Back in the day, seafood of all kinds were smoked to both preserve and extend the shelf life of fish. This is back before the wonderful invention of the refrigerator, so they were not able to keep fish fresh for long.
But thankfully, we live in a more modern time where this really isn’t a priority anymore. But thousands of people still enjoy a tasty smoked fish, so why is it now that we still do it? The flavor, of course!
Smoked fish is a delicious, and fairly healthy choice of food, so it’s no surprise that it is still ever-popular. But not all fish were created equal, and some taste much better smoked than others do.
While technically, any variety of fish can be smoked, you’ll want to opt for high-fat fish because they will absorb those wood smoke aromas so much better than a non-fatty fish will.
So let’s get into it. If you’re going to smoke a fish, these are the varieties that I would choose to ensure a deliciously tasty meal.
Let’s start with the most obvious choice. Smoked salmon is a really well-known dish and considering just how good it tastes, I am unsurprised by its reputation.
Since salmon is a fairly fatty fish, it soaks up all the flavor from the wood smoke perfectly, so each mouthful will burst with tastiness! Another benefit of salmon being a fatty fish is that it means the meat stays super moist while it’s cooking.
If you’re lucky enough to come across Coho salmon at any point make sure you pop it in your basket as it’s probably the highest-quality salmon going.
Smoked salmon can be served several different ways (Find out Can Salmon Be Eaten Raw?). Try it accompanied with asparagus and a hollandaise sauce for a delicious main meal, or on top of scrambled egg on toast to elevate any morning breakfast.
If you’re a fan of a rich and strong fishy flavor then you need to try smoked mackerel. For the best results, mackerel should be smoked slowly on low heat. It isn’t the fat inside this fish that keeps it so moist, in this instance, it’s the oil.
Using dry brine will really emphasize so smokey aromas and ensure a delicious meal. However, you do want to ensure that you are cold smoking this fish rather than blasting it with heat or it won’t come out very nice.
My favorite way to incorporate mackerel into my meals is to add the smoked mackerel into a cold salad for the summer or to mix it into a hot pasta dish in the colder weather.
Contrastingly, if you find that really fishy taste a bit too strong, then trout is a much milder and still delicious option. Its delicate and light flavor and texture are further complemented by all the natural juice and moisture that is locked in during the smoking process.
It’s the perfect choice for those who love a melt-in-the-mouth experience. And since it has a very low mercury content in comparison with other fish, it’s also a really healthy option too.
If you smoke trout it is usually best paired with fruit and spicy greens. I’d recommend smoked trout with a zesty lemon dressing over a bed of well-spiced greens. Delicious.
Cod is a perfect smoked fish choice. I’d recommend using black cod or sablefish for the best results. This is another great choice for those who prefer milder flavors, or of course if you have picky eaters within your family.
Not only does cod have this very butter-like flavor but it’s also just as soft, combine that with the smokey flavor and you’ve got yourself a little slice of heaven.
Now, so much goes well with smoked cod that I found it difficult to pick my recommendations. But I think a hearty side of french fries, some coleslaw, and a little bit of mac and cheese is the perfect way to keep the whole family happy.
Then, of course, you can’t ignore fish tacos – cod is perfection in these!
We’re back with another option for those of you that love that strong fish flavor. Tuna isn’t exactly a mild-tasting fish and it also comes with a much firmer texture, which some may not like but, hey, I adore it.
Tuna’s unique flavor is vastly improved once it is mixed with those smokey aromas. If you’re smoking tuna Ahi and Yellowfin are the varieties of choice for the best flavor.
With smoked tuna, I’ll usually pair it with either a flavorsome potato side such as roasted lemon potatoes or garlic french fries (Here are some Delicious Fries Seasonings for you to check out) or opt for a lighter veggie side such as fried green beans or stuffed peppers.
This is a great choice if smelly fish tend to churn your stomach a little. This is a relatively ‘unsmelly’ fish that is also mild in its sweeter flavor. It does have quite a high-fat content which means that all that wood smoke absorbs straight into the fish.
That smokey flavor combined with an already buttery-tasting fish creates a real feast for your taste buds.
Try a nice smoked sea bass accompanied with lemon rice and a side of roasted cauliflower. It is a family favorite in our household.
This fish will have you digging a little deeper in your wallets than others, however, one small bite into a smoked sturgeon and you’ll understand why. Wow, it really is a fantastic tasting dish.
The meat of this fish is very lean and jammed-packed with Omega-3. It has a similar texture to that of chicken and somewhat tastes like it too. Not only this but it’s also low in sodium. Who ever said healthy things can’t taste delicious?
Since the fish is boneless, it’s also the perfect option for smoking. No more annoying clean and prep to make it suitable to smoke. No bones, no problems.
Creamy wild mushrooms and a few greens are the perfect accompaniment for this dish, but it really doesn’t need much. It is the star of the show.
Bluefish is super tasty when it’s smoked. And it’s not only the meat that has a great flavor, be sure to take a taste of smoked bluefish skin. If you enjoy a rich and strong fishy flavor you’ll really enjoy smoked bluefish, but don’t say you weren’t warned. It certainly packs a punch.
Not only does it taste strong, but it smells it too. You want to smoke this fish with hardwood to ensure you get that really infused smokey flavor because as I’ve mentioned bluefish has a really strong flavor and mild woods just won’t compete.
Bluefish isn’t always the best at retaining its moisture though, so you’ll want to brine it first before you smoke it to stop it from going dry.
Personally, I think that smoked bluefish makes the most amazing pate. Serve up with some tasty crackers and you’ve got the ultimate summer snack.
Rockfish is fairly common in the western pacific region of America, and it’s known for being very tasty when smoked. I haven’t really ever tried a variety of fish as unique as the flavors from this one.
