The practice of smoking fish dates back thousands of years. In ancient times, our ancestors used this method as a mean to cure and preserve food, preventing it from spoiling. These days, however, modern technology has afforded us more effective ways in preserving our food. This ancient yet effective method though, has never lost its charm. We may no longer need it for preserving food, but, we still use it to give our fish that unique, flavorful, smoky taste that we just can’t get enough of.
Hot or Cold?
It may come to a surprise to you, but the smoked fish you might be enjoying right now may have been processed in two different ways: either hot or cold.
Hot smoking exposes fish to heat and smoke. It involves putting fish in a kiln along with burning wood chips, in a temperature ranging from 52 to 80 °C (126 to 176 °F). The temperature is usually increased toward the end of the smoking, which cooks the fish. The process of hot smoking typically lasts around 40 minutes to 2 hours. The high temperature eliminates bacteria and other pathogens, making it safer to eat.
Some people prefer to reheat their hot-smoked fish before serving, but they can be served straight away, since the fish is already cooked.
Cold smoking on the other hand, requires a bit more patience. Cold smoking only uses the smoke itself, which is usually directed to an unheated smokehouse or chamber. it is important to keep the smokehouse temperature around 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F). Unlike hot smoking, cold smoking does not actually cook the fish, rather, the process simply flavors the fish by curing it with smoke. It usually needs 12-48 hours to complete. Under this process, the smoky flavor the fish gives off becomes more distinct the longer you smoke it.
Again, make sure to cook your cold-smoked fish before serving it. It is best served grilled or poached. However, cold-smoked salmon is just fine eaten raw.
Whether hot or cold, to prepare a fish for smoking, it is necessary to cure it first. This can be done by either dry salting or soaking it in a brine solution. Salt curing draws out excess water from the fish. It prevents microorganism from spreading onto the fish. After that, it is naturally air dried to let the fish develop pellicles on its surface, which helps it absorb that savory smoky flavor.
Smoked Fish: The Tasty Treat
Smoking was originally used for food preservation, thus, smoked fish has a longer shelf life compared to fresh. When smoked properly, a well smoked-fish can last from around 10 to 20 days.
Any fish can be used for smoking, but trout, salmon, mackerel and herring are most common due to their fatty meat, which does a good job in absorbing that smoky flavor.
One thing’s for sure though, whether cold or hot, smoked fish is certainly a welcome treat for your taste buds to enjoy.