Delicious home-smoked fish is not exclusive to those with fancy smokers or smoke houses. All you need is a propane or charcoal grill, wood chips, aluminum foil, and a little bit of pre-planning and patience. There’s no need to thaw the fish before brining, making prep that much easier.
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 pounds sablefish, salmon, or halibut fillets, frozen
PREP THE FISH
In a large sealable plastic bag or container, combine the brown sugar, salt, pepper, and 1½ cups water. Add the fish fillets and seal the bag, pressing out any air. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the fish occasionally.
One hour before smoking, remove the fish fillets from the brine, rinse well with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Place a wire rack on a baking sheet and arrange the fish fillets on the rack, skin side down. Refrigerate, uncovered, until the surface is very dry (this is called the pellicle) and ready to smoke, at least 1 hour.
ASSEMBLE THE SMOKER
While the fish rests, soak 2 cups wood chips (such as apple, hickory, or cherry) in warm water for 1 hour. If you like, also soak a grill-ready cedar plank.
Preheat the grill over high heat, turning on all of the burners or build a charcoal fire. Drain the wood chips and spread out to a 6- by 8-inch rectangle in the center of an 18-inch sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Fold up the sides, crimping to seal, to form a 6- by 8-inch packet. Using a small paring knife, poke 8 to 10 holes in the top side only.
Turn off all but 1 of the burners or move the charcoal to one side for indirect cooking. Set the packet directly over the lit burner or hot coal bed. Close the grill and allow the wood to begin smoking.
SMOKE THE FISH
Brush the grill grate clean and oil the grate. Place the fish, skin side down, on the unlit side of the grill and quickly close the lid. (Alternatively, if using the plank, arrange the fish fillets on the plank and place the plank on the unlit side of the grill.) Reduce the heat to low if using a gas grill and cook until the fish is cooked through and glossy, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit until cool enough to handle. Remove any skin and pin bones before eating.
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Pair it Up
Look for something crisp, cold, and bubbly with a little acidity to cut the richness and smokiness of the fish. For beer drinkers, lager is the ticket, and for wine drinkers, go for a lightly effervescent vinho verde.
Level it Up
The brine is a blank canvas. Try adding 1 tablespoon of pickling spice, 1 tablespoon creole seasoning, or 2 bay leaves to the liquid for depth of flavor.
Change it Up
The sky’s the limit with smoked fish. Bagels and cream cheese are obvious choices, but smoked fish is also great in chowders, salads, and breakfast scrambles.
Know Your Cook
Culinary Director Grace Parisi is a cook, writer and cookbook author. Formerly the Senior Test Kitchen Editor at Food & Wine Magazine and Executive Food Director at TimeInc Books, her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Health, O Magazine, Epicurious, Fitness, Today, Serious Eats, Martha Stewart, and many more. She’s the author of more than 6 books, among them The Portlandia Cookbook and Get Saucy, which was nominated for a James Beard award for Best Single Subject Cookbook.