Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garlic Scapes

Our garlic has begun to blossom.  Mid-season, the lily sends off a curly, pigtail-shaped shoot with a long pointy flower blossom on the end.  Eventually this will open and become pollinated by an insect, so long as a curious cook doesn't get to it first.  When young, garlic scapes are deliciously tender, bursting with garlic flavor in an unfamiliar form.  The shoots taste somewhat like green onions and have a texture similar to a chinese long bean; firm and crunchy.  They can be eaten raw, if you dare, or they can be sauteed, grilled, marinated, roasted, or braised to help soften their flavor and mouthfeel.  Scapes contain a large amount of cellulose which is stringy and tough.  Slicing the scape across the grain into thin discs will really reduce the amount of chewing needed to break them down.
     Some farmers suggest removing the scape to produce a larger garlic clove.  The energy otherwise wasted on the flower will go to an increased size of the more valuable vegetable below.  Others, believe it has no effect on the garlic at all.  I love to eat them, so I removed most of them.  A few were left behind to experiment and see the difference myself.  The most effective way to harvest them is to bend them over and slide your hand down the shoot until it snaps off, usually right next to the leaves.
     Fresh scapes are a wonderful way to taste the unripe garlic that is still growing below the ground.  Simply sauteed and mixed with some mashed potatoes is a delicious counterpart to a slow roasted chicken.  Additionally, the leftover meat makes a great chicken salad with some of the scapes sauteed, then cooled.  Many cooks prefer to make pesto with these difficult to cut veggies.  Either way, they are indeed delicious!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Smoked Trout

     Ruby and I went to the pond in the field behind our house the other day to picnic and do a little fly fishing.  I caught a personal record: 16 fish!  Most were small brook trout averaging 5-6 inches, but two were worth keeping.  I used a bead-head prince nymph and dry black fly to catch them all, yet the way they were striking, I'm sure almost anything would have worked well.  The fish were actually jumping out of the water to catch small mayflies and damsel flies on the hatch.  I am pretty sure the fish in this pond are stocked seasonally because it is part of the Veterans Home of Wyoming public use land.

   The two rainbow trout that I kept were about eight inches each.  Beautifully colored and good fighters on the line, rainbows make fishing very entertaining.  Usually, I enjoy trout simply pan-seared with a slice of lemon and onion, crushed clove of garlic, and a sprig of thyme stuffed into the chest cavity.  Butcher's twine wrapped two or three times around the body keeps everything from falling out when flipping the fish.  However, this time I decided to hot-smoke the trout over some cedar.  Hot smoking is used to cook the flesh while cold smoking adds a smoke-flavored character without raising the temperature.  In this application, the fish is fully cooked in a smoke filled chamber preserving the meat for longer than normal.  Bacteria that spoils meat cannot grow easily on a smoked product.

Soaking the wood chips in water keeps the wood from burning up too quickly.  However, large chunks of dry wood can be used to bring the temperature of the smoker up to above 275°F.  I started a fire with real oak charcoal on one side of the barbeque, then added my chunked cedar once the coals were smoldering.  The fish was seasoned with oil, salt and pepper and placed on a sizzle platter on the other side of the grill.  Keeping the fish away from the fire provides a slow-cooking, indirect heat.  Next, a foil lid was placed on top of the smoker with one side opened (the side with the fish) to draw the smoke over the product and allow it to escape to prevent stifling. Unfortunately, my barbeque does not have a lid or I would just use that with the vent placed above the product. The fish smoked for about 30 minutes on each side.  I needed to add more wood half-way through the smoking process to keep the temperature up.  The fish had plenty of smokiness but still needed about 20 minutes in the oven to cook through entirely. 
     Smoked trout is delicious hot, but I decided to serve it as a salad.  To cut the smoke with a spicy textural contrast, I added some sliced French breakfast radishes from our garden, baby arugula, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Some crunchy rye toast completed the dish thanks to Ruby's fabulous bread baking abilities.  Fried capers would have been nice, but I did not have any on hand and sometimes it's hard to wait for delicious.