1 ) Johnny French's Recipe:
I used to prepare to smoke fish by sprinkling filets with Lawrys Seasoned Salt and black pepper. When in a hurry, I still do. However, after sampling smoked salmon and halibut while on trips to Alaska, I bought an Alaskan cookbook and read about brining fish before smoking them. The theory is that, more than marinating, flavoring and maybe helping preserve smoked fish, brining glazes the surfaces of their flesh, sealing in the moisture so that the fish arent quickly turned into jerky. Brining might even be a misnomer, since the following recipe doesnt use salt. The original recipe called for a cupful of pickling or kosher salt, but my father wanted something more in line with a cardiac diet. I obliged by replacing the salt with the same amount of brown sugar, which that original recipe also included. Then, I made the mistake of buying a gallon of Worcestershire sauce instead of soy sauce, so the modified brine got still less salty. This also turned out to be a happy accident, flavor-wise, even if youre not sodium challenged.
Anyhow, you mix the ingredients, put the filets in Zip-loc bags, pour enough brine over them to coat all their surfaces, seal the bags, slosh the brine over the fish and stick them in the fridge for anywhere between four hours to overnight. Manipulate the bags to slosh the brine over the filets and rewet the surfaces again several times during that period, if you can. Then, before sticking the filets in the smoker, lay them on a Pam-sprayed grill and let them sit at room temperature where the cat cant get at them for about an hour, or until the surfaces dry, forming a glaze or skin that will seal the moisture in. I do all my smoking with a charcoal-fired Brinkman water pan smoker, so I ignite the charcoal and let the skin form for as long as it takes to get the charcoal briquettes completely lit.
My preferred smoking wood is six-inch-long chunks of pecan (same genus as hickory) limbs, soaked in water about an hour and laid atop the lit charcoal at the last second before putting the water pan over it. A double handful of wetted pecan shells works as well as sawn limbs if you dont have a couple of pecan trees constantly dropping limbs on your yard. Alaskans like to use alder branches for this purpose, many South Texans like mesquite or oak, Yankees go for fruit woods like apple, and I have even seen pineapple leaves dried, chopped, packed in a can and sold for this use in Hawaii. Do NOT use pine or other evergreens unless you like the taste of turpentine.
Smoking time varies with the equipment, outside temperature, wind conditions, and thickness of the filets. In cool, windy weather, I may have to use more charcoal and cook longer in my Brinkman, but usually half a pan of charcoal and 2 to 2 ½ hours at 212 degrees (the temperature is regulated by the water in the pan to no more than that of its boiling point) is sufficient. Electric smokers with manual temperature controls, wood pans and water pans will also do the job, but youll have to experiment with their timing. When you can push a fork through the thickest part of a filet without resistance, its done. Dont overcook.
Once kippered (the fancy expression for hot-smoked), the fish should still be refrigerated if not eaten right away. Cool the filets on open trays in the fridge before sticking them in fresh, clean Zip-loc bags for storage, or a lot of condensation will form on the insides of the bags while they cool. You can freeze the smoked fish and nuke them later for a hot meal anytime. Again, dont overcook when reheating.
Frenchs Un-Briny Brine
1 cup water
1 cup white cooking wine
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
Mix until sugar dissolves. Makes enough to brine 5 pounds of filets. If desired, substitute kosher salt or pickling salt for half the sugar. Do NOT use iodized salt.
So far, Ive used this brine on Spanish mackerel, halibut, several species of salmon, and even gaspergou (freshwater drum) with great success, but the best tasting brined and smoked fish ever has been pompano. My advice is to brine, smoke and freeze plenty of your favorite fish whenever theyre running, and feast long after the seasons over. They make pretty good gifts and party treats, too.
2) Tyler's Brine and Smoking Recipe:
This one comes from my late Uncle Si Thorsen from Edmonds Wa, on Puget Sound. He spent a lifetime catching and cooking Salmon and Ling Cod. This recipe is a good generic one for all forms of seafood. You can add ingredients you like and make your own. I use a Luhr Jensen Little Chief Smoker. Si built his own smoker out of plywood then used a single electric burner like folks use in apartments. He regulated the heat in the smoker by opening and closing the door of the smoker and by adjusting the temp on the burner. A pan is used to place soaked wood chips or the fine stuff that mine uses is the consistency of pencil shavings and does not need to be wet before using.
Uncle Si's Brine
1 quart water
1/2 cup noniodized salt. I use pickling salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons pickling spice a mixture of cloves, mustard seed, allspice, bay leaves etc.
Double the brine mix if you plan on smoking a lot of fish.
For Pompano, Spanish Mackerel, Salmon fillets etc, I usually let them sit in the brine for about 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. For all King Mackerel fillets or balled out meat, and thin fillets go 45 minutes. For some reason even thick King Mackerel chunks get too salty after 45 mintues.It is important not to use Aluminum pots or pans to soak them in. Glass or stainless is fine. I use gallon storage bags. After the brining you rinse them off with water and air dry them on a rack until they get a glazed shiny look. Smoking time depends upon weather and your smoker. The brinkman style BBQ type smoke at higher temperatures. My electric smoker is closer to what Uncle Si said was the best temperature to smoke meat at around 165 degrees. My fish normally takes from 7 to 10 hrs depending upon the thickness of the fillet. Here are some Pompano fresh from the smoker!
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