Smoking has a been a traditional method of preserving food for generations now. The seafaring cultures of the world began salting, drying and smoking their hauls as a way of ensuring its longevity. Thousands of years has brought the technique from a necessity on long voyages to a delicacy. It’s no wonder curing fish as a practise hasn’t disappeared, despite refrigerator and freezer technology now a staple of anyone’s household.
While this article may not be welcomed by low and slow conservatives who only consider a gigantic slab of smouldering red meat good food, the rich oaky notes of a hardwood pair sublimely with a fatty catch of the day. And yes, while it is possible to cold-smoke fish, a hot and fast smoke is a great introduction to the wonderful domain of seafood smoking.
Smoking any fish is possible, but a fattier and oily fish will yield the best results. Species like salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna are all high in fat and will absorb more smoke faster and easier. You can smoke whole fish or parts, but fillets with the skin still attached will cook evenly and retain a smoke flavour.
The method for smoking will vary from fish to fish, but the principles remain the same: salt, dry and then smoke. The time spent on each of these steps depends on the size and species of the fish.
Salting is a standard in smoking because it brilliantly enhances savoury flavour. Plus, it keeps nasty bacteria at bay during a long and slow cooking session. You can dry rub or wet brine the fish during this step. A wet brine is slightly safer as it envelops the meat and finds its way into every crevasse. So either sprinkle salt over your fish and massage it in, or place the fish into a basin of salt water for one hour. A solution of 6% table salt is ideal. You can achieve this approximately by dissolving 1 part salt into 7 parts water. If in doubt, brining calculators exist and are quite handy.
After the brine, wash off the salt and let the fish air dry meat side for at least an hour until a pellicle forms. A pellicle is a thin, tacky outer layer that appears on meat as it is being cured. This pellicle helps smoke to cling to your fishy friend.
Now onto the smoking. If you’ve properly prepared then smoking the fish should be a sea breeze. Maple, alder, oak, hickory, birch, and fruit woods are all superb woods for smoking fish. Alder is the most common pair for salmon, resulting in a delicate sweetness that doesn’t overpower.
As for heat, start off low and slow. Smoke the fish for two hours at a temperature below 65 degrees Celsius then turn it up to 95 degrees for half an hour to cook. Fish is smaller and thinner than its mighty land counterparts and does not need an abundance of time and heat before serving. After this, ensure the fish is at least 75 degrees Celsius all the way through before reeling it off your grill.
For the summer, smoked fish is divine. However, not only is it a dish on its own, it’s versatile enough for salads and even spreads. Once broken down, mix the fish with cream cheese to serve on crackers for a dinner party delight. For the adventurous smokers, experiment with brown sugar and citrus in the brine or rub for a more rounded and complex flavour. This article only covers the basics of smoking fish, there’s so much more to learn and many more fish in the sea to smoke.