Mmmmm…. When is the last time you had some really delicious smoked fish? Full of smoky flavor, smoked fish is a real treat. When you serve a smoked salmon at a party, it usually disappears very quickly, and for good reason. It tastes great! Well, you can make smoked fish at home. Yes, you can. It is not that hard.
All you need is a heat source, smoke, something to contain the smoke and a source for air. The way it works is that air enters the bottom of the chamber, mixes with the smoke, swirling around the meat you have inside. The meat soaks up that flavor as the air and smoke take a little bit of the moisture from the meat. The air and smoke then exit out a vent at the top.
Preparing the Fish
Fresh fish is best for smoking. Rinse the fish well in fresh water. Remove all loose pieces and bones. Pliers, hemostats, or tweezers can all be used to remove bones from fillets. Some people will choose to skin the fish first, while others will smoke the fish on the skin. Either way works fine. Cut the fish into pieces that are similar in size for even smoking.
Before smoking, meat is usually brined. This is a mixture of salt, sugar and water that the meat is soaked in. The meat soaks up the flavors in the brine as well as extra moisture, which increases the amount of time for the collagen in the meat to break down without letting the meat get too dry. Raw meat generally gains about 20% more weight after brining. Place the fish in a brine of your choice so that all pieces are completely submerged. You can weigh down the fish with a plate or something if you need to.
Let it soak in a cool place if the fish was already cold; otherwise place it in the refrigerator or in a cooler with ice. Small pieces only need to soak for half an hour, while larger pieces or fillets can soak up to several hours. Remove the fish from the brine before smoking and allow them to dry on racks in a cool, breezy area protected from insects. An electric fan produces a good breeze. Let them sit for an hour, or until a light glaze forms on the surface of the fish.
Hot smoking takes place at temperatures between 120 and 180 degrees F. At 120 degrees, the meat will sweat out moisture from its cells. Due to brining, the meat will lose some of the brine rather than its own juices. At 140 degrees, the meat releases yet more moisture because the cells are beginning to break down in the smoking process.
Cold smoking takes place at temperatures less than 85 degrees F. This is the method used for ham, bacon and other smoked foods. In cold smoking, the air and smoke is cooled before it reaches the food. This is a very slow method that creates a very flavorful product. It can take up to two weeks or more to smoke food in this manner.
In both smoking methods, more smoke can be made by adding wet wood chips. Oak, apple, hickory, pecan, cherry or grape wood all make excellent smoke.
Photo Credit: Smoking trout at highland games, Inveraray by cfrancken, on Flickr
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