By smoking them, I’m not talking about lighting them as my “no-brother-good-in-law” likes to say… “I like smoking fish too, but I always have a hard time getting them lit.”
Last Saturday, I pulled about 10 lbs of lake trout and Alaskan coho salmon from the freezer in order to get them ready for smoking. All fish is frozen as fillets, sometimes with the skin on and sometimes not.
When freezing fish, either use a vacuum machine to preserve, or use good quality freezer bags. If using freezer bags, always fill the bags with fish, then run cold water in them until all the air bubbles are gone, then, as the water is still running into the bag, carefully squeeze the water out while zipping the bag shut. This will work as well as a vacuum packer if you get all of the air out. To reduce the size of the package, squeeze as much water out as possible, being careful not to let any air into the bag.
When you have enough fish to smoke, thoroughly thaw the fish, skin, wash and cut into approximately ¼ lb pieces. It’s important to make them similar size so that they all require the same brining and smoking time. Of course it’s impossible to be exact here, but you don’t want to mix a 2 lb fillet with the skin with a fully skinned ¼ lb tail piece.
I use http://www.3men.com/threemen1.htm for brining and smoking as I have had good results from their process.
After following the brining directions from http://www.3men.com/threemen1.htm, I rinse the fish pretty well under cold water. I don’t like my fish too heavily salted, so rinsing them after soaking in the brine for 50 minutes to 1 hour gives them a perfectly salted flavor. After rinsing, I will place my fillets on the lightly greased smoking racks with the smaller, thinner pieces on one rack and progressively thicker pieces on the racks that will be lower (closer to the heat source). This way, they will all be done at about the same time. I then dry them with a fan, or outside air, for an hour or two, until there is a pellicle. The pellicle, or thin skin, is important to contain the juices (and flavor) so they don’t dry out too much in the smoking process.
I will also save the bellies of the fish and let them soak in the brine a couple hours longer. There is no need to dry them since there is the belly skin on one side and the belly membrane on the other side. Just leave then in the brine while the fillets are drying on the racks. These bellies are some of the tastiest parts of the fish and usually thrown away.
My smoker is propane fired that will hold about 10 lbs or so of fish at a time. It holds a small amount of chips in a 5” x 5” x 2” deep metal canister. It will produce smoke for about 30 minutes while holding a temperature of 190 degrees. There is no need to add more chips when it stops smoking, as this will only cause the fish to get bitter and too strong of a smoke flavor.
My fish is done in 90 minutes to 1 hour and is MOST tasty when it is still warm. Enjoy it! By the way, I will freeze the smoked fish after vacuum packing in ½ lbs per pack for a good and tasty snack that will stay good for many months in the freezer. Any packages that do not seal well, should be consumed soon after smoking. I vacuum pack with a FoodSaver v2460. See related story here.