Smokin'! That's what your next bar-b will be this summer if you take a cue from Jim Carrey, alias The Mask - that cinematic superhero that looks hot in neon green.
Just like Carrey's character, ho-hum bank clerk Stanley Ipkiss who morphed into his hidden, inner-fantastical self, you can pretty much perform a similarly electrifying - and easy - transformation with all that barbecued food we love. (Didn't just about everyone in my tribute to frontline service folks last week say that "barbecue" spelled "summer fun"?)
Maybe it's a relic lurking in our limbic systems; maybe it's because just about every Canadian kid pokes a wienie on the end of a stick and hangs it over a smoky fire at least once in a magical childhood summer. Whatever. We love smoky flavours that echo what seem like happier, simpler, more delicious times.
It wasn't until I spoke with Dave Birkenhead, who's a line cook at Whistler's eternally classic Southside Diner and who was also part of my service tribute last week, that I realized he had such a cool idea it merited its own article (and here Dave's pals probably thought he didn't make the cut, eh?). I thought that smoking your own salmon, or anything, was as unlikely as Stanley Ipkiss becoming a superhero. Apparently not.
"Smoke salmon halfway and then finish it on the barbecue? Oh yeah," says Dave, who has fished all his life and loves to sit out and barbecue after a fishing trip to Ucluelet or the Interior. He learned pretty much everything you'd ever want to know about fishing and smoking fish from his grandfather, Jack Begg, a great sports fisherman who owned the original Barclay Hotel and Begg's Meat Market in Port Alberni.
To start, your best bet for smoking is a winter spring salmon. "They're nice and meaty and have a good oil content so they won't dry out like a sockeye or Coho," says Dave.
If you really get into it, there's an entire art to smoking fish, and myriad ways to do it - hot smoked, cold smoked, sweet smoked, and more. Luckily, the Internet provides all kinds of forums with people who have been smokin' food for years.
Don't be intimidated; you'll get delicious results simply trying.
"I've never been able to come close to the quality of smoked fish that [my grandfather] would get," says Dave. "Really even flavour, good moisture content and tender all the way through." The secret is knowing your recipe, knowing your smoker and having patience.
So buy yourself a bag of wood chips at any hardware store - hickory and alder are popular - or cannibalize branches from pruned apple or cherry trees.