|From Alabama Gulf Seafood|
from The Fishing Wire
Note – i always keep my fish on ice overnight before fileting them!
Ask anyone about their top priority when it comes to seafood and you’re likely to get the same answer: Freshness matters most.
But what about your own kitchen? When it comes to seafood caught or bought at markets and stored in your fridge or freezer, how can you make sure you’re cooking and eating it while it’s still fresh?
These are important questions to ask. After all, the freshness of your seafood isn’t just a health and safety precaution—freshness affects the flavor of your product as well as the nutritional value you’ll get from it.
Here are a few ways you can make sure you’re buying, storing, and cooking only fresh seafood in your own home.
Use Your Senses When Buying Product
It might be tough to eyeball a fish and know when it was caught if you didn’t land it yourself, but there are a number of ways you can check the available product at your local market to make sure it’s fresh.
For whole fish, make sure the eyes are clear and bulging, and look for bright red gills and shiny flesh. Make sure individual filets aren’t dark or dry around the edges, and watch out for green or yellow discoloration. Make sure the product is not dry or mushy. Avoid any product that smells fishy and not mild. Check the packaging to make sure it’s not torn open or above the frost line. And for peak freshness, make sure the product is being kept on a thick bed of unmelted ice.
As for blue crabs and oysters, make sure you’re buying this product live! Both of these species will spoil very quickly, so make sure the crabs are still moving and the oyster shells are still closed.
Ask Your Seafood Dealer About the Product
Many seafood dealers will identify their product by country, or state if it’s domestic. But if the product is unlabeled, you know what to do: Always ask, never settle.
Some seafood markets even work with traceability programs that can pinpoint when and where the product was caught, but don’t get too hung up on those details. Location matters, of course, but how the fish was caught and handled has more of an effect on the freshness than how long it’s been out of the water. In fact, fresh-caught fish need 12-24 hours before they can be cooked and eaten because of stiff muscles due to rigor mortis. Additionally, some smaller fishing boats will be gone for a few days at a time, and they may flash-freeze their catches (which isn’t actually a bad thing in terms of freshness).
Properly Refrigerate and Freeze Your Product
Once you’ve determined that you’re buying fresh product at your local market, it’s up to you to properly store it at home until it’s time to cook and eat.If you’ve picked up Gulf fish and shrimp, you’ve got about a 48-hour window to keep them in your refrigerator before they start to lose freshness. At that point, you’ll need to store them properly and keep them in the freezer until you’re almost ready to cook. (For tips on storing and stocking Alabama Gulf Seafood, check out our six tips for freezing your product.)
Remember, your filets and your shrimp will need time to dethaw before you can cook ‘em. Thaw your product overnight in the fridge, or if you’re short on time, run your product in cold water. (Don’t leave your product out to thaw at room temperature.)
Properly Store Your Deep Sea Catches
If you’re catching your own seafood to cook and eat, we salute you. We would also recommend properly storing those catches so you can keep them fresh.
As soon as you reel in a species worth eating, make sure you immediately transfer it to a cooler packed with ice. And if you’re able to, store that cooler in the shade to keep the ice from melting, and drain the melted ice periodically so the texture of the fish isn’t affected. You’ll want to fillet and clean your catches sooner rather than later as well; in fact, if you’ve got a vacuum sealer, bring it with you and clean and pack them at the docks, then ice them down for the trip home. (For tips on proper maintenance, check out our tips for freezing your deep-sea catches.)
And remember, if you catch a fish in the morning, make sure you give it at least 12 hours before you cook it so the muscles can relax. It’ll be just as fresh tomorrow if you store it properly!
I love to cook, especially things I have caught, killed or grown. Mama was a fantastic cook, making big meals every day on the farm for daddy, my brother and me and three or four farm workers. She taught me to cook like her, country farm cooking, and used to laughingly say I needed to learn to cook since I would never find a woman to cook for me.
She was wrong in that, Linda is a great cook, but she really does not like to, so I do most of the cooking at home. We set that routine when, in our first year of marriage, Linda taught school while I finished my last year at UGA. She got home late and I was home early every day, much less tired than her, so I did the cooking.
I have cooked most anything I could catch or kill over the years. While in college I shot a raccoon and cooked it for dinner. I thought BBQed coon was good but Linda not so much. The same for a beaver I cooked a few years ago. I will never do that again, not because it did not taste good to me, but because it was the most difficult animal I have ever tried to skin.
Gar taste good but are hard to clean, you start with tin snips. Carp and shiners are ok if you like a mouth full of bones in every bite. I have at least ten ways to cook bass filets, from fried to nuked with picante sauce to baked with wine and cheese sauce, and like them all.
I cook a lot of venison. Each day I get recipes in email from Taste of Home magazine and try many of them. Some are great and I cook them often, others are ok but either a lot of trouble or not a favorite. They are usually one hit wonders.
In the past few weeks I have cooked Bobotie, a South African dish that has ground meat. It falls into the second category in two ways, it is difficult to cook and has a flavor that is just ok. It is the sweet spices in it, tamarind and raisins, that remind me of the pigeon pie with cinnamon and raisins I had in Marrakech, Morocco. Sweet meat is not that good to me.
Others in the first category include cabbage roll casserole, a simple way to make cabbage rolls if you do not like rolling the leaves. It is a one dish meal, just add a little cornbread. That is a great meal when camping – just heat a bowl of leftovers in the microwave.
Asian noodle casserole is very simple, with ground meat, ramen noodles and a bag of broccoli stir fry veggies. Another one dish meal. Roast in the crockpot with ranch and au jus dressing is delicious and very simple.
