This is not the blog post I thought I would be writing this morning.
Last night we went on another smoking binge. We smoked two pounds of fat beautiful shrimp, which I had marinated in olive oil, lemon juice and chopped garlic, and a block of Monterey Jack cheese and a block of pepper jack, for good measure.
So, that was the plan for dinner. I made a spicy barbecue sauce for the shrimp, and we sat down to a plate of gorgeous food (the shrimp) and not so gorgeous (the cheese) right out of the smoker. We also had a crisp and spicy vegetable/fruit salad that I had made earlier in the day and left to marinate in lime juice.
To my real regret, I did not love the smoked shrimp. Jerry thought they were great but I could barely eat them. The smoky taste of the hickory wood was so strong and the shrimp, while thoroughly cooked, had the texture of raw shrimp. I even seared them for a second in a hot pan which firmed them up a little, but still the smoke flavor was overwhelming. The cheese was good, but kind of oily and melty since it was still warm. The pepper jack didn’t turn me on – again, the strong smoke didn’t enhance the spicy cheese.
I was seriously bummed. Smoking food is so much fun and smoked fish is so good that I wanted to love smoked shrimp too. Maybe it was the hickory wood chips we used, I speculated – maybe a milder smoke would be better. Still, I went to bed planning a blog post filled with culinary dismay.
there’s an obvious moral here, if you are the type that looks for them. I got up today and while prowling for
breakfast, gave the cheese, now thoroughly cold and solid, another try. Fabulous. Pepper jack? Delish.
I got out the leftover shrimp and barbecue sauce and gave them another try too. The smoky taste was still there, but it had somehow mellowed overnight. Now it wasn’t overbearing, and with a squirt of lemon, the shrimp were fantastic. Add the barbecue sauce and my mouth was awake and singing.
I am still not sure they are breakfast material, but I definitely know what we’re having for lunch!
I didn’t keep great notes while I cooked, but here’s roughly what went into what.
Smoked shrimp. I marinated two pounds of shelled and deveined gulf shrimp for about an hour in a minimal amount of olive oil, two lemons worth of juice, and a large clove of garlic, chopped. Smoked them for about half an hour, until they had lost their transparency and looked like cooked shrimp. Since longer smoking makes them smokier, you might want to do what I did and finish them off on the stove or grill if you want them to have a firmer texture. I will be interested in experimenting with different kinds of wood for this too. If anyone has any advice on this, let me know!! I think these are better cold (which also firms them a bit), the next day.
Smoked cheese. As far as I know (which isn’t all that far) cheese for smoking -- unless you are cold smoking it, which we were not -- should be in the Monterey Jack family as most other cheeses will melt and separate into a greasy mess. In the past we have just put a block of cheese into a loaf pan and put it in the smoker for maybe half an hour. No loaf pans in our baby kitchen here in Apalach, so we sliced the cheese into smaller blocks and put it into ramekins. Made nice little rounds of smoked cheese. Chill it before you remove from whatever container you smoke it in. Great with triscuits.
Barbecue sauce. Wish I could give you precise amounts here, but I made it up as I went along. It’s all a matter of taste anyway, so just play with it. I am pretty sure you can’t go wrong. I sautéed a red onion and a large clove of garlic, both chopped, in a small bit of olive oil until soft. Added a can of diced tomatoes and a can of Rotel (Rotel is tomatoes with chilies. If you don’t want spice you can make this two cans of plain tomatoes. If you want spice and can’t find Rotel, just add some chopped jalapenos to the sautéing onions and garlic.) Then I added a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and some Worcestershire sauce and a few splashes of white balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper. Let it cook down, taste and adjust flavors. This is chunky as is; I put ¾ of it through the blender and made a smoother, though still textured dip. Like the shrimp, it’s better the next day.
Chopped Vegetable Fruit Salad. Dice one or two ripe tomatoes, two red or yellow bell peppers, one Vidalia or red onion, two seeded cucumbers. Add a clove of garlic, finely chopped, and a couple of cups of chopped pineapple (fresh or canned in its own juice), ripe peaches, or watermelon (or a combination.) Salt and pepper to taste. Add the juice of two limes and adjust for seasonings. I like this with a bite, so I add a chopped jalapeño, or a couple squirts of Sriracha sauce. It’s also good with some chopped herbs – cilantro or mint is best, but yield very different salads. Use what suits your mood. This salad is better after it sits a bit and the vegetables and fruit give up their juice.