It seems that every year I always open up the freezer and find a few extra packs of salmon or trout left over that had been neglected. Often times these packs are from the fall run of salmon when their meat is not as pink and delicious. These fish may not be as desirable on the grill or in the oven, but they make perfect candidates for the smoker.
The process of smoking and preserving fish, or any other meats for all that matter, is nothing new and it has certainly been around for a very long time. However, many people find the process intimidating. The truth is just the opposite. Smoking your catch is quite an easy and enjoyable process and the results are absolutely delicious.
You don’t need any type of expensive equipment to smoke your catch. There are those high-end automatic smokers out there, but you can also do the same thing on a standard bbq grill. For my smoking, I choose to use a simple electric heat box style that allows me to load my meat from the front and add the desired smoking chips without loosing any heat and smoke.
The principal is quite simple. Place your prepared fish in a box with low heat and a smoking fruitwood and let the smoke and the heat do the work. So let’s take you from start to finish to make the most out of your catch.
With all meats that are to be smoked or preserved there is typically a brining process that is involved as the first step. The recipes vary from person to person, but they are as simple as 1 gallon of liquid, 1 cup of salt, and 1 cup of sugar. My preferred method would be 1gallon of apple cider, 1 cup of kosher salt and then 1 to 1 ½ cups of brown sugar. I like to use a bit more sugar to sweeten up the final product and get a nice crust on the fish.
The brine is mixed up and your fish is placed in the brine making sure to cover all of the pieces completely. You don’t want any of the fish exposed to the air. Use a heavy bowl to place on top of the fish to keep it submerged in the mixture. This entire mixture will go into the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Occasionally stirring the mixture will help make sure all sides of the meat are exposed to the brine.
After your desired brining time, remove the fish from the mixture and place it on racks to allow the excess brine to drip off of the fish. You will want to let this air dry for a few hours until you have a sticky film on the fish. There is really no magic number as far as time goes, and the more times you do it the better feel you will have for the how long you will let them dry.
Time for the smoker! Apple, cherry, and hickory are the woods that seem to give some of the best flavors. Soak your chips in water so that way they do not burn, but they will smolder and give off good amounts of smoke. Because your heat source is down on the bottom and heat rises, typically the smaller pieces of fish are placed near the bottom and the larger ones at the top. This will allow the smaller pieces to stay moist while the larger ones are cooking.
If your smoker does not have a temperature gauge, you can use a standard meat thermometer to give you a good handle on the internal temperature of the smoker. The key is to start with a low temperature that offers the most smoke. The longer the fish is in the smoke the better flavor it will have. Slowly increase the heat of the smoker and make sure that you get the internal temperature of the fish to a minimum of 160deg for 1/2 hour.
A typical smoking process will take 3 to 6 hours. It’s best to keep an eye on the fish and check regularly. Testing pieces from all levels of the smoker to verify that they are cooked and the smoke has permeated them. When they are done you will be able to remove the pieces and put on racks to cool. That is of course assuming you haven’t eaten all of your work as you take it out of the smoker.
The time and effort put into the finished product is quickly rewarded with that first bite of the delicious treat that you have just created. Smoking your catch is simple and easy. The next time you are wondering what new way you can prepare your fish, just add a little smoke to it.