Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer of Smoke: Spanish Mackerel (plus...)

No, it's not the same as charcuterie, but hot smoking is a good way to use up similar cuts of meat - and vegetables, and especially fish - that might also be used in that method.  And I've rigged up this super cheap, simple smoking method (previously described in my tasso entry), so I thought I'd make use of it even more this Summer. Indeed, I made some baby back ribs last week (Niman Ranchers, rubbed with a mix of paprika, chile powder, cumin, allspice, garlic powder, and who knows what else) that were as good as any I've had - and I've eaten a LOT of ribs - which inspired the idea of working my way through various cuts. Hence, my "Summer of Smoke."

As many of you saw in my fish sausage entry (and by many, I mean more than one) I've made some fantastic smoked Spanish mackerel, and we got another pound (or so) of mackerel in this week's share from the Core Sound Seafood. 

So I thought I'd show you how I smoke it.

First, the fish needs to be brined. The brine I made had mustard seeds, brown sugar, salt, and this excellent Spanish pimenton- a sweet paprika.  You take your spices, add them to boiling water until the salt and sugar dissolve, then cool the whole mixture down to room temperature.  

Then you put the fish into the brine to soak it in for as little as a few hours, as long as a few days. Here, I've put the brine and mackerel in a ziploc bag, and set the bag in a bowl to keep the fridge free of spills.

The next day, I take the fish out of the brine, and I set it over a rack, like this,
to dry out.  This helps the fish develop what's called a pellicle, the iridescent, golden-hued, sheen that is actually a tacky, protective skin that keeps fats from coming to the surface of the fish.  The fats are highly perishable, so the pellicle aids preservation. 

Just to refresh your memory, heres the smoking rig - a crappy old Weber kettle, retrofitted with an electric hot plate.

Put a pie pan full of wood chips - these are apple wood - on the hot plate, and crank it up to high.

 Here's the fish, along with some drumsticks that I had started about an hour prior to the mackerel.

Here's how the drumsticks turned out.  Unfortunately, they look fantastic, but they could  have used another half hour in the smoker to cook through. No matter, I finished them in a hot oven, just to cook them through, and they tasted smoky and juicy. Hacked 'em up, and ate them as tacos.

As the mackerel finished smoking, I threw on some potatoes to smoke- they'll be good in a salad with the fish and some onions and a creamy dressing.

And here's the finished product. A nice sheen, fully cooked through, and smoky as a chimney sweep. They smoked for about two hours at 230º.  

I still need to figure out how often to refill the pie plate with wood chips, and whether large wood chunks can work as well as chips.  The secret I think is to check on the wood every hour or so, replenish fairly frequently (every hour should do it), and to be prepared to let it go longer than you think it needs to.  At least two hours per pound of meat, I'd say, and more if the meat has substantial bone in it (the two racks of ribs took three hours last week, I think).  When you think it's done, check on it again in half an hour.  Low cooking, under 250º, won't dry out the meat, but even a well smoked dish can be less than completely cooked - and you don't want that.

Ok, next week, I think I'll give brisket a try.  Or perhaps a pork shoulder. Or possibly I'll grind up some pork and make what they call hot links in Chicago. Anybody got any preferences??


  1. Brisket!!! Its been over a year since I last made one and I'd love to see it done again as a refresher. That core sound csa sounds incredible, I had shrimp from them last week and it was amazing!

  2. Deal. Actually, the next one is smoked pork shanks, but I'll do a brisket next weekend.

  3. How did the salad turn out? I meant to suggest creme fraiche as a dressing.

  4. I used something very close to creme fraiche - some Greek yogurt and a little bit of mayo. I had some green garlic I chopped into it, as well. The potatoes were a dud, though. They turned out leathery and tasteless. I would boil them first, then lightly smoke for a little bit next time.

    I would have liked to spread it all on a bagel, but we had it over pasta. Super rich.