It’s one of the great joys of my life on the island, to get up with the sun and start smoking something. Smoking is a multi-hour event, so it’s best to get an early start, although the fact that it’s light at 4:30 in the morning, and broad daylight by 5:30, even though we’re still three weeks from the solstice, is perhaps exaggerating a little on the early start front.
But just to be outside in the virgin morning, Puget Sound shining in the distance, firs and cedars sighing as the fragrant smoke swirls around them, thrills me with the prospect of a satisfying day to come.
I’ll readily confess that my big offset firebox smoker is one of my favorite American toys. I like to fuss more or less constantly with the fire, sometimes getting really intimate with the baby flames as I kneel to blow them awake with an encouraging puff of air or two. Everything affects the cooking time, the outdoor temperature, the wind speed and direction, the wetness of my favorite cherry wood and the amount of it I add to the fire, and probably the phase of the moon, although I haven’t yet figured out how to account for potential lunar influences. It’s primordial, all of that, deeply fulfilling and endlessly entertaining.
Today the whole experience was dictated by the shopping goddesses. Copper River sockeye, my favorite of all the salmon, was ridiculously inexpensive, going for $10 a pound when some years in my memory it’s risen as high as $26. For that reason I decided to try smoking a side, because what the heck, how bad could it be, and the price was right. And whereas I’ve often grilled salmon sides, this was my first try at hot smoking, which I did according to this recipe. Except that I substituted lovage for the didn’t-have-any celery and fennel, which, in hindsight and after judicious taste-testing, I don’t think made a particle of difference.
The resulting salmon was lightly smoky, rich and unctuous beyond my dreams, and made some of the best salmon sandwiches I’ve ever had. Tomorrow morning is sure to find me, whether bright-eyed and bushy-tailed or sunrise-weary and bedraggled, back at the fish counter to get another couple of sides while the getting’s good, and do it all again, with feeling.
And then, the minute the salmon was out of the smoke the chickens went in. These whole, free range (but alas, not organic) chickens were “buy one, get one free,” or else I might have thought I was subjecting myself to smoking overkill, not to mention protein surplus disorder. But a free chicken is not to be ignored, and while the fire’s hot you might as well use it, and so now we’ll be having barbecued chicken sandwiches, smoked chicken in salsa verde, smoked chicken breast stir fry, and finally, a fabulously outdoorsy soup made from the smoked bones, skins, and scraps.
After which you might think I’d be ready to join Smoker’s Anonymous, but no. This is my real “being in America,” more than speaking English to everyone I see, more than understanding every nuance of every article in the newspaper, more than being automatically rude in the face of incompetence instead of automatically polite. This being at home outdoors in the semi-wild, where we’ve already seen a coyote and a raccoon and many eagles in or over our yard, this sending smoke up into the sky as women have done time out of mind, this ripping juicy fire-kissed meat from the bone, this is America. We have arrived.