Due to the lack of a usable kitchen, my gastronomical endeavors during my first two years at Yale tended to focus around pig roasts. In what was by far the proudest moment of my college career, I managed to get Trumbull College to buy me not just an 80 pound whole pig but a pig roaster as well. While such roasts are spectacular (as are any events that involve massive amounts of meat and the acceptability of pre-noon drinking), they do involve a solid two days of work with such tasks as scrubbing out a dirty roasting box that has been fermenting for the past 6 months and hacking into the carcass of the beast with a cleaver to split the backbone. This, in combination with the lovely air-conditioned Swing Space kitchens and my Jewish mother’s cries of “divine retribution” upon hearing that my last two roasts had been marred by inclement weather, eventually led me in a different direction in my smoking pursuits.
Tea smoked salmon seemed to be the perfect idea. In addition to being the closest one can get to true smoking in a kitchenette, it nears the nirvana of Kashrut, being parve (neither milk nor meat). Admittedly, the bacon used in preparing the collard greens might not stand up to the most stringent of dietary requirements, but a man has got to draw the line somewhere. If you’re really picky though, you can substitute a tablespoon of olive oil for the bacon fat.
More importantly, even though tea smoking might seem intimidating at first, it is actually incredibly simple and quick, and all the ingredients for the dish (excepting the salmon) should be in an average student kitchen. I had originally hoped to do a seasonal recipe for this article, but while farmers’ markets are nice, for the average Yalie even a trip to Shaw’s may be too much of an effort. If that is the case, you can pick up the salmon at the Jenny’s Chinese Market on Whitney Avenue.
The only necessities for this dish are the rice, sugar and tea. While I’ve had luck with oolong tea, black and green (especially jasmine) also work well. You can also play around with the marinade ingredients, as long as there is sugar and salt or soy sauce, and use any firm-fleshed fish; tea-smoking even makes bluefish edible. You can serve it hot or at room temperature, and it stores surprisingly well in the refrigerator.
The collard green recipe I stole from my aforementioned Long Island Jewish mother. While I apologize to all southerners for this bastardization of true collards, the bitterness of the collards and the sharpness of the lemon really help to cut through the smoke flavor.
Tea Smoked Salmon
1 lb. salmon steaks or thick fillet
1/3 c. loose tea (any type)
1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. uncooked white rice
2 Tbsp. grated peeled fresh ginger (1.5 tsp dry ginger also works)
3 cloves minced garlic
1/3 c. soy sauce
1 shot whiskey
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. sugar
Note: Make sure to cover the wok tightly when smoking. While for most kitchens its shouldn’t be a problem, if you happen to live in Swing where the smoke detector is about 5 feet from the stove, make sure you have adequate ventilation.
1) Combine marinade ingredients in medium mixing bowl or Tupperware, put in salmon (skin side up if a fillet). Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
2) To prepare tea smoker: Line a wok (or a large pan) with aluminum foil, put in the tea, sugar and rice, and mix with hands. Lay down wooden chopsticks across the wok as a platform for the fish. They should be held up by the sides of the wok and be two or so inches above the bottom. A metal cooling rack also works well if you happen to have one.
3) Place wok over high heat and cover. When it starts to smoke, place salmon skin side down, reduce heat to medium, and cover tightly. Let smoke for 15 minutes (the salmon should be golden brown on the outside by this point), then turn of the heat and let sit another 5. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Active time: 30 minutes, Total time: 1 hr. 30 min. (with marinating)
Quasi-Kosher Collard Greens
1 medium bunch collard green (bottom stems removed, leaves roughly chopped)
2 tsp. salt
2-3 slices of bacon.
1) In a larger frying pan, fry bacon at medium heat until crisp and most of fat has rendered. Remove, crumble and reserve bacon.
2) Add the collard greens (you should have enough to roughly fill the frying pan) and sprinkle on salt. Stir briefly to combine, then cover.
3) Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the leaves begin to wilt. Then add the juice of the lemons and the crumbled bacon.
4) Cook another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the collards are reduced (they will shrink a lot) and tender to your taste.
Active time: 25 minutes.