It is mild and delicate like many of the other previously mentioned fish, however, the sweet and nutty aftertaste is what really makes it stand out.
Use a mild wood when smoking this fish because the aromas and flavors are so delicate, I’d hate for them to be overpowered by a heavy smokey flavor.
Sweet chili seasoned smoked rockfish with a light and tasty rice side is one of my favorite recipes for this variety of fish.
You may not have even considered smoking these small little fish but you can and you should. They are super tasty and you have plenty of choices to pick from considering there are over 20 species of salt-water sardines.
And since they are typically very oily fish they retain both the smokey flavor and moisture well.
It’s really up to you how to serve sardines. They are perfect as they are with a little dipping sauce, they are a great pizza topping, and go great in salad, pasta, and fish tacos.
The Difference Between Hot And Cold Smoking
When looking at recipes you’ll notice some fish are hot smoked while others are cold smoked. Hot smoking refers to smoking that, you guessed it, is performed at hot temperatures that will cook the meat whilst also infusing the flavor of the meat with the smoke.
Cold smoking on the other hand involves preserving the meat by smoking it long-term from as little as a day to as long as 30 days. Usually, for cold smoking, the temperature stays below 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
You’ll need to cure your meat for both hot and cold smoking, however, the necessity for penetrating or curing the meat with salt is much higher for cold smoking than it is for hot.
Different Types Of Wood For Smoking Fish
There are many different types of wood for smoking your fish, and the wood that you choose will impact the flavor and taste of the fish, so you do want to pick carefully.
Alder wood is always your safest bet because its flavor pairs great with pretty much any variety of fish. Because alder isn’t a massively strong flavor, it won’t overpower the taste of the fish.
The last thing you’ll want is for the smoke to completely take over the taste of the meat you are cooking.
Cedar wood is perfect for your more fatty fish. Cedar is a great option for salmon. However, when using cedar you’ll want to use the planks instead of the chips as they tend to burn and smoke way more than you’ll actually want.
High-fat content fish taste lovely when they are smoked with maple wood. Maple tends to have a smokey and sweet flavor that’s really noticeable without overpowering the fish.
You’ll tend to find hickory wood is more often used during cold smoking. Hickory has a very strong flavor that tastes almost like bacon. More often than not hickory wood isn’t used by itself, but as a mixing smoke wood due to its very rich and earthy flavor.
This can be a little too strong on its own and may leave you unable to actually taste the fish itself. Only use hickory wood chips if you are cooking very strong flavored fish.
Applewood is a great choice of wood for your more delicate and fragile fish flavors. It is very mild but still gives you that hint of a delicious fruity flavor. This wood is also great for mixing with stronger woods such as hickory and oak to tone down that intensity a little.
Pecan wood is another strong flavor wood that you’ll need to be careful doesn’t overpower your meat. It is quite similar to hickory except the bacony flavor is more of a nutty one instead.
If you are considering using this wood, I would recommend blending this wood with a fruity flavored wood such as apple cherry, or peach wood.
Most seafood benefits from being smoked in cherry wood. As the name suggests, it smokes the fish with a lovely fruity flavor. It is probably a bit more intense than that of applewood. Its taste is very distinctive.
It’s a tart yet still sweet flavor while still being mild. This is best combined with a more neutral wood such as oak,
All Your Fish Smoking Questions Answered
Do You Smoke Fish Skin Side Up Or Side Down?
If you have a fillet you’ll want to place your fish skin side up if you’re smoking it. For pretty much all other cuts you’ll want to place them skin side down and then flip it over as and when needed.
Remember to always check the internal temperature of your fish – it should always reach 160 degrees.
How Do You Keep Fish Moist When Smoking
How moist your fish will be will depend on the fish that you smoke, however, the best way to keep your fish moist if you’re struggling is to salt the fish in brine.
You’ll want one part salt for 7 parts water when you make the brine. Soak the fish for about an hour before smoking to lock in the moisture.
How Long Does Smoking Fish Take?
Again, this can vary from fish to fish. However, as a general rule, you’ll usually need to preheat the wood chips for close to 45 minutes to an hour, and then smoke the fish for an additional 3 hours at a heat of around 175 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
What Are The Advantages Of Smoking Fish?
Considering smoking fish can take quite a while, you may be wondering why bother? What advantages actually are there to smoking fish? Plenty!
To start off with, smoking fish will slow down the rate at which bacteria grows which means that your fish will last for longer before going bad. Smoking also stops the fat in fatty fish from developing a really unpleasant taste.
Then, of course, it changes the color of the fish and just the general aesthetics as a whole. Smoked fish is shiny and just looks better than fish that isn’t smoked.
And most importantly, it influences the flavor and who wouldn’t want a nicer tasting fish. Yes, it can take a while to cook, but you know what they say. Great things come to those who wait.
How Do You Know When Smoked Fish Is Cooked?
The best way to ensure that your fish has been cooked enough is to check its internal temperature. All smoked fish much reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit if you serve it before it hits this temperature you could make your guests sick.
However, once it does hit this temperature, you’re all good to go and can tuck into your delicious meal.
Smoking fish may seem a lot more confusing than it actually is. All you need is to ensure that your wood and your fish pair up and then you’re good to go – and from this article, you should have some idea of which woods pair well together.
Essentially, if you have mild-tasting fish then you’ll want a mild-tasting smoke to make sure that the flavor of the meat isn’t overpowering.
But it’s definitely time to push the boat out and try smoking fish other than salmon. Sure it’s nice but variety is the spice of life. There are so many other delicious meals to be made, tried, and tasted.
Hopefully from reading this article, you’ll have found some inspiration that suits you. Whether that be a very pungent fishy taste or one of the milder more buttery-tasting fish, you should now have something that you’re excited to try.