Fish: Smoking Fish

posted by ptwhizbang 08-19-100 2:06 PM

Michigan State University Extension
Preserving Food Safely - 01600579
Wood smoke has little, if any, preservative action. Smoking merely adds flavor and color and removes some water. Smoked fish are almost as perishable as fresh fish. Home processors would do well to heed the Michigan state law that applies to commercial smokers. Smoked fish should be kept at temperatures under 36 degrees Fahrenheit and used within 14 days. If smoked fish is to be kept longer than 14 days, it should be frozen immediately after smoking. Freezing old fish only further reduces the quality of an already deteriorating product.


The four basic steps in smoking fish are cleaning, curing, drying and smoking.

Cleaning: Clean fish as soon as possible after taking them from the water. Scale fish and remove viscera, including the kidney, which is the dark streak along the backbone. The head may also be removed from larger fish, but the collarbone should remain to provide shape. Fillet or steak large fish.

Curing: Cure the fish in salt, either dry or in a brine. If dry curing fish, follow the procedure for salting. Dry
salted fish will have a high salt concentration and will need to be freshened before smoking. The goal of brining is to produce a thoroughly and uniformly salted product. A basic brine consists of 1 cup salt to each gallon of cold water (30 salimeter). Sugar, spices, and saltpeter are often added to the brine.

Here is one recommended sugar spice brine:
1 gallon cold water
1 cup salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon saltpeter (optional)
*Bay Leaves
*Pickling spices

Use a mixture of spices at the rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water.

Another spice formula is 1 tablespoon whole cloves and 1 teaspoon bay leaves per gallon of water. Saltpeter may or may not be added, according to personal preference, but it does provide a margin of safety against botulism.

Place fish in a large nonmetal container so they lie flat. Cover with brine. use one gallon for each 4 to 5
pound of fish. Use a plate or cover to weight down fish enough to submerge them without packing them together. Allow fish to cure in the coldest part of the refrigerator (34 to 38 Fahrenheit) for the appropriate time.

There is no one time which is right for all fish under all conditions. Brining times vary because brine
concentration and amount, and fish condition and size affect how quickly and how much salt will be absorbed.

TABLE OF BRINING TIMES (for a brine of 30 salimeter, 2 parts brine to 1 part

Size Condition
Fresh Refrig. Thawed 1/2 to 1 inch thick, 18 to 24 16 12 to 14
fillets or split hours hours hours fish

Large whole fish 48 to 72 36 to 60 24 to 48 10 lb. or larger hours hours hours

Salt Concentration- The stronger or more concentrated the brine, the shorter the brining time required. However, short (more concentrated brine) brining times will not salt fish as uniformly as slow (less concentrated brine) times. A brine concentration of 30 to 40 salimeter is recommended.
This is about 1 or 1 1/4 cups salt for each gallon cold water.

Amount of Brine to Fish
The amount of brine to the amount of fish affects how uniformly and thoroughly the fish will be salted. A good ratio is 2 parts brine to 1 part fish. One gallon of brine weighs about 9 pounds. This means you would need 20 pounds (about 2 gallons brine) for each 10 pounds of fish.

Rate of Brining
Muscle fibers of freshly caught fish are still intact. Intact muscle fibers absorb salt slowly. Freshly caught fish will require about 18 to 24 hours of brining. Fish held in the refrigerator for 24 hours will absorb salt faster (about 16 hours). Thawed fish absorb salt still faster and will be thoroughly brined in 12 to 14 hours. Use these times with brine concentrations of 30 to 40 salimeter.

Brining times are affected by the thickness of the fish pieces. Fresh pieces 1/2 to 1 inch thick require 14 to 16 hours of brining. A large, whole fish such as salmon, requires 48 to 72 hours of brining. For such large fish, the concentration of the brine should not exceed 30 salimeter.

When fish are cured, remove from brine and rinse thoroughly. Fish may be dried in the smokehouse or in a protected area with heat and air circulation. Place fish on smokehouse hangers or racks wiped with vegetable oil, and allow surface to dry. A shiny skin-like pellicle will form on the fish surface. The pellicle seals the surface and prevents loss of natural juices during smoking. Fish require approximately 1/2 hour of drying at 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit before smoking. Air circulation and humidity will affect the time. A fan will speed the drying process.

Smoked fish should be kept in the refrigerator below 36 degrees Fahrenheit and consumed within 14 days after smoking For longer storage, the fish may be frozen immediately after smoking. Store smoked fish in the freezer for no longer than 2 to 3 months.

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