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Smoking: Simple and delicious

Uwe Dittmann

Smoking is an old method to keep the fish fresh and to make a fine delicacy. A must for every professional angler who fishes at home and does not want to have fried fish on the menu. Mainly fat fish like eel, trout, mackerel and herring are smoked. Other fish like perches and codfish can also be smoked. These fish should be eaten freshly, because they do not have a high amount of fat and dry out easily.

Smoked fish are usually made in smoking ovens, which are not only differing in size but also in their construction. The classic oven has a firebox inside the oven. The source of the heat is a fire made of wood and directly under the fish. The new ovens are heated with gas and the fire is separated from the fish. The advantage of the new ovens is the simple handling. The temperature can be regulated, so the fish do not burn easily and are always good to eat. The place for smoking should be chosen so nobody is disturbed by the smoke. It is also advisable to put the oven at a safe place on cold and windy days so it does not cold easily.

It does not matter which smoking meal is used. I prefer a beech or alder meal and mix juniper (art.-nr. 68-20300) among it. 
That’s the way it is done!

Firstly the fish must be cleaned and freed from blood and slime. It is better to remove the gills. For salting the fish I use a brine with 40 to 50gr salt per litre. It must be a good brine. At least 1 litre brine for 1 kilogram fish and the fish must always be covered with the brine. The fish should remain 7 to 12 hours in the brine depending on the size of the fish. Every brine can be refined according to one’s own taste. You can use mixtures of spices from the shop.
My recipe: I take normal salt and mix two handful of sugars in 12 litres of brine. I season with several spices and one or two onions. After salting, put the fish out of the brine, wash it thoroughly and remove again blood and slime. Then put the fish carefully on the hooks. Please take care that the fish are stucked to the hooks, so that nothing will fall off in the oven.

I choose the hooks depending on the size of the fish. For eels and small fish I use a special eel hook. For middle sized fish and big fish I use a special smoking V2A hook.

After everything is hung up, the fish have to dry. Firstly I let the fish drip off and then use a cloth. Now I hang the fish in fresh air for drying. Be careful that there are no flies near the fish. If the fish cannot be dried in fresh air, then it must be done in the oven. Only when the fish are dry and the skin is like leather, they take to the smoke and start to colour.

At traditional smoking the fish are so spread in the oven, that the fish do not touch each other and have as much space as possible. Open the exhaust pipe that the humidity can escape. In the fire box light a fire with beech or other wood (alder or other woods of fruit trees) which is suitable for smoking. Put the fire box into the oven and dry the fish with an open door. The flame should never touch the fish. Put more pieces of wood and let it burn, so that there is enough heat for 30 to 60 minutes (smoking time). When the fish are dry, close the door, but leave the vent hole slightly open. The temperature should be 55° to 70°C and must be hold 30 to 60 minutes. If there is no thermometer, then the plate should be so hot that it can be touched without burning oneself.

The temperature is regulated through opening and closing the vent hole and through the size of the fire. The right temperature is a matter of experience and needs sure instincts. If the fish are ready, they are covered with smoking meal and spices, lower the temperature to below 50°C. Is the smoking meal burned, then more must be added. After 75 to 120 minutes the fish are golden and ready. Larger fish need a time up to 3 hours.

Smoking in a oven with gas is simpler. The dry fish are hung in the oven just like with the classic oven. Now we light the burner and put it under the separating plate. Open the vent hole that the humidity can evaporate. The fish are warmed in advance with a closed or ajar door. Open the door from time to time, that the humidity can evaporate. A good helping device is a hairdryer which speeds up the drying process. When the oven is warm, 60° to 80°C, we put the sawdust tub filled with smoking meal and spices on the separating plate. The fish are put on the dripping plate which catches the juice. The sawdust start glimmering after a short while and the smoking begins.

The vent hole can be closed, but should not be locked. The temperature should be around 70-85°C and is easily regulated with the gas burner. The sawdust tub must alsways be filled with enough smoking meal. When the smoking meal is burned, it has to be refilled. A second sawdust tub can be helpful to guarantee an ongoing smoking process. The smoking time will take 60-120 minutes. The colour of the fish will be golden, when the fish is ready.

Smoking with a table oven is practical and simple. You do not have to dry the fish and hang them up. But with this oven the fish dry best, when they are already dry. Salt the fish like described. On the sawdust plate they are covered with smoking meal and spices. Now put the fish on the grill and close the lid. Two alcohol burner are placed under the oven and there you go. The smoking time is about 15-20 minutes. The taste is more savoury than smoking in a smoking closet. A real good alternative to a barbecue!

Smoking is no witchcraft and no science. Just try. If it does not work the first time, then the next time you will mange for sure.

Have fun and enjoy your meal, Uwe Dittmann

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