See Also: Smoked Foods
Smoked fish is now considered “gourmet” enough to replace caviar from endangered Caspian Sea sturgeon. Northern Europeans, Scandinavians, Balts and the British have always smoked fish to preserve for use in winter, and still today they are masters of the art.
While many people still prefer smoked salmon with bagel and cream cheese, chefs see these silky-textured, rich tasting fish as much more versatile and serve them as appetizers, even as main courses in informal restaurants, as hors d’oeuvres, and in omelettes.
Although most of the smoked fish in Canada comes from Toronto and Montreal, smokers in B C (particularly First Nations) and east coast are starting to market their products across the continent.
In the U S A, most famous smokers are located in Brooklyn, NY, where they have been practising their trade for decades. But now there is another phenomenon. New technology made smokers small and affordable enough for hotels and restaurants to install them. A number of chefs smoke their own fish and some are truly delectable.
Fish destined for smoking are first salted or cured. By far the most common type of cure is a wet cure – basically a brine consisting of water, salt, sugar and spices. Dry curing, in which coarse salt and sometimes spices are rubbed directly into the fish, is less common, because of its high labour cost and less uniform nature versus wet curing. Curing time can range from a few hours to a fortnight. Cured fish is rinsed and dried before smoking which can be hot or cold.
The hot method takes up to eight hours at temperatures as high as 185F, but generally 155 F (the internal temperature is kept at 145 F for at least for 30 minutes to kill pathogenic bacteria). During the process hard wood smoke (maple, hickory or fruit woods) is used. Smoking gives the fish a shiny yellow hue; the colour darkens as the smoking time is increased. Hot smoking yields a flaky texture similar to cooked fish which appeals to most North Americans.
Cold smoking on the other hand is done at approximately 80 F for 12 – 14 hours, and results in a raw-textured fish favoured by eastern Europeans and Scandinavians. Cold smoke yields a milder and natural tasting product.
In Europe small sardines a.k.a sprats are smoked and highly prized.
The following smoked fish are popular in North America – white fish, sable, sturgeon, trout, herring, mackerel, blue fish, eel, tuna, and salmon.
Great Lakes white fish yields a flaky and sweet tasting flesh; it is excellent when served with minced red onions and mayonnaise.
Chubb, is a much smaller fish, can be an excellent substitute.
Sable (a.k.a. black cod or sable fish) is oily and inexpensive. Generally, dry-cured with garlic and paprika, it used to be popular with budget-minded individuals. Today Chilean bass or carp are often used as substitutes when available, although both have become rare and expensive.
Sturgeon - from Great Lakes is a delicately textured and subtly flavoured much-liked fish, albeit expensive.
Trout- generally smoked whole is excellent with a mild flavour and sensuous mouth-feel. Trout is hot-smoked and could be used in fish pâtés or spreads successfully.
Herring – this fatty fish is generally hot smoked. Sometimes it is heavily spiced and smoked. The texture can be stringy, but the taste is always rich and appealing, particularly when it is not over smoked.
Blue fish – similar to mackerel it comes, plain or pressed with crushed peppercorns, with a more assertive flavour and coarser texture than mackerel.
Eel – particularly young, hot-smoked eel fresh from the smoke house can be delightful as those in the Netherlands. In North America much larger eel are used and the product tends to be dry. Young hot-smoked eel has a buttery and rich texture well-worth trying.
Tuna – yellow fin tuna is preferred for cold smoking due to its lean flesh. Generally thinly sliced and served carpaccio style.
Salmon – for some, smoked fish means salmon. It can be cold or hot smoked, or “candied” as the First Nations in Canada prefer. Scottish smokers like to use hickory chips, and sometimes even wood chips from old whisky barrels for an added flavour dimension.
Jewish smokers also use a pastrami-style, liked by eastern Europeans. Scandinavians and northern Europeans like cold-smoked, mildly flavoured salmon delectable in its texture delicate appearance.
Irish cold-smoked salmon is soft, mild, and very appealing for those who like the salmon flavour.
Petrosian, a Parisian smoke fish and caviar institution with subsidiaries in New York and Los Angeles, markets a hot-smoked salmon with a smooth, buttery texture and distinct flavour.
Smoked salmon should not be confused with lox, a.k.a Nova Salmon, which is cured and barely smoked and which has an oily and soft texture.
Smoked salmon is versatile and can be used in a variety of ways including pates, spreads, in omelettes, and quiches.
Dry white Loire wines, dry Rieslings from Germany, Washington state and Ontario, Pinot Gris from Alsace and Oregon go well with smoked fish. Oaked Chablis, and for that matter any oak aged dry white wine is not recommended with smoked fish, as the oak flavour imparts a metallic taste.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu