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Alder-smoked salmon pasta
Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery
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Alder-smoked salmon pasta

I've had a special place in my heart for alder-smoked salmon ever since discovering it with my bride at unassuming little dockside seafood shacks like Ivar's in Seattle during a romantic visit (actually, the occasion was our wedding) a happy number of years ago.

This succulent, subtly smoked fish comes as a thick hot-smoked steak or fillet that bears little resemblance to the familiar thin-sliced lox. For a long time, it was pretty much limited to the status of a special treat for visitors to the Pacific Northwest.

But the age of the Web has made alder-smoked salmon available to anyone with a computer, a modem and a few bucks. In fact, an artisanal producer right here in my home town, Louisville - Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery - now produces a first-rate version using fresh, local farm-raised fish.

While I should disclose that Shuckman's has chosen to sponsor today's edition, I hasten to add that I would recommend this excellent product (and in fact, I have, in "Smoked salmon and eggs" last May 16), even with no commercial tie-in.

Here's a quick and fairly simple recipe I put together the other night as an easy way to showcase alder-smoked salmon in a pasta dish.

It's really nothing more than farfalle ("bow-tie" pasta) tossed with flaked salmon and a simple sauce. But the sauce is a classic: Mornay sauce, a simple Béchamel (white sauce made with milk and a flour-butter roux) plus Parmesan cheese and, in this rendition, a hint of non-traditional spice. If you don't often practice the saucier's skills, this procedure will give you a good opportunity to build your confidence through practice.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)

4 ounces farfalle ("bow tie") pasta
1 ounce butter
1 clove garlic
2 level tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 to 6 ounces smoked salmon


The sauce goes quickly, so before you begin, first organize your mise en place, which is French for "get all your ingredients set up and ready to go." Actually, keeping organized is good advice for any recipe.

1. Fill a large pot with water for the pasta, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of salt (enough to make the water distinctly salty), and bring it to the boil.

2. While the water is heating, flake the salmon with a fork. (NOTE: I like this dish best with alder-smoked salmon, not lox, but any smoked fish will work.) Grate the Parmigiano and season it with discreet doses of grated nutmeg, cumin and cayenne, bearing in mind that these spices should be subtle, and taking care not to overdo ... you can always correct seasoning at the end. Have the butter and flour measured and a peeled, smashed garlic clove ready to go.

3. Put the pasta in the boiling, salted water and start the sauce. Warm the cup of milk almost to boiling (the microwave at full power for 60 to 90 seconds should get it just right). Melt the butter with the garlic clove over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the butter stops bubbling (indicating that any water in it has boiled off) but before it starts to brown, remove and discard the garlic clove and put in the 2 tablespoons of flour all at once. Mix the flour and butter into a thick paste, stirring briskly with wire whisk or wooden spoon until any lumps are eliminated, lifting the pan from heat if necessary to keep it from scorching. Then stir in the hot milk, a little at a time, until you end up with a thin sauce about the consistency of pancake batter. Continue stirring over medium heat until the sauce is smooth and thickens a bit more. Then add the grated cheese and spices, stirring until the sauce is smooth.

4. You can hold the sauce for several minutes over extremely low heat, stirring occasionally if needed, if the pasta isn't quite done. When it's al dente, drain it well. Stir the reserved flaked salmon into the sauce, then mix in the pasta, taste for seasoning, and serve. A green salad and a little crusty bread is all you'll need to make this a meal.

WINE MATCH: Although Pinot Noir is a favorite with salmon in general and alder-smoked salmon in particular, this dish seemed to call for a white. Its combination of delicate smoke, fresh salmon and Parmigiano worked beautifully with a crisp white from Spain, the recently reviewed Martín Códax 2000 Rías Baixas Albariño ($13.99).

Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery

Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery As I wrote in Louisville Magazine a while back, the red-brick building that houses Shuckman's Meat Co. has been a landmark in Louisville's West End for generations, a friendly local butcher shop providing meats of unvarying quality even as the neighborhood around it changed. But when Lewis Shuckman took over the family business back in the '80s, he noticed something else was changing, too: "People were starting to eat less meat," he says. "They wanted fish."

It didn't take Shuckman long to turn that observation into a new direction for the company: smoking fish for growing local and national market. Using ash and alder wood and a secret cure using Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Shuckman smokes Kentucky farm-raised trout, salmon and paddlefish, a large, rather prehistoric-looking type of sturgeon.

This is gourmet fare and the prices reflect it, ranging from $20 a pound for smoked Kentucky rainbow trout to $25 for the alder-roasted salmon and other specialties. These items are full-flavored but delicate, with the smoke and bourbon contributing subtle flavors that highlight but don't dominate the fish.

Shuckman's Fish Co. & Smokery accepts mail, phone and Internet orders and is open for retail business at 3001 W. Main St., Louisville, KY 40212. You can order securely on their Website,,
call (888) 990-8990 toll-free in the U.S. or (502) 775-6478; fax to (502) 775-6470, or send E-mail to Lewis Shuckman at

They're also sponsoring a smoked-salmon recipe contest, with the grand prize winner receiving over $200 worth of Shuckman's gourmet smoked salmon, caviar, and more. Check the Website for details.

Let us hear from you!

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Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Scalloped potatoes without guilt (Feb. 20)

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Thursday, Feb. 27, 2003
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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