alone would keep the dining room full in summer), but she does all the same. At first glance, the menu looks like what you’d expect — crab dip and calamari, crab cakes and fresh catch, stuffed flounder, a low country boil, steak — but a deeper look reveals the care and planning Williamson put into writing these recipes. When plates begin to arrive at the table and you can finally see and smell what you’ve ordered, the work in executing these dishes becomes apparent. And from the first bite to the last, it’s clear that Marnie Williamson belongs in the kitchen. Under her eye, The Isles Restaurant has progressively raised the bar. For the last three years, she’s been in charge of the kitchen, but for five years prior, she was the general manager, so she knows both sides of the dining room and guest experience. Even with that experience, she says it took a lot of courage for her to actually take the step and run the kitchen. “My biggest concern was that I wouldn’t be taken seriously, as I wasn’t classically trained and didn’t earn a culinary degree. I’m a clinical psychologist who just happens to be a very good cook. I took a leap of faith and found that the evidence of my culinary worth wasn’t a degree on the wall, but the fact that plates left the kitchen full and came back empty.
over high heat. When you start to see smoke, reduce the heat to medium-high and completely seal the lid. Smoking times will vary, but generally the fish will be done in 30-45 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, check every 5 to 10 minutes. You will be looking for an orangish salmon color to appear on the fish, and for the fish to be firm to the touch. You will also need to ensure that the internal temperature of the fish has reached 160 degrees. If it is not 160 but is close, you may finish in the oven, leaving the smoker pan sealed. Once smoking is complete, cool fish in a single layer on a rack in the refrigerator until completely chilled.
Marnie’s Smoked Wahoo Dip Brining fish for smoking
Take 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup kosher salt and a palm full of crushed bay leaves and add to 1 quart of hot water. Dissolve both sugar and salt in the water completely. Place brine in the refrigerator. When cool, add the wahoo fillets (or mahi), making sure the fish is completely covered by brine. Allow the fish to rest in the brine for at least 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Drying fish for smoking
Remove the fish from the brine and rinse each piece well under cool water and place in a colander to drain. Thoroughly dry each piece of fish with paper towels, removing as much dampness from the fish as possible. Place the fish on a rack that allows air to reach both sides of the fish. Place the rack in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours, uncovered. The fish is ready to smoke when a “pellicle” has formed on the outside of the fish. The “pellicle” looks like a toughened, slightly shiny skin on the outside of the fish that feels sticky to the touch. It is what gives the smoke a surface to adhere to on the fish during the smoking process. If pellicle has not formed, place the fish in an oven on the lowest setting (200 degrees or less). Leave oven door open. Allow fish to finish “drying” for 15 minutes or so. You do not want the fish to cook yet, so check frequently. Also, only use oven drying technique immediately before smoking the fish.
Smoking the fish
You will need a stovetop smoker. You can either buy one for under $40 (e.g., Camerons brand) or make one from a roasting pan with a flat rack placed inside and covered with a weighted down lid or sealed tightly with layers of heavy duty aluminum foil. (Completely line the bottom of the smoker and the rack with foil to make cleanup easier.) Place a few handfuls of presoaked wood chips (soaked at least 15 minutes) into the bottom of the smoker. I use a mix of 1/2 alder wood and 1/2 cherry wood chips. Just do not use mesquite, as it will overpower the fish. Place the fish on the rack and into the pan. Leave a slight gap between the lid and pan initially and place pan
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Making the Dip
1 pound of smoked wahoo (mahi-mahi may be substituted) 1/4 cup sour cream 1/2 cup cream cheese 2 tbsp mayonnaise (I prefer Duke’s brand) 1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lime juice 1 tsp Tabasco (or to taste) 2 tbsp finely minced onion 2 tbsp finely minced celery Salt and pepper to taste After smoked wahoo has cooled, gently shred the smoked fish with your hands and set aside. In a food processor, combine sour cream, cream cheese and mayonnaise, lemon and lime juices, and Tabasco. Process until the mixture is smooth and all wet ingredients are well blended. Add the shredded smoked fish, minced celery and onion to the processor and gently pulse the processor in several 2–3 second bursts, remembering to scrape the sides of the processor bowl to make sure all ingredients are incorporated. Be cautious to not over-process the fish. You are looking for small flakes of fish to remain suspended in the mixture, which should resemble a thick spread similar to pâté. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is not as “smokey” as you would like, a drop or two of a quality liquid smoke may be added. Chill for a minimum of three hours. Serve with club crackers, red onion slices, lemon wedges and Tabasco. b The Isles Restaurant is located at 417 West Second Street, Ocean Isle Beach. Open Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from from 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. For information, visit www.islesrestaurant.com or call (910) 575-5988. Jason Frye is a travel writer and author of Moon North Carolina and Moon NC Coast. This summer, he’s traveling with an armful of books, including The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott, Contact by Carl Sagan, Death Valley in ‘49 by William Lewis Manly and the latest from Stephen King. Keep up with his travels at tarheeltourist.com. August 2015 •
The Art & Soul of Wilmington