Expanded from The 2021 CURRENT | By Will Rice
Editor's Note: The 2021 edition of our shop magazine The Current was submitted to the printer late last week. While we're eagerly awaiting the arrival of the physical copies, we wanted to share one of our favorite pieces from this year's issue. Enjoy this little culinary delight from Will Rice & Scott Wells. Stay tuned to the blog for more information about the launch of this year's edition of The Current.
We had simple – yet delicious - plan.
“I was thinking about doing a different twist on smoked brisket: brisket tacos,” said Scott Wells over a text message.
I like smoked brisket – I like tacos. Sprinkle in a few hours of fly fishing, and this year’s 2021 CURRENT ‘Kitchen-Not-So-Confidential’ was coming together.
The idea was to break in the new Trouts’ Traeger grill on the shop’s back deck and sneak in a few hours of carp fishing on the Denver South Platte River. We were going to keep the day simple, tasty, and super close to home.
But as plans often do, especially as they did in 2020, things change. A few hours later I received another text from Scott.
“I’m also giving serious consideration to bagging the brisket and doing smoked Mahi Mahi, which could also be used for… tacos,” his text read.
The audible was called and smoked tacos were now on the menu.
What follows is Scott’s step-by-step method and procedures for “Smoked Mahi Mahi Tacos” and “Will’s Signature Guacamole.”
It took less than an hour for preparation. While the fish was smoking, we hit the DSP during low water conditions with a stealthy approach to find a few bruiser carp to tangle with.
Smoked Mahi Mahi Tacos
By Scott Wells
Start with 3-5 pounds of Mahi Mahi fillets, ideally, these will be uniform in thickness and size so that they will smoke and cook consistently. I prefer fillets that are 1/2”-1” thick, thicker fillets will require longer brining and smoking, so I’ll trim thicker pieces in order to achieve a more consistent result.
Prepare the brine by dissolving 1 cup into about 4-5 cups hot water, stir until all the salt and sugar is completely dissolved. Add ice to chill the brine and cold water to bring the volume up to roughly one gallon. Once the brine is chilled submerge the fillets in the chilled brine and allow to rest for one hour. If your fish is thicker Than 1” you’ll need to brine for 1.5-2 hours.
Once the fillets have brined for about 45 minutes it’s time to fire up the smoke show. Most pellet smokers such as Traeger have a minimum temp of 160-180 degrees, which will dry the fillets too quickly to allow much smoke flavor to penetrate the meat. In order to add a smokier flavor, cold smoke the fish for 1-2 hours before adding heat to cook the fish. To do this, I will use a discarded can (a tuna can works perfectly). I’ll use a church-key to punch a series of small holes in the bottom and sides of the can to improve airflow. Add a couple of handfuls of Traeger pellets to the can (I prefer the Traeger signature blend of hickory, apple, and maple for fish). Using a propane or gas torchlight the pellets in the can and place the can inside your smoker in a corner.
Next, remove the fillets from the brine and shake a light coating of Traeger fin and feather rub on all sides.
By now the pellets in your smoker should be smoldering nicely and putting out smoke. Place the fillets on the grates of the smoker, making sure they aren’t touching each other as they’ll tend to stick together if touching, and the fillets will not develop that nice smoky “bark” where they’re touching. Close the lid and leave it closed for at least 45 minutes - remember, ‘if you’re looking you ain’t cooking.’ Allow the fillets to cold smoke until the surface takes on a light golden color, approximately 1 hour, though it may take longer depending on the size of your smoker. A smaller smoker will yield the desired result in less time than a larger one will. Our Traeger Pro 880 needed about 1.5 hours.
Once the fillets are a nice light golden color it’s time to fire up your smoker. As with the cold smoke, I prefer the Traeger signature pellets. Set the temp to 180 and allow the fillets to cook for about a half-hour before checking progress. At a half-hour the smallest, thinnest pieces should be done or near done. You can check them with a thermometer at this point; you’re shooting for 145 degrees in the center. You can also check them with a finger and a little light pressure. Cooked fish will feel firm, even a bit springy to the touch, uncooked fish will feel soft or even a bit mushy. I will often take pieces out of the smoker in several stages - the smaller, thinner pieces will finish first, the larger thicker pieces will need more time. After 30-45 minutes elapse I’ll check every ten minutes or so, removing the finished pieces and allowing the unfinished pieces more time to cook through. Smoked fish should remain moist inside and if left on the heat too long it can quickly go from smoked fish to fish jerky, which isn’t a bad thing, but not what we’re after when making smoked fish tacos. Break a piece open and verify that the fish is cooked through and still moist.
Once the pieces are finished remove them from the heat and while still warm use fingers or a pair of forks to “flake” the fillets into small bite-sized pieces. Fill a warm corn tortilla with a couple of ounces of flaked fish, top with finely shredded cabbage, Pico de Gallo, guacamole, and a little crumbled cotija cheese. Finish with a little squeeze of lime and enjoy with a nice cold Mexican lager.
Will’s Signature Guacamole
By Will Rice
5 ripened avocados – remove pits and skins
2 small tomatoes (or one large tomato) deseeded and roughly chopped
1 jalapeño deseeded and finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon of fresh chopped cilantro (destemmed)
¼ finely chopped red onion
3 garlic cloves finely chopped
½ fresh squeezed lime juice
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh or dried pomegranate seeds (or if you’re in a jam… Craisins… that’s right… Craisins)
Once you have all of your ingredients measured and chopped, add them into a large mixing bowl in the order above. Gently “fold” the avocados together for a chunky mash (and avoid “smashing” or “liquifying” them). The goal here is to have a traditional chunky guacamole with a burst of spice and heat from the jalapeño, a dash of sweetness from the pomegranate seeds, all balanced with a healthy dose of salt to taste.
About the Author:
Will Rice is the Content Editor of the Current Journal and a Freelance Journalist and his work has been featured in The Denver Post, The Drake Magazine, The Flyfish Journal, Fly Rod & Reel, Saltwater Fly Fishing, Outside Magazine.com, and Angling Trade, among other publications. He is also Creator, Writer and Producer of Down The Path – a missing persons podcast released in the spring of 2019. Will sums up his writing this way: "I have always had one guiding philosophy for my outdoor and travel writing: I am not alone," says Will. "If I think something is cool or have a kick-ass experience, there are a ton of other folks who will be interested in hearing about it and best case entertained - and possibly even inspired to get out and do something new. Pretty simple stuff." For questions or comments, Will can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.