The fisherman's catch, if properly preserved, can be a welcome addition to family meals over a period of several weeks or months. Smoking is an excellent way to preserve fish that you don't plan to eat right away. Fish is smoked as it dries over a smoldering fire. Wood smoke adds flavor and color; the brining process helps to preserve the fish.
Smoking MethodsThere are two general methods of smoking fish: hot-smoking and cold-smoking.
Hot-smoking (also called barbecuing or kippering) requires a short brining time and smoking temperatures of 90°F for the first 2 hours and 150°F for an additional 4-8 hours. Hot-smoked fish are moist, lightly salted, and fully cooked, but they will keep in the refrigerator for only a few days.
Cold-smoking requires a longer brining time, lower temperature (80-90°F) and extended smoking time (1-5 days or more of steady smoking). Cold-smoked fish contain more salt and less moisture than hot-smoked fish. If the fish has been sufficiently cured, it will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
Parasites In FishFreshwater and marine fish naturally contain many parasites. These parasites are killed during the hot-smoking process, if the temperature reaches 140°F. Use commercially frozen fish for cold-smoked fish and lox, or freeze the fish to -10°F for at least 7 days to kill any parasites that may be present. Freezing to -10°F is not possible in most home freezers.
Smoking TipsAny fish can be smoked, but species high in fat (oil) such as salmon and trout are recommended because they absorb smoke faster and have better texture than lean fish, which tend to be dry and tough after smoking.
Use seasoned non-resinous woods: hickory, oak, apple, maple, birch, beech, or alder. Avoid: pine, fir, spruce, etc. or green woods. If heavier smoke flavor is desired, add moist sawdust to the heat source throughout the smoking process.
Control heat by adjusting air flow.
Preparing Fish For SmokingUse only freshly-caught fish that have been kept clean and cold. Fish that have been handled carelessly or stored under improper conditions will not produce a satisfactory finished product. Do not use bruised, broken, or otherwise damaged flesh.
If you catch your fish, clean and pack them in ice before starting home. When you get home, store the fish in the refrigerator until you are ready to prepare them for smoking.
Different fish species generally require specific preparation methods. Salmon are split (backbone removed); bottom fish filleted; herring headed and gutted, and smelt dressed. The following preparation steps can be applied to any fish:
Preparing BrinePrepare a brine of 3½ cups table salt in 1 gallon of cold water in a plastic, stainless steel, or crockery container. Red or white wine can be substituted for a portion or all of the water, if desired. Stir the salt until a saturated solution is formed.
Spices such as black pepper, bay leaves, seafood seasoning, or garlic, as well as brown sugar, may be added to the brine depending on your preference.
Use 1 gallon of brine for every 4 pounds of fish. Brine fish in the refrigerator, if possible.
Keep the fish covered with brine throughout the brining period. A heavy bowl can be floated on the brine to keep the fish submersed, but do not pack the fish so tightly that the brine cannot circulate around each piece.
LoxLox is similar to cold-smoked salmon, but is moist, lightly salted and lightly smoked. Much practice and experience are needed to prepare satisfactory lox. The appropriate length of brining and smoking to produce lox that suit one's taste is determined mainly through trial. Lox can be prepared following the instructions for cold-smoking with the following modifications:
The authors are Robert J. Price, Ph.D., Extension Seafood Technology Specialist and Pamela Tom, M.Sc., Staff Research Associate Department of Food Science & Technology, University of California, Davis, California 95616-8598
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