Hot Smoking Fish

How to Smoke Fish

The traditional cold smoking of fish is a long drawn out process.  Whilst the results speak for themselves, there is a quicker way to smoke fish and it is available to anyone.

It is hot smoking.  Portable smokers are available at any good outdoors shop and even most fishing tackle shops stock them.  The simple ones consist of just a small metal box containing a wire mesh rack.  Underneath the rack sits the sawdust and underneath the box sits a small dish.  Into this dish goes the fuel to heat the sawdust.  Methylated Spirits is the most commonly used fuel.  Simple smokers like these are fine for a smoking a few fillets of fish.  If smoking whole fish or quantities of fillets, then you may need to utilise a larger smoker.

These are usually box shaped, and varying in size, but are large enough to accommodate a few layers of smoking racks.  The sawdust goes in the bottom as with the smaller units, but the heat source is a little more sophisticated; usually natural gas provided by way of a gas cylinder, the same type of cylinder used for your barbecue.  The fittings are often the same too, so you can swap the cylinder between your barbecue and smoker, doing away with the need for two gas cylinders.

The first thing required is, of course, the fish.  In South Australia, there are many types of fish suitable for smoking, but the two most popular would have to be tommy roughs, or Australian Herring as they are now known, and snook.  Both are favourites for the smoker.  The herring is often smoked whole, being a small fish, but the fillets are also excellent.  Snook are a long thin fish yielding sizeable fillets.  The flesh is nice eaten fresh, but after freezing, smoking is the best way to enjoy them.

If using whole fish, make sure they are gutted and scaled thoroughly.  The fillets should be skinned if possible.  Most importantly, the fish, whether whole or fillets, should be soaked in brine for a period of time before cooking in the smoker.  A rough guide is one third salt and the rest of the solution water.  Soak the fish for an hour or so in the brine before smoking.

Once you have your fish, it is important to choose the correct woodchips or sawdust.  This is quite important as the smell of the smoke will permeate through your fish, giving it that unique smoky flavour.  There are many different types of woodchips suitable for smoking.  Redwood and Tea Tree is popular here.  As long as there are no contaminates in the woodchips, it should be OK.   A combination of both hardwoods and softwoods is sometimes recommended.  Woodchips for smoking can usually be purchased from the same retailers selling the smokers.

The rest is very simple.  Place the fish on the racks inside your smoker, close the lid and light the heat source.  The time to cook will depend on how much fish you have in the smoker.  Whole fish will take longer than fillets.  Anywhere from five minutes to half an hour in the smoker should do it.  I have a very basic smoker which I use on camping trips.  It takes about 10 minutes for the fillets to come out golden brown with a lovely smoky flavour.  Even the notorious carp tastes OK smoked – although it’s far from the best smoked fish I’ve had.

A hot smoker is a great idea if you are partial to smoked fish.  Very easy to operate and the results are fantastic.  A bit if trial and error is all that is required to have that fish smoked exactly the way you like it.