In the spicy mustard salad days of our early courtship, when we still shat indoors and water came from taps, I would travel by train to visit my Native on weekends. On the first or second of these visits, after the compulsory dances of the newly wooed, he offered dinner: I’ll make us some smoked salmon.
Now, I like the cold pink stuff as much as the next woodland creature, and was charmed by the notion that he’d peel open the fridge and suck open a pressure-sealed package and present it as “making” dinner. It was a measure of his caliber as a scrappy itinerant loner type, not someone in the business of charming women. I was sold.
Let me tell you what he did instead, voyeurs of the internet.
- He went outside, bottomsless, probably, in the middle of January, and dug a little 16″ Webber grill out from beneath multiple feet of snow (original grill pictured in the neglected background of the photo above).
- He then grabbed a bin full of small pieces of apple wood he’d scavenged from a colleague, and hatcheted it into small chunks, each maybe an inch or two thick, which he then stacked in the grill.
- He produced one of those scary red High Danger Extremely Flammable Seriously Don’t Fuck With Me bottles one sees in movies about terrorists, and applied its contents generously to the grill’s insides. Then he poured some more, just to make sure.
- He let the fire burn for a while so that he could go inside, retrieve a fillet of salmon freshly bought, and season it with salt and sugar.
- He positioned the fish on the grill, closed the damper way down so that enough air could pass through to keep it smoking, but not enough to keep a flame burning.
- Then we went back to dancing for a few hours until it was ready, at which point we dug in savagelike, fingers greasy and lips smacking.
Here he was, my brand new guy, playing with fire with no pants on in the middle of winter to impress me with fish. There was no doubt: this was the guy I was going to shit in the woods with forever.
We’ve since become prolific smokers of fishstuffs, and our method has evolved somewhat in the years that’ve followed: the fancy smoker pictured above was gifted or re-gifted to us a few months ago, and is a godsend, even if we don’t get to play with flammable gases. It allows us to regulate the temperature and do more smoking and less cooking. We do a real marinade rather than just slapping seasoning on it (salt and sugar’s good. Lemon pepper if you’re feeling gutsy, or seasoned salt if the meat looks like it needs it. Maple syrup if your Native used all the sugar and didn’t buy more.). We know it tastes best when left overnight at a cool temperature, and not devoured straight off the grill. And we know the more you eat, the more you can dance. And I imbue all this knowledge upon you so that if you should be in need of a woodshitting mate of your own, you’ll have an idea how to romance one.