Smoking Fish - a great way to bring out the flavour
Smoking trout, salmon, or any kind of fish has long been recognized as a gourmet delight. It is neither difficult or costly to achieve using a portable smoker. There are several on the market that come complete with all accessories, sawdust and instructions.
Smoking adds many delicious flavours. It originated years ago when out ancestors used it as a way of preserving fish. The modern hot smoker enables us to quickly cook and smoke fish, ready to be eaten within 20 to 30 minutes.
The average person can easily learn the art of smoking fish. In fact many delicacies such as trout, salmon, pike, eels and other fish can be produced with minimum equipment by anybody capable of lighting a fire.
It does require a little experimenting to learn the little foibles of temperature, climate, fuel, and the smoker itself, but these details are not complicated. There are two general methods of smoking foods - hot smoking and cold smoking.
We will only deal with hot smoking in this article and perhaps look at cold smoking later. In hot smoking the fish is completely cooked and flavoured. Although a hot smoker product will only keep for a few days refrigerated it can be frozen after smoking. It is also a great way to add flavour to fish that has been frozen previously and has lost its fresh taste.
Hot smoking is very popular for home consumption. It is, as explained the shorter method of smoking and can take just 20 to 30 minutes to cook. Cold smoking is primarily a commercial process for treating large quantities of food to be preserved for several weeks or more and is the way our famous smoked Atlantic Salmon is processed. In cold smoking, the fish is not cooked but cured through drying at a temperature of approximately 40 C for a prolonged period.
Preservation depends on the length of time the product is smoked and the amount of salt used. In general, the longer the salt cure and the slower the heat is applied, the longer the food will keep.
This process van be used with any fish or meat but it is intended for foods that are to be eaten within a few days. to hot smoke fish, either fillet the fish or split them along the back just above the back bone, leaving the belly solid, so that it will open in once piece. Scrape away all viscera, blood, and membranes and wash thoroughly. The fish can then be given a brine treatment or smoked as is. It is preferable to leave the skin on as some of the oils between the skin and the flesh add flavours to the final taste.
To hot smoke fish using the brining method
Soak in a brine solution made of ½ cup of salt to one litre of water for thirty minutes to leach blood out of the flesh. Then prepare the brine in the following proportion of ingredients:
1 cup of salt
½ cup of brown sugar
½ tablespoon of crushed black pepper
½ tablespoon of crushed bay leaves to each litre of water. Some honey and soy sauce can also be added to give extra flavour.
The brine in which you now submerge the fish will inhabit the spoilage action of bacteria. It will also continue to remove blood and body fluids from the tissue and replace them with salt, which is a preservative and also gives it flavour.
The fish are soaked in this brine for 2-6 hours, depending on their size and thickness, amount of fat, and the degree of cure wanted. After brining, rinse the fish in fresh water and hang in a cool, shady, breezy place for about three hours, or until a thin shiny skin or pellicle has formed on the surface.
Smoke in hot smoker as detailed below.
To smoke without brine
Clean, prepare and wash the fish, as above. Lay the sectioned fish with the skin side facing down as this allows you to cover the fish with whatever type of tasty morsels, spices or peppers that you wish. The choice in this case is yours, but some people prefer lemon, peppers and mint while others use different spices and celery or garlic salt, or even brown sugar.
All these variations add their own unique taste to the fish. Some prefer to remove the head and cook the fish without filleting or splitting. Those who prefer this method generally fill the stomach cavity area with spices to their own taste, but this method takes another ten minutes to cook due to fish thickness.
Those using small fish often prepare them this way. Now that they are laid on the trays, the next step is to take some dried sawdust, preferably from slow growing trees (or hard woods), and sprinkle a fine coat over the base of the smoker. One word of warning - to much sawdust will often make the fish very strong and unpalatable. Hickory is a favourite wood as it is tee tree. Place the lid on the smoker and it is ready to fire up. Place your smoking base on a hard, level surface, preferably concrete, tile or steel. Even sand or hard clay would be satisfactory. Fill the supplied container with methylated spirits then light, being careful that the closed base is facing towards any breeze. This will prevent the flame blowing out and give a good, even heat to the smoker. You should note at this point that some of the stream will come out from the lid of the smoker. After the first container of meths has gone out, slip the lid off and check to see if the fish is cooked. If not, add a little more methylated spirits to complete it. It can be served hot or left for 15-20 minutes (just to cool down) in an open area covered with a clean cloth.
Leaving in a restricted area allows moisture on top to soak back down into the fish and form a jelly substance on the top which is not so good.
I hope you enjoy your fish using this method and experiment with different types of spices and dressings to your own liking.
Stainless steel smokers are strongly recommended as against galvanised tin. It is much easier to clean and will not burn out and run away like the cheaper tin smokers.
Smoked almond trout
2 good sized trout fillets
½ cup of heavy or whipped cream
½ cup of almonds Butter
Remove the skin from the back of the fillets and lay them on the smoking tray. Cover the fillets with some fine chopped almonds. Smoke. While the fish is cooking, melt a little butter in a small pan. Lightly brown the rest of the almonds. Add ½ cup of cream, stir it briskly so it will take up the brown colour of the butter, Add almonds. Let the liquid reduce a little. After removing the cooked trout from the smoker, place it on a platter and pour the sauce over the trout and serve.
Brandade of smoked trout
A delicious cold appetiser
1 trout - about 2 lb
4-6 tablespoons of cream
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely chopped radish or parsley
Remove skin and bones from the trout and smoke in the normal way. After trout has cooled pound fillets to a smooth paste, then mix with cream and olive oil. Season to taste with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Chill. Toast bread and then cut rounds of toast with a glass or biscuit cutter. Spread each round with softened butter and then cover generously with the smoked trout mixture. Sprinkle with finely chopped radishes or parsley, or combination of the two. Serve in a fish platter.