The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Smoking Blue Fish at Home

April 15th, 2011 · 5 Comments · Posted in Recipes

Blue fish brined and ready for the smoker

Does anybody else remember when smoked bluefish was all the rage? That’s going back a few years. But I recall there was a place in the Maryland suburbs outside Washington that was doing a brisk business in smoked bluefish.

Bluefish proliferates here on the East Coast, and supports a charter fishing trade in the Chesapeake Bay. But the meat is especially oily and strong tasting, so it’s never in particularly high demand. That makes bluefish relatively cheap. Our preferred method of cooking it is roasted, smothered in grainy mustard and apples to cut through the pungent oil.

When this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge called for smoking meat and possibly salmon, my thoughts turned to the humble and much maligned bluefish, which, owing to the aforementioned oily pungency, takes particularly well to smoking. I had to place a special order for it at our local Whole Foods and took home a whole side weighing a bit more than two pounds.

The process for preparing the fish is pretty simple, though it will sprawl over two or three days. Start by making a brine with 1 quart water, 3/8 cup kosher salt, 3/8 cup sugar, 1/8 cup soy sauce, 1 bay leaf, zest of 1/2 lemon, 1 sprig dill, chopped. Mix the brine ingredients in a heavy pot and bring almost to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from the heat to cool, then refrigerate overnight. Place the brine and 1 side bluefish, cut in half, in a non-reactive container, placing a ceramic plate over the fish to keep it completely submerged. Refrigerate for 3 hours or more. (I meant to leave my fish in the brine for about five hours and then take it out before I went to bed. But I forgot and didnt’ remove it until the next morning. It turned out fine.)

After removing the bluefish from the brine, give it a rinse under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Then lay the fillets on a metal rack placed on a sheet pan and refrigerate overnight so that the fish can dry thoroughly. The refrigerator will suck the moisture from the surface of the fish and develop a pellicule, a tacky surface that will give the smoke a better chance to stick.

It helps to have a home smoker. Mine, a bullet-shaped Brinkmann that plugs into a standard wall outlet, is big enough to smoke two whole beef briskets, a side of bluefish is no trick at all. I just fill the water pan inside, heat it up and add some soaked hickory chips around the electric element. The internal temperature usually settles somewhere between 190 and 200 degrees F.

What the finished bluefish looks like

Lay some aluminum foil over the grill inside the smoker so the fish doesn’t stick. You’ll want to smoke your fish for at least four hours, I think, or until it turns deep brown, or the color of molasses, but is still moist. Press the flesh with your finger and it will still have some give to it. If not, it’s overcooked and dry. Don’t be afraid to cut off a little slice and taste it if you’re unsure.

Traditionally we serve our smoked bluefish with a creamy horseradish sauce. But I’m ready to try something different. I’m thinking bluefish for breakfast. Bluefish omelet, anyone?

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  • Ivana Kadija

    That sounds like a wonderful breakfast, Ed. Wish I lived closer.

  • jburka

    As a teenager, back in the early to mid 80’s, I would take bluefish my grandfather caught in the Chesapeake and smoke it after a soak in a mixture of soy, hoisin, and garlic. Back then I wasn’t a fish eater, but I sure loved that smoked blue, as did my grandfather and many of his friends!

  • Ed Bruske

    Jeffrey, I was just telling my wife the smoked bluefish we made is so good, I think I’ll smoke a whole fish next time instead of just one side. It’s disappearing fast.

  • Bob Hlavacek

    Any opinion on wet – with water pan VS dry – no water pan bluefish smoking?


  • Ed Bruske

    No opinion, Bob. Haven’t tried it. Give it a try and see what happens.