Smoked Fish!

My friend Sarah and her boyfriend Gavin have a smoker, and she invited me over to smoke something on a lovely saturday afternoon. If you've never seen a smoker, here is the style that I was using:

Basically there is a bottom layer of hoat coals. On top of the coals you put wood chips! I won't even dare get into what kind of woodchips you can use... I am merely a beginner.

I decided I would bring some fish. I have an old book from my Dad that he used to use with his smoker :

And I did some research. According to the book you should brine the fish before smoking it. I will now paraphrase some of the parts of the book I found very interesting :) maybe I'm a nerd but so what!

Chapter 3
The Key to Good Flavour: Brines and Seasonings

There are two main factors in sucessful production of smoked foods. One is correct use of the smoke oven. Heat and smoke by themselves will flavour and preserve foodstuffs to some extent. But heat and smoke are not enough. The second factor helps to create the widest possible range of flavours, improves the texture and appearance of the finished product and, in many recipes, powerfully aids in preserving the food against spoilage. All this achieved by the use, before, during and after the smoking process, or properly selected brines, seasonings and curative agents.

In preparing food for smoking, it is generally desireable to have the salt and other flavourings penetrate the meat or fish -the more deeply the better. All fresh foods contain water, which holds the nutrient materials - carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins - in solution, in emulsion or in the colloidial state. This water content is higher than is generally recognized. Here are some typical figures:

Hard Cheese - about 40% water
Beef - about 60% water
Veal, Chicken, Turkey - about 66% water
Soft Cheese - about 70% water
Fatty Fish - about 70% water
Non-fatty Fish - about 80% water

If dry salt be placed on the food surface, it immediately begins to dissolve in the water content, and will quickly be absorbed. This solution and absorption process takes place even if the food is apprently dry. If brine, instead of dry salt be applied, the process takes place in the same way. Salt from the brine mixes with the water content of the meat or fish, and penetrates toward the interior.

Salt, applied to meat or fish, tends to extract water. For example, in the Brine Salting method of preservation, fish packed in a crock with dry salt, about 1 part by weight of salt to 3 parts fish. After 2 or 3 days, the fish are found to be immersed in brine, formed by water extracted from the fish.

If fish are placed directly into an excessively strong brine, a similar action takes place; water is drawn out of the fish to dilute the brine, and the fish lose some weight.

When meat or fish is removed from a brine bath, certain protein constituents are dissolved in the salt water. On drying, these dissolved proteins form a thin, glossy layer at the surface. This layer, somewhat like a coat of varnish, is called a pellicle. It takes on an attactive colouration in the smoke oven, and is believed to aid in preservation of the smoked food. It is usually desireable then that the meat or fish, upon removal from the brine, be allowed to dry before smoking. If it is hurried straight from the brine to a hot oven, the pellicle will not form properly and the keeping qualities and appearance of the finished product will be impaired.

At 68F 100 parts by weight of water will dissolve in 35.8 parts of salt. This, the strongest brine that can be made at the temperature is called a 'saturated solution'

Isn't that interesting!?! The book goes on and on about the science of brining... about special salt saturation thermometers and all the rest! I can't wait to really explore this world of smoking. But for now... I started with my fish!

Following this recipe for brine:

Basic Fish Brine:

This brine is far superior to a straight salt solution and is reccomended for use with fish, oysters, clams, shrimps and prawns.

4 US Gallons ( for us Canucks this means 15.4 Litres)
8 cups of salt
1 lb brown sugar
1.5 cups lemon juice
2 tbsp liquid garlic
2 tbsp liquid onion

I used real sliced garlic and onion which the book ok'd.
I also divided the recipe by 4. I certainly don't need 15 litres of brine.

It worked out ok!! I used the book's chart to calculate how long I should brine my fish according to it's weight. I had a 1.5 lb piece of salmon which I brined for 2.5 hours. I also had a small filet of Trout which i brined only for 40 minutes.

They turned out well! I think next time I will score the thicker pieces of fish ( i read about this later ) to help the brine penetrate. and I will perhaps leave it a bit longer. The book suggests to stick to the same recipe for brine and if you want it more salty or less salty you do not tweak your recipe but instead tweak the time you brine for. Smart!

