Smoking fish is a favorite preparation of many anglers and home cooks. Whether you have a fresh caught fish, one in the freezer from a previous fishing trip or pick up a nice fillet from your local seafood market, smoking it up is a treat everyone will enjoy. Fish can be either cold smoked or hot smoked but all smoked fish needs to be brined in a wet or dry brine before smoking. Styles of cold and hot smoked fish vary greatly and depending on your preference can yield moist, almost rare fish to the opposite extreme of being dry, firm and almost jerky-like.
Smoked Steelhead Candy comes out like a salty, sweet, caramelized jerky. The recipe can be tailored slightly to individual tastes but desired end results feel much drier than other smoked fish preparations. Due to the leanness of steelhead, take care not to add too much salt to your brine, in fact if you don’t like your smoked fish salty, try the recipe using the least amount of recommended salt. If your final product is too salty, simply soak the steelhead candy in cold water 1-2 hours and put back in to the smoker and dry to desired consistency. Glaze with honey or maple syrup the last 15-30 minutes of smoking time.
Smoked Steelhead Candy
4-5 pounds steelhead fillets
3 cups brown sugar
1/2-3/4 cup Kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 tablespoon white pepper
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup for glazing, optional
Smokehouse Wood Chips, Alder or Apple flavor preferred
Remove skin from steelhead fillets and remove any protruding bones if desired (bones are also easy to remove after smoking). Cut fish into thin strips, 1/2” to 3/4”. Belly meat can be cut into longer, thinner strips.
In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine brown sugar, salt and seasonings. Place a small amount of the dry brine in the bottom of a shallow dish or crock. Add one layer of fish pieces and cover lightly with more dry brine. Continue layering fish pieces and dry brine, taking care to finish with a layer of dry brine. Cover and refrigerate 12-18 hours. To ensure even brining, gently rotate fish around in the brine at least 4 times during the brining process, taking care to keep pieces separated.
Once fish has brined, it needs to air dry to achieve the best texture. Prepare smoker racks by placing them on an elevated plate or baking sheet (to catch dripping). Remove each piece of fish from the brine, wiping it clean of excess liquid. Do not rinse fish unless you are looking for a more mildly seasoned end product. Place fish on smoker racks taking care to keep uniform pieces together; if smoking belly meat, put it on one rack. Keep thicker pieces of fish together to make rack rotation easier during the smoking process. Air dry fish 4-6 hours, turning fish over 2-3 times. Use a standing or tabletop fan to expedite this process. Once fish is dry to the touch, it is ready for the smoker.
Prepare Little Chief Smoker by plugging it in and filling the chip pan with Smokehouse Wood Chips. Place racks in the smoker with the thickest pieces of fish on the lower levels and the belly meat on the top racks. For more consistent results, keep an oven thermometer in your smoker and don’t let the temperature exceed 160º. (To reduce smoker temperature, keep out of direct sunlight and open the front door a few times an hour.)
Smoke fish 4-8 hours or until it reaches desired consistency and doneness. Rotate racks occasionally during smoke time if needed to keep an even temperature. For best results, replace smoke chips at least once during the smoking process. Glaze fish, 2-3 times, with honey or maple syrup during the last 2 hours of smoking.
Remove fish from smoker and let cool slightly. Smoked Steelhead Candy can be eaten right away but for best results, place in a sealable baggie or covered container to allow flavors to develop overnight in the refrigerator. Smoked Steelhead Candy will keep in the refrigerator up to one week but should be vacuum sealed and frozen for longer term storage.
Article and photos by Tiffany Haugen.
For a copy of Tiffany’s book, Cooking Seafood, go to www.tiffanyhaugen.com.