Draycote Fly-Fishers Association
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Cooking trout by way of smoking - By Peter Allen
Those unfamiliar with this method of cooking may find the following information useful. I researched it myself because I was not familiar with the process and the instructions for smoking fish were scant.
Looking for information online revealed that the USA, where they often do ‘hot’ smoking, have regulations on the process. which basically comes down to ensuring that the fish reaches a temperature of 160 degrees for a period of at least 30 minutes. The idea behind this is that any parasites and bacteria will be killed off. Many people may have smoked fish without observing this guideline but I guess you do so at your own peril.
Step 1 - Salting the fish;
Soak the fish in salted water - I part salt to 7 parts water. The amount of water will depend on the container you are using but the fish needs to be fully covered with the salt water. My friend who came across fish smoking in New Zealand said that they also put Soya Sauce in the mix - a couple of table spoons. There are some people that recommend overnight soaking in salt water but the instructions with the smoking tin say 1 hour is enough and that is what I do. The reason for this salting is to do with a process of osmosis where the salt draws water out of the fish which then allows the the flavour of the smoke to permeate better into the fish.
After one hour the fish is ready for smoking.
Step 2 - Preparing the Smoking Tin
The process of using the smoking tin is simple. There is a tray covering the bottom the pan. The bottom of the pan has an area that the wood chippings are placed within - basically 4 tables spoons is enough - and then the tray is put back on top of the chippings.
This is personal choice and I have tried Oak, Hickory and Applewood. Oak is a bit strong and Hickory is great, but my personal favourite is Applewood. I have also experimented with a couple of shots of whisky poured onto the chippings - but I am still not sure if this comes out in the flavour - jury still out. Once the chippings are spread and the base plate replaced then the grill placed on top. At this point I found that the fish was quite close to the bottom. You can fit the grill the other way up and then it is much further away - either actually works fine, depending on the thickness of the fish. I actually decided on 4 stainless steel spacers made from right-angle forms and then placed the grill on this, giving a medium grill height.
Step 3 - Smoking the fish
The fish needs to cook for 30-40 minutes (depending on thickness) at least at 160 degrees F.
The smoking tin came with methylated spirits burners which they said last for 20 minutes and can be extended for double that using the adjustable sliders on the burners. I tried this a couple of times but found the temperature fluctuated due to the rapid burn rate. Also, the burners ran out of fuel before the fish had finished cooking .....Grrrrrr! .....and it’s not advisable to try and top them up while still hot!!
Yes, smoking time may need to be extended for large fish, but 2 lb to 3.5 lbs is my normal cooking size.
An Eye on the Heat.
To make things more methodical and leave nothing to chance, I tried using a thermometer used for central heating pipes that showed 160 degrees. The trouble with this is the dial runs out at 180 degrees and so the dial worked once and died. A quick look on the internet revealed that there are BBQ smoking thermometers which I found on Ebay for £7. This required drilling a hole in the tin strategically placed between the grill spacings, which gave me a thermometer which does the job.
Continuous Heat Solution.
The answer to getting continuous heat for a long enough period was to use the barbecue and, as it’s outdoors, there is no smell of smoke in the house either. I use a gas barbecue which takes 10 minutes to get up to temperature.This weekend, the BBQ failed! I was so glad of the original methylated spirit burners as 15 minutes into cooking on the BBQ and I noticed the temperature not rising above 250 degrees. This in itself wasn't a problem but then the temperature started to fall to 200 degrees. A quick swap to the meths burners and the temperature rose to 300 degrees to finish the cooking. I found that my barbecue grill on full can achieve a heat or 600 degrees. Thats way too hot. It will dry out the fish at that temperature. The half way setting gives a heat of 300 degrees and saves on fuel and gives a mouth watering result.
With the new thermometer fitted to the lid and the fish placed on the grill the process can begin. Had I not had the temperature gauge when the BBQ went out, I would be none the wiser until 30 minutes later!
The only other requirement is the timer. The tin is placed on the BBQ and I watch to see the temperature rise to 160 degrees. Once there I now set the stop clock to 35 minutes and sit back and wait! It is interesting to see how quickly the temperature rises and I hear you say that I am only measuring the internal air temperature but that is why I have added an extra 5 minutes to be sure to give the fish its 30 minute internal heat at 160 degrees, however I have noticed that the temperature rises to 350 degrees at the end! Now thats cooking!.
My fellow guinea-pigs have said the this method is now perfected so enjoy or offer added suggestions as you think fit.