Tandy’s Smoker Challenge | Alex Wheeler

Alex Wheeler has been back to visit with a guest post for Tandy’s smoker challenge.

Tandy’s Smoker Challenge

Me? Competitive? NEVER !!! Tandy mentioned her challenge and OBVIOUSLY I couldn’t resist…

Luckily my Dad gave me his Abu smoker recently – I remember him getting it and using it quite a lot when I was half my current size, which was 20 years ago at least, since then it’s sat in the garage, all forgotten… I dug it out and put it on my shelf for a few months…. seemed it was doomed to the same fate, but Tandy’s Smoker Challenge is some motivation to fire it up!

It’s also a very good opportunity to prove that I can cook something other than slabs of red meat…

So, anyway, I found some fresh Yellowtail and Fennel, which seemed like a good start.

Ingredients for Tandy's Smoker Challenge

and, yes, that is the cat in the background weighing up his chances….

so – here we go, Fennel Smoked Yellowtail with Sweet Potato Gnocci and erm… Roasted Tomato, Olive and Caper  Sauce type thingy…

Normally, putting fish with strong flavors like Fennel AND Capers AND Olives would totally overpower the delicate white flesh of the fish, but I felt that the additional flavor from the smoking would carry the sauce well. As I’ve never had smoked yellow tail before it was a bit of a guess, as it turned out it was a good one, and this is what we did with it:

Sweet Potato Gnocchi:

  • 1 Red Sweet potato – about 500g
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 50ml cream
  • flour 250g
Peel the Sweet Potato, Slice into 20 mm slices, and cook in boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes until just soft. don’t let it absorb too much water….
drain and put into cool water – wait until very cool , you don’t want to add the egg yolk when it’s warm, or you’ll have a spanish omelet!
coarsely mash with a fork – lumps are good, they add a nice rustic touch, add egg yolks, cream and flour, mix until stiff dough.add more flour if it still sticks to your fingers.
Roll into 20mm ‘sausages’, then cut into 20mm long sections with a floured knife  – don’t get too involved with the sizes, ‘about’ is fine, It’s meant to be rustic.
Gnochi for Tandy's Smoker Challenge
leave in fridge overnight…
Cooking the Gnocchi – make sure you have prepared the ingredients for the sauce and the fish BEFORE you cook this.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, add salt, put the Gnocchi in in small batches – as soon as it rises to the top (2 or 3 minutes) it’s done.
Remove with a slotted spoon and keep to one side in a bowl.
Tandy's Smoker Challenge
Olive, Tomato and Caper Sauce
  • Baby Tomatoes – 250g keep whole
  • 1 red onion, – large, thinly sliced
  • Fennel – full bulb and fronds – reserve fronds for smoking, thinly slice the bulb, few fronds for garnish
  • capers 2 teaspoons, drained
  • Olives 100g or so, drained
  • Garlic, 8 cloves or so, cut into chunks, 2 or 3 pieces per clove.
  • Olive Oil – tablespoon.
  • Balsamic – 2 tablespoon
  • Juice of one lemon

NB – Timing – Once you’ve cooked your Gnocchi (as above) Preheat the Grille on your oven.  Put your smoker with the fish in it (see below) on the heat, only then should you start making the sauce…

Select a pan you can put under your grille – no plastic handles – then start the sauce on the hob – First, soften the Onion gently in the Olive oil along with the whole chilli – 5 to 10 minutes. turn up the heat and Add the whole tomatoes, let them soften for 2 or 3 minutes, it they burst, great, if not don’t damage them. shake the pan frequently to ensure even cooking.. add the garlic chunks and thinly sliced Fennel – PLEASE make sure you clean the fennel properly, nothing ruins a great meal more than a mouthful of sand! , give that a minute then add the Olives, Capers, Balsamic and lemon juice.

Stick it under the grille, keep an eye on it, don’t let it burn while your fish finishes cooking… Give it  a few shakes to keep it happy AND DON’T FORGET THE HANDLE IS HOT!!! use oven mitts!

Tandy's Smoker Challenge


  • 1.1kg Yellowtail Fillet – skin on.
  • Butter – about 50g
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of one lemon.
  • Cape Oak Wine Barrel shavings, soaked in water for 1 hour
  • Fronds from Fennel

I’m using the Abu smoker so you place your damp shavings on the base of the smoker, then put the tray and grill over it, I think most hot smokers work this way.

cover the Grille with the Fennel Fronds and place your Yellowtail on top of that, skin side down. Squeeze the lemon over the flesh, Season and put a few knobs of butter on it.

cover in more fennel fronds and close the lid.

Tandy's Smoker Challenge

It’s a little hard to say how long as I didn’t put the gas on hard enough at first – you need to get some heat into the shavings, rather just whack it on full blast. once we got it going, we just opened the lid and held a fork in the flesh for 20 seconds or so to test it – it’s cooked if the fork comes out warm… 10 minutes or so is what you are looking at here… discard the Fennel Fronds.


on your table:

  • Crusty Loaf
  • Butter
  • Lemon Wedges
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chilli sauce

As soon as the fish is finished, put the sauce back on the heat, and stir in the gnocchi. don’t let it stick, just toss it in the juices long enough to warm it back up.

Put a good sized serving of the Gnocchi / Sauce mixture on warmed plates (ensuring an equitable amount of olives and tomatoes on each plate!!) , divide a piece of fish off the fillet – leaving the skin behind – and place on top of the gnocchi, garnish with a piece of reserved fennel frond and….

Tandy's Smoker Challenge


Drinks – As this is smoked and has a strong sauce you can easily dispense with the “fish has white wine with it” rule and have a good red instead. Syrah/Shiraz or a good blend – D and T arrived with something very suitable, which I didn’t taste as I was swilling Chardonnay – quite a lot of it as it turned out… ahem… but I think either would be suitable, In the depths of the Cape Winter the red is more ‘homely’ but this meal would also make a good summer dish with a good crisp Chardonnay…

This really was delicious! We panfried the other fillet of yellowtail as a ‘control’ – the meal would be great with pan fried fish alone – but there is definite additional deliciousness from the smoking process. well worth a little extra effort to put it in the smoker. I’d be VERY happy to get this in a restaurant, and I think that was unanimous at the table. As evidence – the whole lot was eaten…. over 2kg of fish!!!!  Dave bravely fought off the cat for the last portion…


Tandy's Smoker Challenge

To price this, the whole yellowtail cost me R77 filleted – about 2.2kg after filleting. for 2 kids and 4 adults thats an obscene amount of food with the Gnocchi and sauce.  The other stuff – Olives, 1 sweet potato, few tomatoes, capers, an onion, loaf of bread etc, plus the usual kitchen bits can’t be more than that – call it R150 altogether – R25 a head, for food like this, that is a real pleasure.

so – Tandy – what do I win? 🙂

12 thoughts on “Tandy’s Smoker Challenge | Alex Wheeler

    1. Well, it’s easy enough, and it’s much tastier, it’s more time consuming than difficult! enjoy!

    1. sadly Dave was far too quick for the kitty!

      but hey, it’s not like they starve in this household!

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