Join Date: Apr 2002
Smoking Fish (circa 1934)
Fish smoking is a method which should be used more
extensively in home food preservation of fishery
products, says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
When the curing is properly done, it is inexpensive
and the product is of high quality, attractive in
appearance and taste. Although preservation by smoking
usually lasts for a shorter time than by salting, the
product is more appetising. If smoked fish spoils
quickly and is poor in quality, it is as the smoking
has been done improperly. If proper attention is given
to materials and methods, little difficulty should be
The efficiency of smoking depends on the drying
action; it is only a flavouring and colouring agent.
According to species, fish may be smoked either in the
round, gutted, split and beheaded, or cut into pieces
with or without the skin removed.
There are two general methods of smoking fish:
hot-smoking or barbequing - and cold-smoking. In
hot-smoking, the fish are hung near the fire, usually
not more than 3 or 4 feet distant - and smoked at
temperatures from 150 to 200F so that they are
partially or wholly cooked. Therefore, while
hot-smoked fish is very appetising and requires no
preparation, it will keep for only a short time. In
cold-smoking, the fish are hung at some distance from
a low smouldering fire and smoked at temperatures
usually lower than 90F (a temperature of 90F may be
used occasionally). The degree of preservation depends
on the length of time the fish are smoked; fish
cold-smoked a few hours, for example, will keep only a
short time. If an extended period of preservation is
desired, fish must be cold-smoked from a few days to a
week or more. The same general principles governing
the smoking, handling and storing of cured meats
should be followed with fish.
Hot-Smoking. Almost any species may be hot-smoked.
Mullet, shad, Spanish mackerel, mackerel, alewives or
river herring, herring, lake herring, whitefish and
king mackerel. This method is recommended if it is
desired to prepare a fish that can be used immediately
without cooking. Fish smoked by this method may be
kept longer without molding or souring, but even so,
it will preserve for only a short time.
Split the fish along the back, just above the backbone
so that it will be open in one piece, leaving the
belly solid. Scrape out all viscera, blood and
membrane. Make an additional cut under the backbone
for the smaller fish. For the larger fish, cut out the
forward three-fifths of the backbone. Wash thoroughly
and soak in a 70 salt brine (1/2 cup salt to 1 quart
water) for 30 minutes to leach blood out of the flesh.
Then prepare a brine, using the following ingredients:
2 pounds salt, 1 ounce saltpetre, 1 ounce crushed
black peppercorns, 1 ounce crushed bay leaves. This
makes a 90 per cent brine (saturated salt solution).
The amounts of ingredients are increased in proportion
to the amount of brine to be made. The spices used may
be increased both in variety and quantity.
The fish are held in this brine for periods varying
from 2 to 4 hours, depending upon their size and
thickness, amount of fat and the desire for a light or
heavily cured fish. Weather conditions also make a
difference; the exact length of time must be
determined by experiment. Rinse off the fish in fresh
water and hang outside in a cool, shady and breezy
place to dry for about 3 hours before hanging in the
smokehouse, or until a thin shiny "skin" or pellicle
has formed on the surface.
For the first 8 hours that the fish are in the
smokehouse, the fire is low and smouldering. The
temperature should not be higher than 90F. A dense
smoke should then be built up. After 4 hours of heavy
smoking, the fire is increased until the temperature
is between 130 and 150F. The fish are cured at this
temperature for 2 to 3 hours, or until they have a
glossy, brown surface. This partially cooks, or
hot-smokes, the fish.
When smoking is finished, the fish must be cooled for
2 or 3 hours. They may be brushed over lightly with
vegetable oil (usually cottonseed) while warm. This is
sometimes done just after finishing the cold-smoking
part of the process. The oil forms a light protective
coating, but the chief value of this treatment is to
make the appearance more attractive. Another method is
to dip the fish in melted paraffin; thus, a more
effective protective coating is formed, but the fish
must be handled carefully as the coating is brittle.
