Like so many young men growing into their “dad” hats in the 1960s, KB’s dad took a shine to a cheapo, old-school charcoal grill — the kind with the collapsible teepee legs! He may have been intrigued, but we’re not sure he ever really progressed much further than hamburgers and the occasional Oscar Mayer wiener. Fortunately, the introduction of the Weber kettle grill/cooker was his aha, welcome-to-the-club moment. It was a catalyst for changing his relationship with the patio. No longer just a destination for a can of Old Style after mowing the lawn, the patio became a palace of culinary creativity and adventure. He could still bring that beer or even a martini, but relaxation would be forever replaced with discovery and curiosity.
Sure, there was a flimsy instruction brochure containing key information and a few recipes. But that was only the invitation. True discovery was the end result of trial and error and notes scribbled on scratch paper after conversations with guys on the construction site. His notes were a glorious combination of chicken scratch, English and Swedish. Maybe the occasional drawing of circles for charcoal and x’s for placement of the food. More steps, recollections and ideas than recipes and instructions.
He was a meat-and-potatoes guy, cooking meat and potatoes on the grill — salt, pepper and steak. Grilled to perfection. Every time. No one would say that Karl-Eric ever achieved virtuoso status for his exploits with the Weber. That was never the destination. Simple food, grilled impeccably, with a welcoming smile, a quip or a joke and a set of twinkly blue eyes. Maybe not virtuosity, just simple beauty served by a simply beautiful man.
In honor of dads, here’s a little Karl-Eric specialty. Välkommen.
Brandy- and brown sugar-glazed and smoked salmon, served with warm naan and a lemon, garlic aïoli.
FOR THE FISH
1 pound skin-on salmon fillet, pin bones removed
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon brandy (whiskey, bourbon or cognac are good substitutes)
Decent pinch of flakey sea salt – we like Maldon
5–10 grinds of fresh pepper
½ a lemon juiced
3–4 pieces of packaged naan bread
FOR THE AÏOLI
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated on a Microplane
½ cup mayo – Hellmann’s is best!
Salt and pepper to taste
Maybe a dash of cayenne (if that suits your palate!)
This will be warm-to-hot smoke so heat your grill to be about 250 degrees. For the smoke component, soak a decent-sized handful of hardwood chips in a cup or two of water — use whatever wood you like. Karl-Eric always had trimmings from the fruit trees growing in his yard — apple, cherry, plum etc.
To make the glaze for the fish, combine the sugar, brandy, salt and pepper in a bowl. The mixture should NOT be runny. Add more sugar if necessary to keep the glaze thick. Bits of undissolved sugar in the bottom of the bowl are fine. Taste a little of the glaze to check for seasoning and add more salt or pepper if needed. It should be a salty-sweet combo with a bit of a brandy burn.
Squeeze the juice of the lemon on the fish. Go slowly. You want to see that all the flesh has a thin coat of juice. Then let the fish come to room temperature. As it warms, the top layer of flesh will get a little opaque as it reacts with the lemon juice. Sprinkle lightly with some salt.
When the fish is at room temp and the grill is consistently at 250, add the wood chips to the coals. Smoke fish in an indirect fashion i.e. not directly above the heat, and glaze a few times during the smoking process. Smoke 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the actual heat of your grill. The higher the temp, the shorter the time. Make sure you don’t overcook the fish.
After the fish is nice and smoky, remove from the grill and set on a plate to rest.
While the fish is cooking, prepare the aïoli and brush the naan bread with olive oil, and sprinkle on a little salt and pepper.
This is a total riff on Paul Kahan’s aïoli recipe in his book Cooking for Good Times. The book is fantastic, and this is a regular recipe in our kitchen. Go find this book. Seriously!
Combine lemon juice and zest, parsley, garlic and mayo in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place the mixture in the fridge to thicken.
When the fish is off the heat, open all the vents on the grill and get the coals hot. Do a quick grill on the oiled naan until it is toasty and maybe charred in a few places. This can take a few minutes.
Finally, place everything — salmon, naan, the bowl of aïoli, maybe even something pickled from your fridge (fennel, capers, onions) — onto a platter. Tear off pieces of naan and top with chunks of smoky salmon and a small spoon of aioli. Garnish these little bites however you like. This is really finger food at its finest. Serve with a glass of crisp white wine or an ice-cold beer!