Suzi's Blog

Cookbook Review: Smoke and Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith


Summer has arrived. Perhaps a bit soggy, but it’s here.

Time to finally clean the grill and begin the summer rituals. I love grilling. And Suzen loves it even more. I think because it moves the mess from the kitchen to outdoors where I am totally responsible for cleanup. I don’t mind. It was clause 53 in the marriage contract and I always honor at least the first 50 clauses of all my marriage contracts.

She’s not going to laugh at that.

Grilling presents us all with challenges. First, though this applies not to me or you, a lot of bad grilling occurs. Too fast, too simple. And there’s a lot of mediocre grilling. Because we are all using that same set of 20 bestselling grilling books and they are really all the same clone. The recipes are fine, but it’s boring. Summer after summer. It’s the same stuff, the same flavors.

Not anymore. Just in time, we have Smoke and Spice: Seasonings, Rub, Marinades, Brines, Glazes and Butters. Long title. Very good book. Very. In fact, if you are going to limit your purchases of “new” barbequing books, then Smoke and Spice belongs at the top of your list.

Why? Because this is precisely the book I have wanted. It’s got new stuff. Lots and lots of new stuff. New flavors, new ideas, new concepts. Now, when you grill, you’ll bring to the table some truly eye-opening dishes. As good as the old standard recipes. No, better.

Grilling has always been fast. And the recipes here are fast, too, but come with these different flavor combinations and suggestions for use. For example, there is a Mint and Lemon Thyme Rub here which you can make in 5 minutes. It screams for lamb, of course, and by the way when was the last time you grilled a leg of lamb? But, the rub is equally delicious on fish. Most of the recipes here can do double or triple duty in this fashion.

The book is organized around the target to be grilled: pork, beef, lamb, poultry, fish, … But most of the recipes are not end-to-end to give you a meal. They are recipes for the seasonings, rubs, marinades, brines, glazes and butters that this book promises. The promises are tastefully kept.

As summer progresses, Suzi and I will be applying many of the ideas here and we’ll let you know how enjoyable they are. But to get started, for this weekend or for the 4th coming up, here’s an “all red” idea you can put to use.

This is a Cherry and Pomegranate glaze made with pomegranate molasses [spring is NOT the season for pomegranates but your nearest Middle Eastern market will have the molasses]. Use this with duck or chicken or even meat, especially lamb. You can marinate overnight, scrape the goop off, and let the grill work its magic.

Smoke and Spice is an intelligent contribution to anyone’s grilling library. You are sure to use it all summer long. Do you still grill in the January snow? There’s a full year of ideas here.

Cherry and Pomegranate Glaze

Yield: 2 cups


  • 2 cups dark cherries [Bing are perfect], pitted
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • Sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper


Put the cherries and pomegranate molasses in a food processor and pulse until you have a chunky sauce. Pour the sauce into a ceramic bowl and stir in the thyme and rosemary. Season with salt and pepper.

Store the glaze in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Source: Smoke and Spice by Valerie Aikman-Smith


How to Poach a Fish

When we went crabbing this week, Suzen caught a 16-pound albacore tuna. That’s Suzi up there on the right holding her fresh catch. It’s a world record for tuna caught in a crab pot.

Well, actually, she poached the fish. On the left, is shot of the 56 tuna a boatload of very nice men caught by going 50 miles out of Grays Harbor, Washington, into the Pacific. Their day of fishing truly paid off. Once they docked and as they laid their bounty out on the deck, a crowd naturally gathered to congratulate them.

“Would you take a picture of us?” one of the fishing party asked Suzen.

“Sure,” she said. “It’ll cost you a tuna.” She took his camera and focused.

I was shocked. Suzen can be brazen but these guys had just worked their tushes off in the ocean. Been to Whole Foods lately? Do you know what a tuna is worth?

Suzen took the photo and gave the camera back.

“Pick a fish,” the man said.

“No, I can’t,” Suzen said politely. My faith in her was restored.

“No, please. We have a lot,” the kind man said. Suzen looked at our daughter Kelly who gave a “what-the-heck” shrug and then at Kelly’s boyfriend, Mark, who happens to be a fishing guide on the Yakima River. Mark gave Suzen an up-and-down nod that indicated she had better take the fish or there would be a serious discussion on fishing etiquette.

Fish in hand, we went in search for a lot of ice. We drove home, where Suzen and Mark butchered the fish. I have pictures of that, too, and I may share them. The anatomy of an albacore, the way the fins recess into the body, is a real science lesson. Suzen used a cleaver to create 1-inch steaks and the next day we had fresh tuna steaks. Look at the bottom picture and envy our fortune.

“Are you going to marinate it?” I had asked as she was chopping our tuna up.

She wiggled the cleaver in my direction. “Are you crazy? This is fresh out of the sea. It’s olive oil, salt, and pepper.”

And that’s just what we did. Literally, with a great piece of tuna, you just follow these steps:

  • ·         Preheat a grill to 400°F or hotter
  • ·         Generously salt and pepper the fish
  • ·         Rub gently with some olive oil for a bit of flavor and to prevent sticking
  • ·         Grill for about 4 minutes a side with a 1-inch thick steak
  • ·         Serve with lemon slices and perhaps a sprinkle of fresh herbs

Ah, the title of this blog is a bit deceptive. Suzen did not quite steal a fish, and with tuna like this, grilling is far superior to poaching.

You can try this technique yourself. Just stand on the dock with your camera and wait for the boats to come in. Pick a boat with big fish. Sardines are a pain to clean.