Friday, October 23, 2015

Russ Kendall's Smoke House - Knife River, MN

Reading ahead for our trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, it became apparent that fish reigned supreme as the king of local cuisine. Many restaurants offer fresh lake-caught fish and smoked fish is also prevalent. Russ Kendall's Smoke House stood out among the latter and then I learned that Andrew Zimmern had featured it in one of his Bizzare Foods episodes on Minnesota. That cemented it as a stop on our North Shore drive (I didn't actually watch the episode until the time of writing this). Somewhere on-line, I read that Zimmern called Russ Kendall's smoked whitefish the best he'd ever tasted and that made it a must buy. I also read many comments on Yelp and Trip Advisor raving about their brown sugar cured salmon, so that became a must-buy as well.

Russ Kendall's is in the small town of Knife River on the edge of Lake Superior. It took a detour off the main North Shore road to get to it.
Russ Kendall's Smokehouse in Knife River, MN
I did not keep notes, so hopefully I correctly identify the fish we got. We purchased four different kinds and had some for lunch right after buying it, then put the balance in a cooler Judy's sister Angie got for us, and ate the fish the next day on our hike to Eagle Mountain, the tallest mountain in Minnesota.

I was most anxious to try the brown sugar cured salmon, the most expensive of the various smoked fishes. Everything about it sounded incredible. I love salmon, and a little bit of sugar and smoke can't do anything but help it, right? The smoke and the sweetness came through, but it was a tad bit dry - still very good. I would like it better a little less cured. My favorite part was the skin which still had a thin film of underlying fat and the fattier parts of the fish that were the most moist.
Brown sugar cured salmon
The beautiful pink flesh and the wonderful, fatty skin.
My least favorite was the smoked trout which was the driest of the fish we tried. The flavor was decent, but the mouth-feel was not there.
One side of the smoked trout.
The other side.
By far the best were the two fish that were still encased in their skins - I'm not sure if that is the reason for their moistness, but they were moist and the mouth-feel was wonderful. Taste-wise, it was probably a toss-up for me between the whitefish and the herring. The whitefish was the funkiest looking because we got a whole fish which retained the head and had a nuclear reactor looking yellowish glow about it, as in fresh from Fukushima. But inside was a beautiful moist white meat with a stripe of pink reminiscent of the pink stripe in barbecued pork. It had a slightly smoky flavor, but was mild and absolutely wonderful.
Smoked whitefish
Opened up to the beautiful, moist, white and pink flesh. 
Smoked kippers and pickled herring, both ocean fish, are favorites of mine. I learned on the Bizzare Foods episode that this herring was fresh water out of Lake Superior. It had a little stronger smoked-flavor than the whitefish and was not quite as moist, but still really excellent.
Grill marks on the outside of a smoked herring.
Some of the moist inner flesh.
I noted in my Eagle Mountain post that we saw a wolf on our hike and the thought did occur to me that the wolf may have been lured in by the smell of the smoked fish we were carrying. If that is the case, a stop at Russ Kendall's is mandatory for any further hiking in Minnesota. 


  1. This was a delicious snack, perfect food for noshing in the car and on the trail.Like you I was a little disappointed in the trout, one of my favorite fishes, but the rest was spectacular.

  2. I'm always impressed by the interesting food you manage to find.