The paraffin must be peeled off when preparing the
fish for the table. Each fish should be wrapped in
waxed paper and stored in a cool, dry place. Spoilage
occurs more rapidly if the fish are stored in a warm
place or under damp and cold conditions.
Cold-Smoking. Small fish, such as sea herring,
alewives (river herring), spots, or butter fish may be
cold-smoked in the round (without cleaning), but they
should be gibbed. Gibbing consists of making a small
cut just below the gills and pulling out the gills,
heart and liver - leaving the belly uncut. Fish larger
than one pound should be split along the back to lie
flat in a single piece, leaving the belly portion
uncut. All traces of blood, black skin, and viscera
must be removed, paying special attention to the area
just under the backbone. The head does not need to be
removed. If the head is cut off, the hard bony plate
just below the gills is allowed to remain, as it will
be needed to carry the weight when the fish are in the
Next wash the fish thoroughly, whether gibbed or split
- and place them in a brine made in the proportion of
1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of water. They should be
left in the brine at least 30 minutes to soak out
blood diffused through the flesh. At the end of this
time rinse in fresh water to remove surplus moisture
and drain for a few minutes.
Each fish is dropped singley into a shallow box of
fine salt and dredged thoroughly. The fish is picked
up with as much salt as will cling to it and packed in
even layers in a box or tub. A small amount of salt
may be scattered between each layer. The fish are left
in salt from 1 to 12 hours, depending upon the
weather, size of fish, fatness, length of time for
which preservation is desired and whether the fish are
round or split.
When the fish are taken out of the salt, they should
be rinsed thoroughly. All visible particles of salt or
other waste should be scrubbed off. They are hung to
dry in the shade as in dry-salting of fish. An
electric fan may be used if there is not enough
breeze. The chicken-wire drying racks used in
dry-salting may be utilised if they are not exposed to
direct sunlight. The fish will dry on both sides but
the impression of the chicken wire detracts from its
appearance. The fish is dried until a thin skin or
pellicle, is formed on the surface. This should take
about 3 hours under average conditions. If smoking is
begun while the fish are still moist, the time
required is longer, the colour will not be as
desirable, the fish will not have as good a surface -
and will steam and soften in smoking.
Start a low, smouldering fire an hour or two before
the fish are hung in the smokehouse. It must not give
off too much smoke during the first 8 or 12 hours if
the entire cure is 24 hours, or for the first 24 hours
if the cure is longer. The temperature in the
smokehouse should not be higher than 90F in California
or the southern states, or 70F in the northern states.
If available, a thermometer should be used in
controlling smokehouse temperature; if not, a
rule-of-thumb test is to insert a hand in the
smokehouse and if the air feels distinctly warm, the
temperature is too high.
At the end of the first smoking process, a dense smoke
may be built up and maintained for the balance of the
cure. If the fish are to be kept for 2 weeks, they
should be smoked for 24 hours, or for a longer time.
Smoking may require 5 days or even more. Hardsmoked or
red herring may require 3 or 4 weeks.
Keep the fire low and steady; if hardwood sawdust is
not available, use chips and bark - they serve almost
as well. Rice husks and corncobs can be used. The fire
must not be allowed to die out at night. Do not build
it up before leaving, as this will create too much
heat. It must be tended regularly during the night.
Here is the best way to smoke fillets. Any
white-fleshed, "lean" fish will produce fillets
weighing more than 1 pound which are satisfactory for
smoking. Cut the fish into fillets, removing the
backbone and skin. Cover with a 90 brine (saturated
salt solution) and hold for 2 hours. Remove and drain
for 10 to 15 minutes and air-dry for 2 hours. Hang
across a threesided smokestick, each side about 3
inches in width. Smoke over a fire with a fairly light
smoke for 4 hours at a temperature not higher than
90F. Turn the fillets so that the side resting on the
smokestick is uppermost and smoke 4 hours longer.
Smother the fire so that a dense cloud of smoke is
produced and smoke until the fillets are a deep straw
yellow, turning the fillets once or twice so that both
sides will be evenly coloured.