The beginning of this story goes back to our 10-year anniversary last may when we went back to England to stay in the castle where were married and to travel a bit. One of the places I had always wanted to stay was at the Inn at Whitewell on the edge of the forest of Bowland.
Not only is the quirky inn gorgeous, with a divine dining room, but they also have a great selection of wines and cookbooks that they sell. It was there that I picked up a copy of Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries. It languished on my shelves for the last year or so and recently, after many had suggested his writing when I asked for cookbook selections, I moved it to the top of the stack for a read. The premise, for those not familiar, is a diary of what he cooked and ate over the course of a year. This is not a rote recitation along the lines of, 'had a sandwich and a glass of milk', but a gorgeously written account of a year in his kitchen and garden. Each entry is brief and each recipe is written more like you were chatting with your friend on how they made the scrumptious soup. In other words, more 'tip in some' and 'roast until sticky' over Thomas Keller like technique. I was smitten immediately. The book begins in January and since Britain is obviously a bit more temperate than New England some of the ingredients he can get are well off our calendar dates, but no matter. Somewhere around February 8 - A Smoked Fish Supper' I became obsessed.
Sorry Nigel, but I have to quote the paragraph preceding the recipe here.
"There is something old-fashioned about a supper of smoked haddock, something redolent of the 1950's when women wore an apron when they cooked and would get a meal on the table at the same time each day, year in, year out. I like my smoked haddock baked with a little cream as I do almost anything smoked, but until recently was never sure what to eat with it. Mash never seemed right, buttered toast never substantial enough, rice too reminiscent of kedgeree. It was out of curiosity that I turned to beans, pale ones from a can, their texture a pleasing contrast. Now this is one of my favourite teas, though not the prettiest."
Now I have always loved anything smoked. Mussels, fish, meat, even nuts, which I really don't like at all normally, add some smoke to it and I can't resist. I had seen many recipes with smoked haddock before in Delia, Two Fat Ladies, Sophie Grigson and living, as I do, in New England, specifically not far from Gloucester the oldest seaport in the US I just ASSUMED, and you all know what happens when we assume don't you, that I could find smoked haddock. Ha! Smoked salmon, bluefish, trout, mackerel, salmon cured with tea and spices, mackerel coated in cracked black pepper and smoked but no, not one SINGLE piece of smoked haddock and let's just say I don't lack sources for ingredients given my line of work. After a week or two of searching I popped over to my Google window and "smoked haddock, MA", and up popped a chowhound thread. They mentioned loads of the usual suspects, but about halfway down one caught my eye. They mentioned Sasquatch Smokehouse in Gloucester.
"My suggestion is Sasquatch Smokehouse: 44 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA
Phone #: 978-282-7721. It's run by a Gloucester fisherman named Paul Cohan. He's an amazing seafood cook (I've tried his monkfish piccata and seafood soup.) He's also well-informed about the New England fishing community and he's an hilariously funny storyteller and bluegrass guitarist. He can tell you everything you want to know about smoking fish. Since haddock is a local species, I bet he'd make a special order if necessary. It's a trip worth making. But call first."
So call I did. I told him I needed some smoked Haddock and some smoked trout for work. He told me he was putting some stuff in the smoker this weekend and to give him a call the following week. Tuesday we made plans and Friday I took the long drive up 128 to pick up my fish.
Paul's place is tucked away in a corner that you will never find without calling him for directions, trust me on this. He is not far from the first Gloucester rotary, or roundabout for you Brits following along, in a corrugated steel building overlooking a river outlet.
If you want to talk about fish, or the fishing industry, or CSF's, NOAA, NMFS or any other acronym associated with the fishing industry, smoking foods, or pickled kielbasa or bluegrass music plan on spending some time.
Paul is a man of many interests and a word smith with many an opinion and I might add, rather hilarious. We stood and chatted for a couple hours about the state of things and I picked his brain about the setup he had built. I have a feeling Paul is the guy you want at the end of your dinner table to keep the conversation moving.
Our conversation was punctuated by his popping into the walk in to remove tasty morsels like the Kielbasa he had smoked and pickled himself some smoked mussels and he even passed along some dog treats he makes. Dog treats, which are most amusingly made from dog fish, dehydrated slices of dog fish. Trust me,your dog wants some NOW.
I took home a load of smoked haddock (all the smoked fish freezes well) and the trout I needed for the class. I had Paul point me in the direction of a good place to pick up some fresh fish and he pointed me down to the next rotary to the waterfront and Steve Connolly. Bring cash because that is all they take, but I picked up cod for class that night for $6.49 a pound. Cod I might add that Whole Foods was selling for $14.00 per pound. The very same Whole Foods that had a truck parked out back of Paul Connolly's docks. Need I say more?
Now if you have made it this far, what you see below is what you want to make for dinner. You really WISH you had SMELL-O-VISION for the picture you see here. I cannot accurately describe in words how this smelled when it came out of the oven. This is also the kind of dinner you can have on the table any night in 30 or so minutes. Come in, turn the oven on, spend 5 minutes mixing things and pop it in the oven. Go and sort your mail, change into your jammies, pour a cocktail, set the table and before you know it that smell will begin to waft from the oven. The most heavenly smokey, seductive smell. I may have seriously underestimated my haddock purchase quantity. Paul does not hard smoke his fish, rather they are still moist and supple so I skipped a step in Nigel's recipe for basically poaching the fish in milk and water that you discard once the fish flakes. There is NO NEED to do this with Paul's fish. It is also not as salty as a lot of smoked fish, so do season a bit if you are following along using Nigel's recipe. My adaptation is listed below. And if you go and visit Paul at Sasquatch Smokehouse, and believe me, you should, ask him to play you his Sarah Palin ditty, it's a hoot.
Smoked Haddock and Butter Beans
All the ingredients here are estimates because this is one of those meals. WING IT PEOPLE, you really can't go wrong.
- 1 smoked haddock - skin removed
- 1 gratin dish or shallow dish lightly buttered
- Some heavy cream, oh say 3/4 cup
- A few tablespoons milk
- Some nice freshly minced flat leaf parsley, minced (don't skip this)
- A few tablespoons of whole grain mustard
- 1 bay leaf
- Freshly ground pepper
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1 tin of Butter Beans, rinsed. I always find these in the Goya section and they are the best beans for this recipe in my opinion since they are soft and absorb all the flavours of the smoke and cream.
Oven 350F, butter dish, break fish up into a few chunks. In a bowl mix chopped parsley, cream, milk, whole grain mustard and then tip in the rinsed beans. Stir, season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Lay the pieces of fish in the gratin dish. Tip the contents of the bowl over the fish, nestle things around a bit leaving some of the beans to stick up and get a crust. Tuck in the bay leaf and pop it in the oven.
Bake 30 - 35 minutes or until nice and bubbly.