Salted, smoked and air-dryed fish were a staple source of protein in times past when refrigeration was non-existent and transportation far more primitive. Today, smoked fish, sold in gourmet shops from New York to California, is considered a luxury.
Fish smoking is a fine art, and skills as refined as those of a wine maker or master chef are required to produce a consistently high-quality product. The variables of temperature, humidity, fuel and characteristics of the raw fish all must be taken into account and kept in balance.
Before the fish is smoked it is immersed in a brining solution that may or may not contain flavoring agents such as rum or bay leaf. The salt in the brine solution acts as a preservative, which allows the fish to be cured rather than cooked.
Wood Determines Flavor
The single most important variable in smoking fish is the type of wood used. Different regions of the United States use their own local hardwoods. The Northwest is famous for their alder smoked salmon. The Southeast is fond of hickory. Oak, maple, beech, fruitwoods and vine cuttings are all popular in different locales and all imbue a different flavor to the finished product.
Two styles of smoking fish are popular today. Hot smoking, or kippering, is hot smoking for a short period of time. Here the emphasis is on distinct flavorings. The second method, cold smoking, relies on the natural flavors inherent to the fish. The fish is smoked at a low temperature for a long period of time. Lox is probably the best known example of cold smoking.
Hot smoking or kippering produces a product that is essentially cooked and flakes apart. Cold smoking introduces salt to the flesh, which cures the fish and stops any bacterial action but allows the fish to be sliced as if it were raw.
The most commonly smoked fish are salmon, trout, whitefish, eel and sturgeon.
SMOKED FISH SALAD
12 small new potatoes, peeled, boiled, sliced and chilled
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 pound boneless smoked trout, salmon or whitefish, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup vinaigrette dressing
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Dill or thyme
Toss potatoes, shallots, fish, dressing, mayonnaise, parsley and dill to taste until fish and potatoes are covered with dressing. Serve on bed of lettuce. Makes 4 servings.