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Slow Food: Living It

Last weekend was a crazy one. While thousands (they estimated over 50,000 I think) people poured into SF for Slow Food Nation's many events, some San Franciscans—even some people I'd call die-hard "foodies" (ok, let's move on from this word: a big prize for someone who comes up with something less embarrassing)—opted to skip the lines of people for a Slow Food staycation.

My upstairs neighbor Alan, for example. A scientist by day, he's a big cook at night. When I asked him if he intended to attend any of the SFN activities, he responded in his British accent (a helpful thing to have when you're being slightly derisive): "I don't need to go to Slow Food, Sara. I live it."

He said this as he headed down to our backyard to cold-smoke some fresh Alaskan salmon he'd been given. Alan's the kind of guy who roasts his own coffee beans from Sweet Maria's in our basement (the first time he did it I searched frantically all over my house for signs of a fire—or at least burning toast) and he once valiantly attempted to make Cheddar cheese (deemed a failure). He's an expert with pastry and the grill, and attends the Alemany Market regularly.

So, I wasn't surprised to look down in our tiny backyard and see him hooking up quite a contraption for his cold-smoking experiment. He based his recipe on the one in James Peterson's great book, Fish & Shellfish. (But I believe the cardboard box contraption is all Alan.)


Oh, the things you can do with your smoker and a cardboard box.

Should you be interested in attempting this at home, here's what Alan had to say about how he put it together:

"The smoker was a standard smoker with a hole cut in the top and about 7 to 8 feet of 5-inch ventilation pipe attached. I then secured the end of the pipe to a large cardboard box with aluminum tape. I used Lazzari charcoal and applewood chunks to create the smoke. The challenge is to get good smoke but keep the temperature in the box below 90 degrees F.  It's a 4 to 5 hour smoking time for the fish. I used a lot less sugar than the James Peterson recipe called for—it was too sweet last time. I think if I was to do it again, I'd do a second salt/sugar step.

The process I used was: 20 hour salt rub (flake and coarse mix). Rinse, then an 8 hour sugar rub (very little, next time—20 hr salt/sugar) with something on top of the fish to weigh it down. Rinse. Then 5 to 6 hour drying in the basement with a fan (forms the protective 'pellicle'). Then a 4 to 5 hour smoke. Two hour ventilation with a fan. Cut off pellicle and you are good to go."


The smoked salmon, ready to be vacuum packed.

Three days later, I have Alan's labor of love in my fridge. Along with some sliced tomatoes, it made a great breakfast.