Holy Mackerel!

Despite the crazy heat and my wish to remain in an air-conditioned room, some things simply cannot be arranged over the phone or Internet, which is why I found myself wandering around Netanya. Since I was not far from the market, I decided to take a look and see if I could find something interesting.
The meat looked tired and unappetizing, but one of the fishmongers had a crate of mackerels at only 30 NIS per kilo, so I chose 3 nice ones, 600g each before cleaning.
I packed them in the cold bag I usually take with me when I leave the house and headed home.

Given that my plan to read up on smoking fish had just become urgent, I sat down to it. The northern European countries have a age-old tradition of fish smoking, so I turned to the sources of the British Empire and more specifically Scotland. I found one very interesting video 🙂 but really needed more details. I turned to FAO – The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – for some more detailed information about Hot smoking of fish and Handling and processing mackerel as practiced in Britain.

Following are the choices I made based on the technical details I found:
The first decision I needed to make was whether to decapitate the fish or not – the size of my smoker did not leave me much choice – so “off with their heads” (a simple procedure that the fishmonger will happily do for you). The articles did not indicate that it affects the smoking in any way.
The second decision was whether to fillet the fish or not. Here the decision was obvious – most certainly not! There is no need to take apart a small fish and risk over salting/smoking etc.
The third decision was whether to dry salt or brine, my preference is usually dry salting, but given the time of day, I realized that the smoking would have to wait till the morrow, and since I did not want to just leave the fish in the fridge, I dissolved 132g of salt in one liter of cold water and returned the fish to their “natural habitat” for 17 hours. The time can be reduced to a minimum of 5 hours using a more concentrated solution, but I did not want to find myself smoking at midnight either :-).

The following day I removed the fish and dried them, tied pieces of string around the tails and hung them on hooks, and fired up the smoker.

The Smoking Process
The theory calls for a first phase of 45-60 min. at 30 degrees (all measurements in centigrade), however since I am in Israel and not in Britain, and the temperature in my smoker during the summer is above 30 even before I light it 🙂 I skipped this phase. The second phase is 30 min, at 50 degrees, and the third is 45-75 min at 80 degrees, depending on the size of the fish.

My solution:
Lighting a small quantity of coals and opening the smoke vent all the way stabilized the temperature at 55, I added the wood shavings and smoked the fish for 45 min.

Then I closed the smoke vent causing the temperature to rise to approx. 80 degrees and gave the fish another 45 min. (total smoking time 1.5 hours).

I removed one fish for testing, it opened easily, removing the fish-bone was easy and the fish was surprisingly juicy, delicately smoked with a slightly salty flavour. After the fish cooled to room (air-conditioned) temperature it was still juicy and slightly saltier.

Goes great with Scottish whisky 🙂

This post is also available in: Hebrew

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