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Dec 28, 2004 12:16 AM

Need Help--trying to stove-top smoke fish and having problems

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I am having a dinner party on Thursday and planned on smoking trout on my stove-top smoker, but I went to buy fresh trout and the butcher said trout season is in March. I bought tilapia instead, but it did not turn out well. It was hard to tell if it was the wood chips I used or the marinade (equal parts salt, sugar, soy sauce and water).

My questions:

1-should I buy frozen trout and smoke it?

2-are there other fish in season that would be suitable? (I live in Nor Cal)

3-Is it just a bad idea to smoke tilapia?

4-I used alder wood, should I try cherry wood?

Thanks so much,

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    Professor Salt

    Trout season applies for those you catch yourself. I doubt your butcher's word. Almost all of the trout on the US market is farmed raised, so it's one of the most consistently available fresh fish. Frozen trout sounds like an iffy proposition to me.

    Without knowing the context of your trout (appetizer? main?), I'll suggest smoked mussels or oysters as an alternative.

    Salmon fillet also comes out nicely in a stovetop smoker, and that's available year round. I add 1-2 tablespoons of wood dust & smoke over low heat for 10 minutes. That's not enough to cook the fish all the way, just flavors it. I then finish the salmon fillet on a hot grill or pan.

    Alderwood's great. No worries there.

    You don't mention what you don't like about the tilapia. The flavor of the fish itself? Off tastes that smoking might have imparted? Myself, I dislike tilapia's texture and flavor, but if you like it, then go for it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      Hey Prof-

      When you use one of those stove-top smokers, does any of the smoke escape from the device? I am intrigued by the concept but I have the smoke-detector-from-Antarctica (meaning that just thinking about a single smoke molecule will set it off).

      1. re: Chino Wayne
        Professor Salt

        A very light wisp of white smoke leaks out. In another context, that means a Pope has been selected.

        I use low to medium heat, never high. My vent hood takes care of the leakage pretty well.

      2. re: Professor Salt

        I agree. We get fresh trout all year in the D.C. area, perhaps because it is raised here in Virginia.

        Another suggestion to go with the oysters and mussels is scallops. Use small ones, and you can smoke them with the mussels, as they will be about the same size. If you use large sea scallops, you can slice them in half.

        But the salmon fillets are my favorite. I do smoke it all the way to done, as I generally use this in the winter when we don't want to freeze outside with the grill. (I'm also lazy about dirtying more pans than necessary.)

        It is difficult to diagnose your problem without knowing exactly why you are unsatisfied with the result. Perhaps your marinade is too strong, or you marinated it too long. I typically brine the fish for only an hour or so, and never more than 2 hours. The proportions I use are the standard brining proportions: 2 Tb kosher salt (or 1 Tb table salt) and 2Tb sugar for each cup of water. I put it all in a ziplock and lay the bag flat in the fridge, flipping it over every half hour. The salmon is very good with this mix.

      3. 1-should I buy frozen trout and smoke it? No

        2-are there other fish in season that would be suitable? (I live in Nor Cal) Yes, try salmon filets or find another market. My local market had boneless "steelhead trout" from Idaho before Christmas.

        Wild stream trout season usually opens in late April, lake trout is usually open all year, though some lakes close.

        3-Is it just a bad idea to smoke tilapia? Yes, tilapia is a mild lean fish, you want a flavorful, rich (oily) fish.

        4-I used alder wood, should I try cherry wood? Depends on your tastes, I would stay with alder for "salmonoids".