmmm, questionable yellow fish juice.  I would have been pretty ripped if this stuff had leaked all over my fridge as was the chief complaint with the plastic wrap method

MMMmmmm, questionable yellow fish juice.  I would have been pretty ripped if this stuff had leaked all over my fridge as was the chief complaint with the plastic wrap method

The meat felt much firmer than it did when it went into the bag and the size was noticeably smaller.  I cut into the package over the sink to minimize fish juice spills and pulled out the salmon sammie.

Much darker than when we started.  I rarely cook meals for the blog in the morning and couldn't believe that I got natural light everywhere in the kitchen at 9AM.  Who knew?!?!

Much darker than when we started.  I rarely cook meals for the blog in the morning and couldn’t believe that I got natural light everywhere in the kitchen at 9AM.  Who knew?!?!   Also, nice thumb there, Mr. Mutant Baby Thumbs

The pieces came easily apart and I lightly scraped off the dill, zest, and unabsorbed sugar/salt.  Then rinsed each piece lightly under cold water to remove any excess ingredients followed by patting each piece dry with paper towels.  Which left me with this.

These were significantly flatter and not nearly as thick as when the filet was whole.  No comment on how they weren't really the same size at all despite my attempt and what I claimed earlier

These were significantly flatter and not nearly as thick as when the filet was whole.  No comment on how they weren’t really the same size at all despite my earnest attempt and what I claimed earlier

Even with a little help (Conman to the rescue!), I knew I couldn’t consume both of these pieces in one day so I put one into a fresh food saver bag and sealed it up for the following weekend.  The other piece I got to work on with the sharpest, thinnest carving knife I had.

The goal was to cut the pieces as thin as possible, but also to slice on a heavy bias so that each piece had some decent surface area.  Took some practice, and the first couple cuts were subpar, but eventually I got the hang of it.

Dece contrast shot showing how much darker the pieces looked before they were sliced thin.  They looked like salmon jerky in their whole form but sliced up tender and buttery

Dece contrast shot showing how much darker the pieces looked before they were sliced thin.  They looked like salmon jerky in their whole form but sliced up tender and buttery

Once I had a bunch of pieces sliced, I quickly tacked on another round of temper tantruming when I realized I didn’t have the perfect bagel that I was looking to eat this on.  Nothing less than a Bagels-4-You everything would have done the trick at that moment.

I reluctantly accepted my fate and went with a little wheat toast, cream cheese and capers.

There were multiple open faced sandwiches made that morning, this one just happens to be the smallest and makes me look the least gluttonous

There were multiple open faced sandwiches made that morning, this one just happens to be the smallest and makes me look the least gluttonous

The texture of the fish was very soft and, to use it again, buttery.  I don’t say this often but it really did melt in your mouth.  The fishy flavor normally found in lox was very mild and less pronounced than the dill and citrus from the cure.  I think the traditional way to serve this would have been with some aquavit or mustard or creme fraiche or maybe all of them, but nothing beats cream cheese and capers for me.

I would absolutely make this again and can’t wait to. I much preferred it to the inconsistent smoke flavor found in most packaged smoked salmon in stores.  Really really tasty.

Pete’s Charcutes is no longer the most seldom used category on the site!  Uncle Timmy?  You ready to talk about your stupid recipes for jerks?