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Jun 2, 2006 05:42 PM

Smoked fish 101?

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I have this fantasy of buying a flat stove-top smoker so I could have all the smoked whitefish I want. BUT, I know nothing about it. What is whitefish exactly? What kind of wood would you use to do the smoking? I'm sure there are instructions on the smoker box, but any addl. info and help w/b appreciated -- Thank you.

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    Niki Rothman

    Whitefish is about a foot long by maybe 4 inches across with beautiful golden skin, and chubs, their baby brothers, are about 6 inches long. Chubs are cheaper. Don't know what species they are - it's a good question. But I honestly don't see anything in the fresh fish markets I personally patronize that looks like them. And I'm kind of wondering why you'd want to smoke them as they tend to be a lot cheaper than their more luxurious smoked cousins: salmon, sable, and sturgeon. I mean, here in SF for just a couple of bucks I can get a chub to make a pint of delish whitefish salad very easily at home. One of my cooking rules is if I can buy something just as good, if not better, than I can make myself and it's inexpensive, why should I waste my time? Rule holds for restaurants: I only eat things at restaurants that are a lot of trouble to make or I can't make as well as I can get in a restaurant. I mean, why pay good money to eat something in a restaurant that I can easily make for very little money ar home? But, I digress. I really haven't helped you at all. Personally, I'd love to smoke sable or sturgeon (farmed - because I'm pretty sure they're endangered) beacause they are really, really divinely delicious but they are also expensive - unfortunately, I don't even know where to buy them fresh.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Niki Rothman

      you make whitefish salad from scratch? could you give me the recipe?

      1. re: fara

        Second the request! Thanks in advance.

        1. re: GretchenS
          Niki Rothman - Here's Your Recipe

          Whitefish salad is not a salad at all, any more than standard macaroni salad is a salad. It's more like a shmear for bagels - serve it with a nice spread of maybe Greek salad, fresh fruit salad, green salad, egg salad - Mmmm. wish somebody would serve me all that right now!

          So - I didn't have a recipe at all - which comes up all the time for me here, because I may get recipes from cookbooks when I need to - especially for cakes, breads - that sort of thing - but 99 percent of my own cooking - it's just in my head. Whitefish "salad"? To me it could be done two similar ways - both would utilize minced celery, onions or perhaps very thin sliced scallions if you want to get fancy - then mayo, or a not very acidy vinagrette made with lemon juice. And black pepper - combine in a food processor with skinned white fish or chub, or sable, or sturgeon - let your budget be your guide.

          Just be very, very careful that you remove every last pin bone or you will ruin the whole batch of conceivably very expensive smoked fish. This has happened to me, more than once - even ONE bone will turn into microscopic particles in the cuisinart - but it will ruin every third bite so you have to throw the whole batch away or feed it to your cat.

          The recipe I'm giving you is below is from "Jewish Food: the World at Table" by Matthew Goodman (food editor of the NYC Jewish Daily Forward newspaper). He states this recipe is from the owner of Gus & Daughters in NYC (they have a website for mail order, as does Barney Greenglass the Sturgeon King, a NYC purveyor/restauranteur). I'd also like to throw in here that if you're trying to find less expensive smoked fish these days, eschew "gourmet" or nouveau riche sophisticated shops in up-scale gentrified neighborhoods, and instead search out the closest enclave of recent Russian immigrants (there are lots of these people in every urban area since the 80's). (that's where you'll find the lowest prices on smoked fish - and a million other wonderful food treats nobody else has). But I do make my own lox shmear with Trader Joe's Portlock brand wild smoked salmon - such a deal and great flavor (tough texture - but not after the cuisinart is done with it).

          This recipe is for whitefish and baked salmon salad (but you could just use whitefish, or any smoked fish, or a combo of same)

          1 whitefish (1 1/2 - 2 pounds)
          1/2 pound baked salmon
          1/2 C mayo
          1/2 C fine minced celery
          1/4 C fine minced onion
          Instructions: "stir (well) to combine"

      2. re: Niki Rothman

        I can second the sturgeon suggestion. Had some at a local fishmarket with smoked albacore, salmon, and another fish I don't recall. The outstanding favorite was the sturgeon. But they are mainly sport fish in the wild, I believe, and very elusive. So farmed would be expensive.

