I think we’ve all had the experience of tasting a particular food that magically transported us back to another place, another time.
A perfect example of this was portrayed in the movie Ratatouille when the cynical, hardened food critic, Anton Ego, tasted his first bite of the restaurant’s Ratatouille and was instantly transported back to the Ratatouille his mother prepared in his youth.
I have a few foods that fall into that category. Not all of them transport me back to my youth, however.
One in particular, takes me to a place, and it’s actually in Michigan.
The food is Smoked Whitefish. The place, Leland.
Leland, Michigan, fondly called Fishtown, is like a storybook fishing village right out of the early 1900s. A dockside town of colorful, fishnet-draped shanties; tiny cottages; fishing boats; and of course, fish, it still remains an active, albeit modest, fishing community today.
If there’s one fish that’s put Leland on the map, it’s the whitefish, and you’ll find it on most every menu in town.
The favorite method of preparation of this local specialty is Planked Whitefish (cooked on cedar planks). You don’t have to ask anyone in town to describe the second most popular preparation. Your nose knows.
It’s Smoked Whitefish.
Generally, most smoked fish (and whitefish is no exception) is cured and then slowly cooked in an enclosed smokehouse. Carlson’s Fisheries in Leland has been smoking fish for generations and has it down to literally an art–a culinary art.
You can buy and enjoy many different species of smoked fish in Leland. The most popular, however, are whitefish, trout and salmon.
The smoked fish is sold chilled, skin-on, and it has a golden, almost copper-like hue of smoke covering its shiny skin. The sweet, slightly salty and altogether delicious taste of smoke combined with the tender fish is memorable from the first mouthful.
Besides enjoying forkfuls of flaked, smoked fish right off the bones, there are many other popular ways to indulge in this delicacy. Here are some of them:
On crackers or toasts; on salads; as a rillette or pâté; made into dips and sausages; as a garnish in cream soups; and as a filling in ravioli, tacos, pan-fried cakes, and even omelets.
As much as I like just about ANYTHING that’s smoked, I think I enjoy the taste of smoked whitefish the best. I enjoyed preparing one of my favorite recipes at Opus One in Detroit as well as a number of other restaurants since. I call it Fishtown Smoked Whitefish Spread. And by the way, you can use any smoked fish in this recipe.
One of great things about this recipe is that it freezes quite well.
Typically, I set aside a few small ramekin (soufflé) dishes, and then I fill each one to the top with the mixture. I double-wrap each one in plastic film and stack them on a shelf in my freezer. All you have to do is allow them to thaw overnight in your fridge and enjoy them the next day with crackers or crisp toasts. This recipe makes a little over a pound of spread, which ends up as about 2 ½ cups or so. It’s also embarrassingly easy to make.
Lastly, you don’t have to go all the way to Leland to enjoy the wonderful taste of smoked whitefish. Nino’s Marketplace Fisheries generally carries a nice supply of smoked fish all year round.
And speaking of Nino’s, when you stop in to buy your smoked whitefish and crackers, you MUST stop by Nino’s wine department and pick up a bottle of wine to go with it. I like Chardonnay, but I’m sure Sommelier Jennifer Laurie at Troy or Wine Manager Simone at Clinton will have many other wonderful suggestions that you’ll enjoy as well. This recipe is perfect to enjoy on the patio, your deck or at a picnic with family or friends.
Fishtown Smoked Fish Spread
Serves about 8
½ Lb Smoked Whitefish, De-boned, Flaked
½ Lb Cream Cheese
¼ Cup Mayonnaise
2 tsp Roasted Garlic Cloves, Minced
1/3 Cup Heavy Cream
¼ tsp Granulated Onion
2 tsp Brown Sugar
3 Drops Liquid Smoke
¼ tsp Tabasco Sauce
½ tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Dry Parsley Flake
1. Puree all ingredients, except dry parsley flakes, in a food processor.
2. Add dry parsley flakes and stir in.
3. Portion into small crocks.