I must say that the Timberline makes meal prep a cinch. In the short time it has graced our deck, it has probably been used more than its predecessor. Pizza? Throw it on the Traeger. Baked goods? Traeger. Meat? Traeger… duh.
Last night was no exception. The High Priestess and I were actually home at the same time (we work opposite shifts) and had picked up some lovely Alaskan sockeye and some sea scallops during a pilgrimage to Wegmans (Our new Wegmans opens in 75 days… Woohoo!). I’ve become a salmon snob over the years, to the point that unless it’s wild caught, I won’t eat it. I know, sounds weird, but the first time I ever really looked at the farm raised stuff, the first thought that came to mind was that it looked sickly. I want to see that deep natural red, not some washed out, color added, taste optional yuck. I’ve had good luck pan searing scallops, so I threw a Lodge cast iron skillet on the grill and pressed the ignite button.
My last cook had been pulled pork, so I had been using hickory pellets. I know that salmon is a hardier fish and can take hickory well, but scallops are a little more delicate, so I cleaned out the hickory and added alder pellets. Threw some butter and olive oil in a cup, set about seasoning the scallops and salmon.
I should add that I’m usually a fan of “less is more” when it comes to seasoning seafood. As wild caught salmon has such a great natural flavor, I usually spritz with some olive oil and add coarse ground salt and fresh ground black pepper. I put this on a grill pan, mainly to keep my grill clean, and let it rip. For the scallops, I patted them dry with paper towel, then used the same salt and pepper. Just enough to enhance, but not overwhelm… oh, who am I kidding? I was plunking those bad boys into a bubbling cauldron of butter. Like you’d REALLY be tasting the salt and pepper.
I made a misjudgment, though. Without direct heat to the skillet, the scallops weren’t cooking as quickly as I had planned. Getting a good amount of smoke, but the actual cooking? Eh… not so much. So, I did what any self-respecting backyard chef would do. I punted.
The High Priestess was inside doing some fresh, local corn on the cob. I brought the skillet full of scallops in the kitchen and threw it on the stovetop to finish. Only took about two minutes to get the butter and oil up to temperature and get a nice sear.
What followed was some excellent seafood (even with an assist from General Electric) and an all around lovely meal. Corn was fresh and sweet, the salmon had copious notes of smoke, and the skin peeled off with no trouble whatsoever. The scallops were otherworldly. They had enough smoke to avoid being too buttery and the cast iron had imparted a beautiful textural note, giving a little bit of firmness without being chewy or tough.
Are there some lessons to be learned? Of course! First of all, remember that the radiant heat won’t sear like direct heat. Also, allow more time and start the scallops earlier than planned. That was a tough call on my part… I had previously done them on the stove top and was used to them being done in around three minutes. That being said, while I like the modern anodized cookware, there’s really no substitute for cast iron. Naturally non-stick and versatile, I can’t recommend it enough.
As our side dish, the High Priestess took some tomatoes from the garden patch to whip up a quick and dirty Caprese using some mozzarella pearls, grape tomatoes and fresh basil. Topping that was some wonderful olive oil that we found on a trip to Italy in 2015. Part of our tour included a stop at a family run farm and vineyard where we learned to make pasta and had some exquisite olive oil. We don’t use a ton of it… two bottles lasted two years. But nothing tops it for bread dipping and for dressing salads. The farm is called Fattoria Poggio Alloro, located in the Tuscany region outside of San Gimignano. Not only do they offer wines, oil, and cured meats, the farm is operated as a form of agritourism. One of my bucket list items is to spend a week there and learn better how to make pasta. If you are interested, visit the website. They ship to the United States and many of the wines are becoming available stateside.
One of my next projects (when the tomato crop comes in and it looks like it will be a bumper crop) is to make smoked tomato sauce. Load tomatoes in a hotel pan, let ‘em rip on a low temp, then grind it down and mix with tomato paste. Trying to determine which wood will best pair with the tomatoes, but I’ll be sure to let you know.
Keep on grillin!