        I checked San Jose's Race Street Foods' web site. They list it. If you are anywhere in Northern Califorina, it might be worth a trip if they have it. They would certainly be a source of info on which other fish home-smoke reliably, too.


        1. re: Niki Rothman

          Don't know where you buy your smoked goodies, but at the local M Stone deli, it is NOT cheap, which is the motivation for smoking my own whitefish, whatever that is. M Stone's fish dept is not coming up w/ any whitefish look-alike. Maybe I'll try trout.

        2. Whitefish are a relative of trout and salmon (salmonidae) that live mainly in freshwater lakes and rivers in North America - they extend from the hudson to Alaska. The larger ones (today's market weights about 4 lbs) are sometimes called lake whitefish, while the smaller ones are Cisco - called chubs and in the US and tullibee in Canada.

          I am most expert at hot-smoking. Whitefish and chubs are commercially cold smoked in large room-size facilities. I would not attempt to try to smoke them on a stove-top smoker. I have a hard enough time cold-smoking fish in my big outside smoker (other than in winter when the outside air is below 30F), and even then I stick to Salmon, which are larger. I've smoked trout and gotten good results, but once again, outside.

          Perhaps someone else has some stove-top cold-smoking experience.

          1. Smoked fish such as whitefish, smoked salmon, trout, etc. is cold smoked. For that you need temperature control and an offset smoker or preferably a smokehouse. Then there is hot smoking which cooks and smokes the fish.

            What is done on stove-top smoker is smoke cooking it is almost like hot smoking but done much faster and at higher temps. It won't come out like smoked whitefish made commercially, but it can be a very good way to cook fish.

            Here's some info off the net, see the link below for more info.

            There are two general methods of smoking fish: hot-smoking and cold-smoking.

            Hot-smoking (also called barbecuing or kippering) requires a short brining time and smoking temperatures of 90°F for the first 2 hours and 150°F for an additional 4-8 hours. Hot-smoked fish are moist, lightly salted, and fully cooked, but they will keep in the refrigerator for only a few days.

            Cold-smoking requires a longer brining time, lower temperature (80-90°F) and extended smoking time (1-5 days or more of steady smoking). Cold-smoked fish contain more salt and less moisture than hot-smoked fish. If the fish has been sufficiently cured, it will keep in the refrigerator for several months.

            Here's a recipe for smoke cooking fish with a stove-top smoker.


            Smoking fish at home can be accomplished with a stovetop or backyard smoker, with a charcoal grill that has a cover, or even with a wok. Here are the basics.

            1. Place water-soaked wood chips in the bottom of a stovetop smoker; atop a double layer of aluminum foil in the bottom of a wok; or along with charcoal briquets in the bottom of a charcoal grill that has a cover.

            2. Rinse fish fillets, steaks, scallops or shrimp (peeled and deveined but with tails left on) and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

            3. Set fish fillets, steaks, scallops or shrimp atop a wire rack and set aside.

            4. Turn on the exhaust fan, if working on a stovetop, or make sure your smoking apparatus is in a well-ventilated area.

            5. Preheat the smoker according to the manufacturer's directions. If using a wok or grill, heat the wood chips (with cover in place) at a high temperature until they begin to smoke furiously.

            6. Set the rack with the fish or shellfish above the wood chips in the smoker, wok or grill and seal tightly. To seal the wok you may need to seal the edges of the lid with a dampened dish towel. Make sure to keep the towel inside the edge of the wok and away from the heat.

            7. Smoke the fish until done, about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the filets or steaks. Shrimp will take less time - about 12 minutes in most smokers.

            Hot smoking can be done with the addition of little or no fat, and the fish will still be moist. For that reason, brining, or curing, the fish is not necessary with this method. Hot smoking cooks the fish with heat while the smoke infuses it with flavor. Cold smoking methods are done at temperatures that are not high enough to cook the fish.

            Try different wood chips: hickory, alder, apple, oak or mesquite.

            Oily types of fish work best with smoking. Try mackerel, eel, salmon or tuna. Lower-fat shellfish work well too, however.

            This type of rapidly smoked seafood, as opposed to commercial methods that smoke at cooler temperatures, is perishable. The finished product will last about four or five days in the refrigerator.

            Make sure the wood chips are soaked in water for at least 30 minutes before smoking. You want smoked fish, not immolated fish.