While working the On The Water booth at one of the sportsman shows this winter, I was asked the following question by one of our readers. “So, what else have you been doing, besides ice-fishing, in your spare time?
I thought about it for a moment, trying to come up with a witty retort, and then simply replied, “I’ve been standing on concrete, selling magazine subscriptions.”
It was an honest reply, as most of my winter weekends are preoccupied by working the numerous sportsman shows that take place throughout the region. Over the past 13 years, I’ve logged countless hours manning the OTW booth at various events. I’ve gotten to know many of the other vendors, and I’ve had thousands of conversations, mostly pleasant, with the passionate anglers who subscribe to our magazine.
The wintertime sportsman shows are not just a place to go and check out the newest gear. They are an escape for hibernating sportsmen. Walking around one of these shows on a cold winter day is like a psychological retreat to the great outdoors. There are vendors from faraway lands, selling dream trips to majestic fishing and hunting lodges. There are always plenty of charter captains who are usually more than willing to share their favorite fishing stories. You’ll find worm bars, turkey calls, birds of prey, trout ponds, and every piece of tackle you could ever conceivably need. There are guides, lure makers, taxidermists, outfitters, craftsmen, artists, and authors who all converge in an expo center to peddle their wares to outdoorsmen suffering from winter withdrawals.
Perhaps my favorite part of these shows is the free samples handed out by the numerous food vendors who attend these grand events. No sportsman show is complete with at least two booths selling beef jerky. (Every year I participate in a debate about who has the best jerky… Heidie Jo’s or Jerky Hut? You be the judge.) You’ll also find hot sauces, marinades, spice blends, salsa, crab cakes, cheese, Pocono pickles (a must-try), and, if you’re lucky, authentic smoked sausages. All of these vendors are more than willing to dole out free samples.
This year, there was a new spice company at one of the shows that I had never seen before. Intrigued, I made a beeline to their booth and patiently waited in line for a free snack. I was delighted to find they were serving up Swedish meatballs that had been slathered in their unique new spice blend called cHarrissa.
I would soon learn that cHarissa is a great tasting, cumin-based smoky spice blend that’s perfect for fish, game, fowl, and even soups and vegetables.
The cHarissa company was founded just a few years ago by New York resident Earl Fultz who, at the ripe old age of 89, decided it was finally time to share with the world his wife Gloria’s secret recipe. Gloria, a native of Morocco, had been using her unique spice blend for decades among family and friends. Realizing that there was nothing else like it on the American market, Earl launched the new company, and it has been thriving.
The seasoning is a milder version of the classic North African spice blend called harissa that, I must admit, I was not familiar with. Traditional harissa, I have since learned, is a hot chili pepper paste whose main ingredients are roasted red peppers, serrano peppers, and other herbs and spices (such as garlic, cumin, coriander seed or caraway), as well as some oil for preservation. It is most closely associated with Tunisian, Libyan, Algerian and Moroccan cuisines, though recipes for harissa vary by region (and even by household).
Harissa is sometimes described as the hallmark of Tunisia’s fish and meat dishes, where it’s used as an ingredient in meat (usually goat or lamb) or fish stew with vegetables, and as a flavoring for couscous. It is also used for lablabi, a chickpea soup usually eaten for breakfast. In Algeria, harissa is commonly added to soups, stews, and couscous. Harissa paste can also be used as a rub for meat or grilled eggplant. In Israel, harissa is a common topping for sabich and shawarma, although other hot sauces like the Yemeni zhug or the Iraqi amba are also used.
As I sit town to write this column, in early March, there is still 2 feet of snow on the ground and 6 more inches forecast for tomorrow. There is nearly 2 feet of ice on the local ponds. Even the sea is frozen solid; the water temperature is 29.1 degrees. My chest freezer is empty, hunting season is a distant memory, and I fear that the upcoming fishing season is still oh so far away.
I must admit, lately I’ve had to resort to buying fish at the fish market. I am always slightly embarrassed when I go there; I feel a bit humiliated and it rattles my ego. But nonetheless, I’ve been craving fresh fish, and when I need to stoop to such drastic measures, I always buy fish that I can’t locally catch myself. Following are a few simple and delightful dishes I’ve made recently, all of which use my new favorite spice blend.
cHarissa Grilled Swordfish
1 pound swordfish steaks
cHarissa dry rub
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges for garnish
Pat the swordfish steaks dry on both sides and cover with cHarissa dry rub. Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Brush both sides with olive oil (to prevent the fish from sticking to the grates.) Grill on medium heat for 8 to 15 minutes, depending on thickness of the steaks. Turn only once. Remove steaks from the grill, squirt with lemon juice and top them with a pat of butter. Serve with additional lemon wedges, couscous, and a salad.
cHarissa Fish Tacos
1 pound halibut (or striper, bluefish,
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
½ small head of red cabbage,
¼ red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons cHarissa dry rub
1/3 cup chicken broth (or water)
4 large tortillas, warmed
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, add balsamic vinegar, four tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper, red cabbage and onion slices. Toss and set aside. Cut fish into four equal portions and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle cHarissa evenly over fish and then press spice firmly into each portion.
Use medium-high heat to warm remaining olive oil in a skillet or cast-iron pan. Add fish and sear on one side for three to four minutes. Flip the fish and add chicken broth or water.
Place fish in a pan in preheated oven and cook for about eight minutes until it easily flakes. Drizzle with lime.
Place one fish portion on each prewarmed tortilla. Add cabbage, guacamole and sour cream to taste. Serve with a green salad and side of dirty rice. Delicious!
cHarissa Shrimp Cocktail
I don’t buy shrimp often, but when I do, I always opt for wild shrimp caught in U.S. waters. Beware of imported shrimp from faraway lands such as Indonesia. These are farm-raised, often poorly regulated, and live in nasty conditions. Rumor has it they are fed livestock byproducts like pig feces. American shrimp, on the other hand, are wild-caught and subject to strict inspections. You get what you pay for. This is not the place to save money on your food budget.
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and
1/2 cup good beer
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup cHarissa dry rub
Harissa dipping sauce
1/8 cup cHarrisa dry rub
1/8 cup olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
Place a steamer basket in a pan and bring the beer and water to a rolling boil. Add in the dry rub, and then steam the shrimp for about four minutes. Drain, place the shrimp on a plate lined with paper towels, and refrigerate for about 45 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and the cHarissa dipping sauce.