“It’s like a renaissance painting, but there is a lot of science involved as well,” says Eric Goerdt, owner of Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth, MN. Goerdt has been studying fish smoking since the mid-nineties while stationed in Sitka, Alaska with the Coast Guard. Since opening in ’98, Goerdt has pushed the boundaries of fish smoking and has expanded into other meats including salami.
“The smoke houses up the shore use wood fires — they put the fish in until it reaches the internal temperature it has to reach, which is 145 degrees,” says Goerdt. Goerdt uses modern equipment to give him greater control, in a style of smoking known as kippering. “The key to smoking fish is drying it out before you put it in the smoke house,” says Goerdt, who defines kippering as a cross between hot and cold smoke.
In the bowels of the DeWitt-Seitz building in Canal Park, Goerdt has two smoke houses and a walk-in cooler. Carts stacked with racks of fish are moved from cooler to smoke house at specific times to develop a skin on the fish called the pellicle. The pellicle is “where the smoke meets the outside of the fish and forms a skin; that skin holds the moisture in through the rest of the process,” says Goerdt.
The pellicle is what sets Northern Waters apart from other smokehouses. “We dry it overnight in a cooler so it’s very dry and somewhat tacky,” says Goerdt. “At that point, we put it in a very low temperature smoke house and gradually raise the heat.” The entire process takes about two days. “If you do a good job of gradually raising the heat it will give you a really attractive looking fish that is moist on the inside, but fully cooked. It’s kind of the art of smoking fish,” he says. The texture and the taste are equally important as they can both be indicators of the style of smoking and the care that has been taken in smoking the fish. Goerdt notes: “If you heat up fish too fast, all the proteins leak out of it — it’s almost like someone poured acid on it.”
Attention is also paid to the type of wood used. Finely cut hickory or maple are used because of the taste and temperature that they produce; hickory is currently being used because of the pungent semi-sweet taste that it imparts.
Goerdt’s fish is used in local restaurants including the Brewhouse, Zeitgeist Arts Cafe, Kippis, Nokomis, and the New Scenic Cafe. It also appears on the shelves of the Whole Foods Co-op in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Duluth.
In 2001, Goerdt decided it was time for a challenge and began smoking other meats and tackling the daunting job of making salami. All of his meats are sourced locally: turkey breast from Wild Acres in Pequot Lakes, bison from the North American Bison Cooperative, and pork from Six Point Berk.
Making salami has been one of the biggest and most rewarding challenges for Goerdt. “It’s the high art of sausage making,” says Goerdt, who notes that “people having been doing it for thousands of years.” The entire process takes about 35 days and requires constant monitoring of pH levels, temperature, and humidity. “You’re putting the culture, which is live bacteria, into the meat, so you’re basically controlling the spoilage of the meat,” says Goerdt.
After the culture (Goerdt uses one from southern Italy) is added to the meat, it is dipped in a penicillin mold and put in the fermentation chamber for three days. The salami is then moved to a drying room for 30 days where it loses 40 percent of its weight. Goerdt says: “To dry salami you need a humid environment, not a dry environment. If you put it in your attic the outside will get too dry, trap the moisture in, and the salami will rot.” The drying room at Northern Waters has humidifiers running to keep the space moist. “A moist environment dries the moisture trying to escape, which helps the outsides of the salami stay supple,” says Goerdt. His salami is only sold in his store front in the DeWitt-Seitz building.
Goerdt recently entered his Salamini Salami to be judged in Armandino Batali’s Salumi Salami Challenge in Seattle, a national competition. “We sent it in to get some feedback and ended up winning,” says Goerdt who proudly displays the trophy in his storefront.
“I see our place as kind of a micro smokery, like a micro brewery. We do all kinds of things and we do them in small batches,” he says. As he moves forward in the art of smoking fish and making salami, he hopes to challenge himself further by attempting prosciutto and cured meats.
DeWitt Seitz Marketplace
394 South Lake Ave, #106
Duluth, MN 55802
OWNER: Eric Goerdt