I gave up smokes about…mmmm…about how long ago was it, honey?

“It was ten years, eight months and three weeks ago.”

Yes, me not smoking my three packs of Pall Mall King Size unfiltered a day, was obviously important to at least one person. But, I must admit, I didn’t go totally cold turkey. I still enjoy a little smoke today. I don’t even have to do it behind the back of that person who yelled out that precise time period. And it’s almost as addictive.

Supposedly your palate is heightened when you give up tobacco. Perhaps that’s it. That’s why I enjoy bacon, pastrami, marlin, Gruyère cheese, paprika, chipotle, trout, mezcal, jerky, salmon, and at least one more thing I’ve forgotten about, more than ever before in my life. And every one of those foods are much more tasty because they’re smoked.

Smoking food began as a necessity. Dating all the way back to the days when every red-blooded guy had a man cave. When meat or fish was hung in the cave and dried, it lasted longer. When the smoke hung around in the top of that cave, the meat or fish tasted better.

These days, smoking is no longer a necessity. The ability to freeze virtually eliminated the need to smoke in order to stop food from spoiling. Today it’s all about taste, wonderful taste. And, happy to say, there’s a local source for some very good tasting smoked fish.

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Collier Kear and Kari Siirala began smoking and selling fish once a week at San Miguel’s Saturday organic market. Now that one day a week Saturday market is a seven day a week market called Mercado Sano and Kari and Collier are smoking and selling more fish than ever.

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The darling of smoked fish is the salmon but, even though I’ve been eating smoked salmon for about seven decades, I must admit I never knew much about it. Until Kari and Collier gave me a lesson or two.

There are three types of smoked salmon made by Kari and Collier’s business, Smokehouse SMA, and sold at Mercado Sano. Hot smoked salmon, candied salmon and cold smoked salmon.

As the name suggests, cold smoked salmon is smoked at a low temperature. Kari Siirala wouldn’t tell me at what temperature or for how long Smokehouse SMA smokes their salmon.

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“We do have a few trade secrets”, said Kari. “The expertise comes from an old family recipe from Finland, my land of birth.”

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Most cold smoked salmon is done at about 100 degrees F, leaving it at that firm but almost melt-in-your-mouth consistency. It’s Don Day’s salmon of choice for pumpernickel squares and bagels and cream cheese.

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Don Day’s Wife also serves it with scrambled eggs (her salmon goes in the pan with the eggs; my salmon I prefer on the side) and she makes a cold smoked salmon dip (or open-faced sandwich topping) with green onions, jalapeños, sour cream and cream cheese.

Don Day’s Wife and I are wild about wild salmon from deeper, colder waters and I was disappointed, at first, that Kari and Collier were using farmed salmon from Chile.

“I would much rather use wild”, said Kari, “but it’s almost impossible to source. Each part of North America has a different season. I investigated bringing down wild salmon from Alaska but the quantity I would have had to order would have been more than I could use in a year.”

“The other problem I’d have with wild salmon is price”, continued Kari. “Our smoked salmon is less expensive than what you’d pay in New York, Toronto, Chicago, any major city. We’re cheaper than La Comer, the San Miguel supermarket. We couldn’t be if we used wild.”

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Smokehouse SMA’s second salmon product, hot smoked is, as the name suggests, prepared at a higher temperature. Smoking with more heat not only adds the smoky flavor, it cooks the salmon. It is drier, flakier and, in my opinion, less tasty than cold smoked salmon. It’s something that I find most people only buy because they’re squeamish about eating raw fish but there is one recipe that Don Day’s Wife uses it for and more about that later as the recipe also includes SMA Smokehouse’s third smoked salmon product.

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Candied salmon is something that I associate with British Columbia. I’ve always known it as Indian candy but that might be going the way of the name of the Cleveland baseball team. The salmon is usually glazed with sugar or honey before smoking but Kari adds a Canadian touch by using maple sugar. The secret to good candied salmon is just the right amount of sweetness. I think Smokehouse SMA’s candied salmon has it exactly right.

Candied salmon is mostly eaten as a snack food but at $950 a kilo, it’s a rare treat for me. As mentioned though, it does get used in one of my favorite dishes, a dish that my San Miguel friend Lou Campese calls “one of the best ten-minute meals ever” and a dish I think it’s worth sharing Don’s Day’s Wife’s recipe for.

Penne Al Salmone

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Though salmon isn’t that commonly found in Italy, this dish is often the Friday night pasta of the monied class. Probably because it doesn’t have a long and deep history, the recipes for it are less rigid and you’ll find other versions with tomatoes, onions, mushrooms or parsley.

Some recipes use fresh salmon; others use cold smoked. I think this version using SMA Smokehouse products is the best because the hot smoked salmon melts into the cream sauce while the candied salmon stays in chunks, just like bacon in a good carbonara.

I don’t know how vodka found its way into an Italian recipe and I’m not sure that the vodka does anything to the taste. But how often do you get to put vodka into a dish?

Ingredients (serves four)

100 grams of hot smoked salmon, skin removed and flaked
100 grams of candied salmon
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of dill, finely chopped
1 cup of whipping cream
4 eggs
1.5 ounces of vodka
Pinch of chile flakes
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 cup of grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
375 grams (one box) of dried penne (or other pasta)

Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Heat the olive oil in a separate shallow pan and add the garlic. Simmer until golden. Add the hot smoked salmon. Toss with garlic and turn pan off.
Whisk the eggs, nutmeg, dill and chiles into the cream.
Add penne to boiling water.
Pour the egg and cream mixture into the warm pan.

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When penne is cooked to desired level of doneness, drain well and pour into pan of cream mixture along with the chunks of candied salmon.

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Turn the heat back on low under the pan and toss well for about a minute or until the eggs are cooked (but not scrambled) and plate, sprinkling Parmesan on mine (but not those who have that fish and cheese together aversion).

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I should mention one other salmon that’s available in the same area at Mercado Sano. Miguel Vidales from the fresh fish supplier La Isla works alongside Kari Siirala and Collier Kear helping them source their salmon and offers the brined but not smoked version of salmon known as gravlax.

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Salmon isn’t the only seafood that Miguel is sourcing and Kari and Collier are smoking. Trout from a farm in Central Mexico is a regular offering and oysters, scallops and mussels are occasionally available. Most recently, turkey breast and beef brisket have been added to their display case. The beef I rated as so good, it deserved its own post on the blog next month.

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I like what smoke does to food. I really like what it does to salmon. And I especially like the salmon from Smokehouse SMA. I like buying local. I really like buying from the little guy. And I especially like buying from Smokehouse SMA. I know I’ll never consume three packs a day, like I once did with those Pall Malls, but I could see me consuming three packs a week from Smokehouse SMA.

Smokehouse SMA is located in Mercado Sano, Ancha de San Antonio 123, in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The market is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm, seven days a week. Smokehouse SMA also delivers their cold smoked salmon. It is priced at $1000 per kilogram, the minimum quantity for delivery is 500 grams and it can be ordered by emailing smasmokehouse@yahoo.com.

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