Beet Soup with Smoked Trout

June is an oddly slow time in the garden; it's gotten too hot for many lovely spring things, and the heat-loving summer vegetables aren't ready yet. Beets are one of the vegetables that fill the gap. This simple beet soup tastes great cold, on a hot day. I don't like to turn my oven on in the summer, so this is just the kind of recipe I like. If you've never tried smoking trout before, I highly recommend it! If you're not ready to smoke your own fish, I've seen smoked trout at La Montanita Co-Op recently.

This recipe is adapted from one in Barton Seaver's wonderful cookbook For Cod and Country, which features seasonal recipes for all kinds of sustainable fish and seafood. If you're a fisherman, you probably already know that fish have a season, just as vegetables do. I'd never thought much about it except knowing that different kinds of salmon run at different times of the year.

Hot-smoking a small fish is a great way to try your hand at the technique. If you really wanted to preserve fish for the winter, the method would be a bit more complicated, but a lightly-smoked fish to be eaten right away is a quick project. It's just as easy as grilling, using either a gas or charcoal grill. One of my favorite woods for smoking is mulberry - it's a fruit wood, and easy to find! Any type of fruit or nut wood will do, but hickory might be a bit too strong for fish. We just cut a few green twigs right off the tree, but dry twigs or chips work too. Brining the fish keeps it moist while cooking, and creates a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to.

1 small trout, filleted (skin on preferred)
2 T. brown sugar
2 T. kosher salt
1/2 pound red beets
1/2 pound golden beets or carrots
1 large leek or small onion

1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
Dried or fresh dill for garnish
Sour cream for garnish
Sherry vinegar for drizzling

Place fillets in a large resealable plastic bag. Dissolve sugar and salt in 2 cups of water, and add to the bag. Marinate for an hour or so while you make the soup.

Chop the beets and onions coarsely. Combine them in a large stockpot with 4 cups water, salt, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil the reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes, until the vegetables are very tender. Puree with a hand blender, or in batches in a regular blender. Adjust seasoning as desired. Chill until ready to serve.

Pat the fish dry and leave uncovered in the refrigerator for another half hour while you fire up the grill.

If using charcoal, get a small pile of coals going on one side and place twigs at the edges of the pile. For gas, wrap twigs in a foil packet with holes poked in the top, and place directly onto the burner. Turn on high heat (use only one side if possible) just until the twigs begin to smoke, then turn the heat down so they don't ignite.

When the fish is ready, place it skin-side down, away from the fire for indirect heat. Close the lid and partially close all vents to keep the wood smoldering. For a gas grill, turn down the heat. The temperature inside the grill should be about 200-250°F. Cook fish to an internal temperature of 140°F, about 20-30 minutes.

Serve bowls of soup garnished with chunks of smoked trout, sour cream, dill, and a drizzle of sherry vinegar.


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