Here is the fish after brining:

You'll notice that the salmon is quite white. This faded once I set it to dry.

I set up a little drying station just as the book suggested. I used a backing rack, and a fan. Since my apartment window is at ground level, it wasn't too hot and there wasn't direct sunlight on the fish. The book also mentions that the salt from the brining process actually helps to prevent the fish from breaking down at room temperature. It is essentially a mild preservative.

Here's my little station:

So there they sat for FOUR HOURS!

For the first hour I kept checking them every 10 minutes. I was so anxious to see the infamous 'pellicle' form. I started to annoy myself so I decided to go buy some potting soil and do some gardening to distract myself. After four hours of beautifying my entrance way - which was QUITE satisfying :).... I came inside to shower and found my fish pleasantly dried!! They really had lost alot of weight and had formed a sort of crust!! I think this was a successful pellicle! But who knows... only practice will tell.

Here is the salmon after 4 hours of drying. Notice it has darkened quite a bit and seems to have a slight 'skin' This is the pellicle

The trout really darkened ! And dried out nicely and also formed a crusty coating

I found it really really fascinating to learn about the pellicle. I had never thought of 'drying' food. After I read about it I realized and remembered already knowing that travelling tribes and natives would have used smoking and drying as one of their main ways of cooking and preserving their food for deep winter and also for travelling. The smoking I did today was 'hot' smoking . There is also 'cold' smoking which takes place at very low temperature over several DAYS. I think it takes fairly specialized equipment to do this.

Another interesting point was learning that pacific indians used to smoke blueberries for enjoyment during winter months. Sounds soo delicious. The book has a recipe and id like to try it some time. It says they are delicious with icecream

Now that my fish was properly prepped it was time to get smoking! With my container of fish, my special and now completely invalueable book, and a rack.. i cycled off to Sarah's.

Well now they already had some delicious treats on the go!

From what I could gather, Sarah's boyfriend Gavin seemed to be 'the smoker' and I think he might pretty much always have it going, and just tosses on what he happens to have that way. Arriving with my mini text book and brined and dried fish I was feeling a bit shy. Almost like a kid with all his pens in his shirt and 3 calculators showing up for a math test.

All was well thought, my fish was happily welcomed into the smoker .. on the bottom shelf below the meat.

Now I'm really starting to catch myself starting every sentence with 'the book says'

The book says! That its ok to put fish below meat, but not a good plan to put fish above meat as the fishy flavour on meat does not work in the same way as the meat drippings on fish.

A couple hours of playing with Sarah's adorable Coon Hound/ Beagle mix named Huck:

And chatting with Sarah, and trying to talk smoke science with Gavin ( this was somewhat unsuccessful... My sharing of 'The Book' resulted in mild friendly interest for a few minutes... then it found itself casually placed on a chair.

It started to rain a little bit and I decided it was time to check the fish and pull them out! They looked beautiful!

Now for the tasting...

The trout was the first thing I tasted, and it was absolutely delicious. There was a chewy and meaty quality to it that is normally not found in eating fish. And the flavour was smoky but not overpowering, you could still taste the nice fish flavour.

The salmon was much jucier. But also delicious! I think because it was so thick it could have used more time in both the brine and the smoker. But all in all a great success!! I can't wait to make a salad with my OWN smoked salmon for my lunches this week.

I will definately do this again!! I think I will buy a whole trout next time and clean and fillet it myself and smoke the whole fillets. It had the best flavour and is alot more affordable AND environmentally sustainable than salmon.

A great project ! I am now very stinky and ready for bed :)

Hope you enjoyed my adventures!



Yo GurtMoJi said...

Nice post Amelia. Smoked salmon sample was amazing!

Boo said...

Mmmm. You can come over and brine and smoke at my place any time, baby. ;)

Editor Boo says: If your 'paraphrased' parts are excepts from the book, it's not paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is when you take it and put it into your own words! Not sure if that was directly from the book or not but I thought I'd mention it. :D Don't wancha getting into any legal troubly my sweet sister.

When I move to TO, we will just have a smoke party every night.