By Fraser Christian
The Art of curing and smoking fish is a valuable most useful skill in times when fish are abundant and plentiful, allowing them to be conveniently stored for leaner times through the long and often stormy conditions that make both coastal fishing and foraging almost impossible. Not only does smoking help the fishes potential to be stored for much longer periods of time, compared with fresh fish. Smoking allows for a wonderful an unmistakable aromatic flavour to develop. These days smoked fish is most commonly seen in gold foil backed packets in shops and supermarkets, Kippers and salmon being the first ones that spring to mind. They will not come close to the taste of your home smoked fresh fish.
The smoking process lends its self well to ‘oily’ fish such as Herrings, Mackerel, Salmon and Trout, as oily fish are rich in sources of protein and thus degrade at a faster rate than a ‘white’ fish. This is not to say that only oily fish are suitable for smoking. Any fish that is acquired, if fresh will lend its self well to being smoked if cured correctly. The moisture content or proportion of water in the tissue structure is usually greater with white fish and requires curing for longer. Extracting more of the water content helps the process, because smoke finds it hard to penetrate water.
The processes of smoking.
There are two types of smoking ‘Hot’ and ‘cold’, both use different techniques but the principals are basically the same, in the fact that smoke is generated from a combustible of non toxic material such as wood chipping, shaving or saw dust, and that the smoke is allowed to slowly pass over the fish. The differences are that with cold smoking, the smoke is generated out side of the main chamber containing the fish, here by allowing the smoke to cool before passing over the fish curing it slowly. Alternatively with hot smoking the smoke is generated inside the main smoking chamber and the fish cooks as it smokes. The most suitable woods for smoking materials are from the trees that bear a fruit. The most common being the Oak, different mixes and blends are used by discerning smoke houses to create unique and delicate flavours. I would recommend any of the following woods. Oak, Apple, Cherry, Ash, Beach or Hazel. Try your own combinations and taste the difference. Dry seasoned wood should be used where possible, standing self seasoned timber is ideal. Small dead twigs, sticks and leaves will work just as well. (as will dried sea weed).
Note: never use treated or painted timber as Toxic fumes may be created when burnt or heated.
Never use saw dust from an unknown source or from the process of mechanical machinery such as a Chain Saws. The lubricants used on the blade may taint the food, possibly leaving residual residues.
Making a smoker.