Beer-Brined Smoked Catfish Spread

Ingredients

Brine:

1 cup hot water 1 cup kosher salt ½ cup brown sugar 3 cans cold beer (such as Budweiser) 1 tablespoon coarse ground pepper 6 bay leaves, crumbled 4 large catfish fillets, about ¾ pound each Olive oil Wood chips soaked in water (Hickory or Alder, preferred)

Special Equipment: Cameron Stovetop Smoker

4 Beer-Brined Smoked Catfish Fillets (see above) 1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature ½ - ¾ cup sour cream 2 large shallots, minced 2 tablespoons capers in liquid 2 teaspoons caper juice ¼ teaspoon granulated garlic 5 shakes Tabasco (or more to taste) 6 grinds fresh ground pepper or more to taste Homemade Melba Toast or Crackers

Methods/steps

Dissolve salt and sugar in hot water. Add cold beer, pepper and bay leaves to make brine. Whisk well to remove carbonation. Add two medium-size bowls of ice cubes to cool brine and add more volume to the brine. Add more cold water if more liquid is necessary to cover all the fillets. Place fish in brine when the brine is cool to the touch. Brine fish 2-4 hours covered, in the refrigerator. Remove fish from brine, rinse in cold water and air dry for 10 minutes before smoking.

When ready to smoke, set stovetop smoker up with 2 tablespoons of chips between the smoker and the drip pan. Replace cooking grate. Brush fish lightly with oil, place skin-side down on the cooking grate with about an inch between each fillet. Slide top of smoker into place. Place smoker on the stovetop and center it over the burner. Turn the burner on high. Smoke for 20-30 minutes. The fish will be a dark caramel color. (Alternatively you may smoke cook on an outdoor grill for 1 hour or until fish is cooked through, caramel colored and smoked.)

Serve at warm or room temperature or make into a smoked catfish ""pate"" by adding cream cheese, sour cream, shallots, capers, garlic, Tabasco and a dash of pepper to taste (see recipe below).

Smoked Catfish Pate

This spread or pate is so good, I know you won't be able to stop at just one bite! Serve on homemade melba toast or simple crackers. Bluefish and trout are both good substitutions for the catfish.

Brine and smoke catfish according to recipe. While still warm, break fillets into pieces, removing any bones. Add cream cheese and mix well. Add ½ cup of the sour cream and mix well. Add the shallots, capers, caper juice, garlic and Tabasco. Taste for seasoning, add more sour cream and/or cream cheese at this point if the pate is a little dry or tastes a little salty. Adjust Tabasco and add freshly ground pepper to taste.

Note: Do not add any salt to this dish because the brine and the smoke ""salts"" the fish before it is mixed into the pate.

Let chill for at least 3 hours or preferably overnight. Taste once more before serving and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve on the cold side of room temperature on homemade melba toast (slice a loaf of French bread in small rounds, lay out on a cookie sheet and bake in a 250ºF oven until golden and the bread is dried out) or your favorite crackers. Top with a dollop of sour cream and a bit of caviar if desired.

StartersElizabeth Karmel