Smoking fish was one of the earliest forms of food preservation, dating back to the Sumerians around 3,500 BC. Today smoking is used just to add flavour, and seafood isn’t smoked heavily enough to be preserved.
There are two basic methods of smoking:
Cold smoking, which needs to be done commercially, where fish is immersed in smoke so that the flavour penetrates the flesh, but at such a low temperature (usually below 26ºC) that the flesh remains raw, as is seen in sliced smoked salmon.
Hot-smoking, commercially the fish is initially cold smoked, then the temperature is raised and the fish is cooked in the smoky environment. You can however also easily hot smoke at home.
There are a number of specially designed smokers available from BBQ stores; however, the simplest (and least expensive) method uses a thin metal wok (best reserved just for smoking) and a wire cake rack.
You need 3 ingredients to make a smoking mixture (usually in equal quantity by volume):
- Fuel, such as sugar
- A fire inhibitor, such as rice
- Flavouring, such as tea
Tips for successful smoking:
- Oily fish, such as Mackerel, Salmon, Swordfish, Tuna and Yellowtail Kingfish, respond well to smoking.
- Vary flavourings for different tastes, add dried orange or tangerine peel, spices (such as fennel or cumin seeds, star anise, Szechuan peppercorns, cassia bark), woody herbs (such as thyme, rosemary, bay leaves), aromatic teas (such as Earl Grey, oolong, Russian caravan, lemon myrtle), or wood chips (such as alder, oak, hickory, mountain ash, available from BBQ stores).
- Add flavour by rubbing fish with a marinade or spice mix before smoking.
- Don’t overcrowd the smoker, leave room for smoke to circulate and ensure fish pieces are in a single layer, not overlapping.
- Ensure the smoking vessel is well sealed with a lid or several layers of foil, and avoid uncovering during smoking or heat and smoke will escape.
- Even well covered, some smoke may escape, so smoke somewhere well ventilated and use an exhaust fan if possible.
- Cook over a low-medium heat, just high enough to have the fuel smoking rather than burning.
- Smoke for 3-15 minutes, depending on the desired depth of flavour and how cooked you want the fish to be; if you start with sashimi-grade fish you can serve it as rare as you like.
- Fish can be smoked in advance, covered and refrigerated until needed, but remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving so it isn’t ice cold.
- Unused smoking mixture can be stored in a cool dark place (not refrigerated) in an airtight container for a month or 2.