How to Smoke Fish: Step by Step
By Terry Gibson
While fly fishing recently off Stuart, a buddy and I raised a bunch of eyebrows aboard other boats. We were chumming up little tunny, locally called “bonito,” and prized by sportsman as “false albacore.”
We hooked a couple, but it was hard to get the fly past these two- to four-pound blue runners. “You are the best blue runner fly-fishing expert I’ve ever fished with,” Zach quipped.
The species is a member of the jack clan. It is fished commercially, though few locals believe they’re decent table fare. Mostly, recreational anglers prize them as live bait for sailfish, kingfish and other coastal pelagic and pelagic (open ocean) species. They’re easy to catch, and offer a decent fight. But “great blue runner” guide is not a title anyone pursues.
“Just keep putting them in the fish box,” I told my incredulous buddy. “They’re great smoked and make great fish dip.”
Zach will have to come back to fish again if he wants to try this delicacy. The filets of the blue runners he caught are smoking as I type.
Look, a lot of fish aren’t considered all that great eating when in actuality they are good for some culinary purposes, including smoking. I've had great luck smoking jack crevalle, for example.
And while I enjoy king, Spanish and cero mackerel fresh-cooked in the oven or on the grill, the fish we don’t eat that very day go in the smoker. Same goes for bluefish. These oily fishes just don’t freeze well, unless you smoke them and make a fish dip out of them.
Below, a guide to how I prepare and smoke fish. (Or, take them to fish-smoking expert, such as Mrs. Peters in Jensen Beach. They always have locally caught wild fish smoked and ready for sale, too.)
Care and Cleaning
- While offshore and while cleaning the fish, keep them buried in ice
- Filet the fish and remove the rib cage and other bones. Leave skin on
- Rinse thoroughly
- Add a quart of water to pot or deep pan.
- Add 1/4 cup of Ponzu sauce, a citrus-seasoned soy sauce
- Add 1/4 cup of kosher salt
- Add 1/4 cup of brown sugar
- Stir until the ingredients are dissolved
- Put the fish in the brine
- Add three or four bay leaves, crushed
- Add two tablespoons of mustard seed
- Add two tablespoons of whole peppercorns
- Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours
- Smoke will not “stick” to a wet surface and wet fish will dry out in the heat of the smoker. So remove the fish from the brine and place them on paper towels to dry inside in air conditioning. The fish should be tacky before you smoke them.
- Soak wood chips (hickory or your preference) for at least half an hour before smoking
- Spray smoking racks with non-stick olive oil spray
- Start the smoker, and wait until white smoke appears before introducing the fish
- Smoke at about 200 degrees for a half hour to an hour depending on the thickness of the fish, then reduce to 125 to 150 degrees. Smoking time is two to three hours in my propane smoker, but that number may vary for you. Just monitor the fish and remove when the flesh is firm and flaky.