What makes smoked seafood taste so good?
That rich, unctuous, melt in your mouthfeel that is just so, so right. Smoke adds character and depth to any dish and communicates such a large variety of flavours that vary from species, to wood type used, to time, to temperature, to really, just about every step that can be used to get exactly what you are looking for.
Let's get lit, shall we?
Chef Charlotte Langley smoking at home-cured and rinsed Steelhead Trout fillets
The Origins of Smoking Cooking
Smoke cooking has been used as far back, as well, since fire was invented, originally used as a way to preserve fish and extend its shelf life. It creates a barrier between the fillet and the air that prevents bacteria from growing, as well as eliminating moisture and oxygen that encourages the bacteria to grow. This slow smoking method was built out of necessity for a long-lasting food source. Smoking, being one of the oldest methods of preservation, combines a few steps that can alter and change the taste, texture, and feel depending on which style you prefer. By combining salting, drying, heating and smoking, you will experience different outcomes that will work to increase the umami characteristics of each species. I like to think of it as a choose your own adventure By breaking down each step, I want to share with you exactly how we smoke our fish at Scout.
Salting, Curing, Brining….
Ok yes, these are three words that mean slightly different things—but!—they act in similar ways to start the process of smoking fish.
Wait, let me go back a minute here…It truly helps to start with the most fresh, responsibly harvested, and respected fish. In Scout's case, it's our Wild Albacore Tuna and our Wild Pink Salmon. Once these two beauties have been wild-harvested and filleted, they start their journey into salt, brine, and cure town.
Salting: Simply put, salt (of any type) is sprinkled onto the fillet of fish and left to sit from 5 minutes to 48 hours (also up to you). This does a couple of things.
- It seasons the fish from the outside in and adds salinity where there was none before.
- Salt pulls moisture out of the fish which will get us to the sexiest part of the smoking process: pellicule (more on this later).
- While the salt is sitting there, pulling moisture out of the fish, what it is doing is making the fish safer to consume. It does this by creating a solute-rich environment, meaning bacteria cannot grow as quickly in this environment thus slowing the process down. Salt really is magical.
Curing: This is exactly the same thing as salting, only depending on your style, origin, and preference, sugars or sweeteners are sometimes added with the salt.
Link to one of my fave home curing recipes
750 g kosher salt
500 g brown sugar (any sugar you like)
150 g cracked black pepper
Citrus also ROCKS in this (peels not juice)
SAFETY IS KEY HERE FOLKS!
Before you do any of these things. Why not take a little look at some food and safety messages from our lovely sponsor?! (not actually sponsored, but you know, the government) https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2013/09/how-safe-is-home-smoked-salmon/
Brining aka Wet Salting: This is when the salt, or both sugar and salt, is mixed into water and dissolved before completely submerging the entire fillet or portion into the liquid. I like this method because you can toss it into the brine, place it in the fridge, and walk away for a while to start stoking your perfect fire and getting those toasty coals to hot smoke these babes.
Why I also love a #wetsalt moment is that I find it penetrates the fish just a little bit more. If you are adding spices, citrus, herbs, or whatever else, you can get a bit of a more pronounced flavour identity.
I have worked in a load of restaurants, most of them seafood-based. One thing I found that helped to keep my portioned fish plump, easy to thaw, and even extend the fish a day or so, is storing it in a light brine/wet salting moment and keeping it tucked in the walk-in or fridge. I refresh this daily and keep the brine light. You would be surprised at how refreshing and delicious this method is even for a simple piece of roasted fish.
We have chosen our method for curing our fillet so what is next? A rinse, pat, and, and, annnnnnnnnnnd time to smoke these beauties.
Time for the Smoke
Smoking: Cold or Hot, Traditional or Mechanical, you always have options, love—so why not play around and find what works for you? At Scout, we hot smoke ours in a traditional method. Hardwood shavings are piled onto the floor in a smokehouse to gently, and softly smoke the fish. They are simply lit on fire in a controlled environment (also known as a smokehouse) and the soft wafts of Canadian hardwood smoke—think Maple, Alder and Oak—dance around the fillet, kissing them gently. A softer smoke that I love as it surprises and delights. Sometimes you can go a little heavy and the taste of smoke becomes acrid and strong, so keep an eye on your babes.
Cold Smoking does exactly what it says in its name, no cooking, no heat, just cold smoke. This is a great technique to get that rich flavour of smoke but keep the fish in more of a gravlax frame of mind.
Hot Smoking cooks the fish and the proteins coagulate for a “well done” experience.
For my favourite, favourite part. The most sumptuous of them all, and this applies to both cold smoked and hot smoked: Pellicule.
Pellicule means film in, the language of love, French—and this “film” is, in my trained opinion, the sign of true fish smoking talent.
Once you have removed the fillets from the smoker, you want to air dry them. You can do this by placing them on a rack in the fridge, close to the fan if you are so lucky to have a walk-in with a large fan. Otherwise, you can air dry them on a rack in your fridge without the fan (keep an eye on anything you have in the fridge that could add moisture back into the fish—we do not want that). Alternatively, you can place them on a rolling rack in a cool room with really great airflow or hang them, depending on the style of fish or fillet and watch that film form.
This is every fish smoker's goal. The thin film that protects all of your hard work.
To sum all of this up, Curing, Smoking and Drying is no joke, not something to be rushed and also so absolutely pleasurable that I encourage to try it on your own, and in the meantime, why not #enjoyscout