When I lived in Maine I lived and worked by the water. When the mackerel were running we could see the water in front of the house boil and a swarm of birds dive bombing. We would drop everything and run down to the inflatable raft with our polls and little silver lures and go fishing when we saw this happening. It was really more catching, because all we had to do was drop a line in the water and we would catch a fish. When we couldn’t see the fish there was no point even trying. We got spoiled.
Bluefish fishing was a bit more of an effort. We would head out in the bigger boat, Passages, and troll around when we heard the fish were running. Bluefish are mean and they have teeth. Many a finger was bitten getting the hooks out of their mouth. We used fluorescent orange crank baits. I would take the front set of hooks off and cut two of the three treble hooks off on the back set of hooks then squish the remaining barb. Any more hooks than that and it was just a hassle. After a good day fishing the lures would no longer be orange because they were only orange on the surface and the bluefish’s teeth would strip the paint and leave groves along the side. One year Charlie had the brilliant idea to buy a can of similar colored spray paint and string them up and repaint them. Worked great.
Both mackerel and bluefish are fairly oily fish. Having not grown up eating them, especially bluefish, it was a taste I never learned to relished. Plus, once you started reeling them in, you ended up with a lot of them. What to do? Enter the little electric smoker. We would brine the fish overnight. The next morning we would take them out, rinse them, and let them air dry, well, as dry as they could get along the foggy, humid Maine coast. Because we might get rain during the process or something or someone might decide to visit the smoker during all this, I set the smoker up in the detached garage, opened the windows and closed the door. The smoking worked great on the fish and fumigated the garage. Luckily the fire truck never came to see what was up with all the smoke pouring out the windows. I never smoked fish I bought. There was never any reason to.
Living in Arizona there is a distinct lack of a coast and I no longer live or work by the water. Sure, I could re-gear and go freshwater fishing, but I haven’t gotten around to it. The smoker has been sitting all alone and unused since coming out here. We have talked about smoking, gasp, store-bought fish, but until this weekend we had not. That all changed this weekend with nice big sides of wild coho salmon bought at a store. Now that the smoker has been awaken from its slumber, I hope to keep smoking and try smoking cheese and butter. Just think of the compound butter that can be made with smoked butter, Yum! The cheese and butter will have to wait until the temperature cools enough so they don’t melt just being outside.
The brine could not be easier; I substituted light brown sugar for the sugar and added a little dried thyme. I also use gluten-free soy, but I doubt that matters for most people. The recipe is from the recipe book and operating instructions that came with the Little Chief smoker. We just mix everything together, submerge the fish, and let it go over night. The next morning I took the salmon out of the brine, rinsed it, and set it on racks to air dry as we headed to the farmers’ market. I was looking for the long-brined pickles I mentioned in The Dr. Is In but! but they are not in yet – maybe next week.
When we got back from the market I got the smoker going, placed the fish on the racks, loaded the tray with chips, and started the process. I loaded the tray three times with mostly apple wood. After the three trays of wood chips I tried something new to us and brushed some warm honey onto 1/2 of the fish. I then kept the fish on the smoker about three additional hours; about 5 1/2 hours in total. I still like a hot smoked fish more than lox and this amount of time resulted in salmon closer to jerky than lox; just the way I like it. The honey was a subtle addition. Next time I think I will try using honey instead of sugar in the brine and increase the amount used to make it even sweeter.
It’s nice to have the smoker back out. I still feel guilty, like I used a friend’s research paper or something, using store-bought fish, but the results are worth that fleeting feeling. I got over that guilty feeling pretty quickly after trying a little of the honey glazed smoked salmon on crackers with cream cheese, home-grown onions, and capers.
During all of this we were also making salsa verde with our tomatillos and hot peppers and seven more batches of the Utah Peach and Hot Pepper Chutney. I will have the salsa verde up on here in a couple of days. A busy, busy weekend. A weekend that will make for a lot of tasty eating and sharing with friends.