I use the crock pot a lot for everything from venison steak with peppers and onions or mushroom soup to venison stew meat with BBQ sauce. It is a simple way to cook and keeps venison moist.
On fishing trips, most guys stay in motels and eat in restaurants, but I much prefer camping and grilling. Venison is too dry to grill, so I always do chicken, steak and pork chops on the grill, and am usually done eating before the guys in the restaurant can get their order.
I never order steak when I do go out – I have not found one that taste as good as what I grill. I try to find fried scallops, my favorite, and I have never been able to cook them just right at home.
I’m hungry, I am going to cook something.
Salmon/Steelhead/Trout Smoking Tips from Yakima Baits
By Yakima Baits Pro Buzz Ramsey
from The Fishing Wire
For over 20 years, I spent a month or more at a time chasing winter steelhead on the Oregon Coast, taking outdoor writers, fishing tackle buyers and industry VIP’s fishing. Since I worked for a fishing tackle company that made smokers designed for fish and game, I went out of my way to have fresh smoked fish available during our fishing adventures. The method that enabled me to fish friends and business associates each and every day and share fresh smoked fish too was the following:
I’d fillet my catch at the end of the day and place the best cuts for smoking (the bellies and collars) in my favorite liquid brine and refrigerate until the end of the next fishing day.
It’s then that I would remove the fillets from the brine, rinse well, let them air dry for an hour or two before sprinkling them with spices and placing in my smoker and letting the heating element burn two pans full of wood smoke during the evening hours (before bed).
Given that most of the smoking process, after the smoke from a couple pans of wood is applied, is just drying the fish to the right consistency, I’d just let the smoker run all night, while I slept, and unplug it shortly after the alarm rang the next early AM. It was then that I’d let the fillets cool before placing them in a paper bag with several layers of paper towels in the bottom.
Having fresh smoked fish in the drift boat while chasing fish each day was a big hit with everyone and especially those whose job it was to keep retail stores supplied with smokehouse products.
The home made brine that I mixed then and continue to use includes (remember to stir well):
1/4 cup non-iodized salt (iodized salt is bitter)
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 cup apple juice
1 cup sugar (brown sugar works too)
1 to 1-1/2 quart water (depending on amount of fish)
Immerse fish fillets in the above solution, refrigerate overnight (longer is OK), rinse thoroughly in fresh water, pat dry with paper towels, place on smokehouse racks (skin side down helps prevents sticking), sprinkle with ground garlic, onion and black pepper (or other favorite spices), and add a final sprinkling of sugar and let air dry of an hour or more before placing in you smokehouse.
Smoke until done, depending on quantity and desired texture– 6 to 12 hours usually works depending on outside temperature and the heat generated by your smoker.
When I first found this recipe for Ground Venison and Squash Skillet Stew it did not sound good. But since I had a bumper crop of yellow squash from the garden, lots of bell peppers that year, and a good supply of ground venison in the freezer, I tried it, and love it.
I have been making it for years and have adjusted my recipe Try it, you should like it! Its easy and quick.
I usually start in skillet then remember to put it in a pot for easier stirring.
4 or 5 yellow squash
large bell pepper
two 14.5 weight chopped tomatoes with chili peppers
a pound or so ground meat
half teaspoon black pepper
Brown ground meat in bacon drippings. Add sliced squash, chopped bell peppers, cans of tomatoes, salt and pepper.
simmer for 45 minutes.
How Fisheries Managers Respond When Trash Fish Get Trendy
By Chris Macaluso, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
from The Fishing Wire
Fisheries management can be influenced by the American appetite for (certain kinds of) seafood, which makes it even more important that the system works better for anglers
My brother Joey and I were weird, I guess. When we were kids, we loved to fish for sheepshead, which, at the time, were generally thought to be a “trash” fish and were despised by most Louisiana anglers.
Sheepshead are ugly by any objective standard. They have big, goofy buckteeth, gray and black skin, and a row of foreboding spikes along their dorsal fins. They’re also an absolute pain to clean. Some charter guides I knew when I was in my teens refused to even put them in the ice chest, for fear that they would wind up on the cleaning table along with the better speckled trout and redfish.
But I never agreed with sheepshead getting a bad rap. First of all, they fight like caged, rabid raccoons. And on our summer trips to Grand Isle or fall excursions to Cocodrie, the sheepshead aggressively ate a piece of shrimp or hermit crab on a jig head when the speckled trout wouldn’t cooperate, and they guaranteed that we had some fresh fish to go with our suppers of canned beans, and French bread.
Sure, you had to hack through some thick rib bones and tough scales to get a filet. But crabs are hard to clean, and I don’t know too many folks who consider boiled and steamed blue crabs to be “trash,” just because the meat is difficult to pick out.
Then, about 15 years ago, sheepshead started showing up on restaurant menus under the pseudonym “bay snapper.” Suddenly, a bunch of anglers who would never have kept an ugly, stubborn sheepshead were raving about how tasty their fish-of-the-day lunch special was.
Now, pretty much every restaurant in South Louisiana has sheepshead on the menu or as a fresh-fish special. I guess the cliché about one man’s trash being another man’s treasure applies.
I’m often struck by how frequently recreational and commercial fishermen are pitted against each other over a handful of “popular” fish because they taste good or they fight hard or simply because they are easy to catch. How many fish like sheepshead, once considered less desirable by both recreational and commercial fishermen, are out there? How can fishing for these species lessen the animosity that has been built over fish like red snapper?
I’m also dumbfounded, at times, by the argument that states are not as equipped to manage commercial fisheries as the federal government, especially when states have responded to the increased popularity of sheepshead with adapted management for both recreational and commercial harvest. And still we don’t fight over sheepshead at state commission meetings like we do over red snapper at the federally directed Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council.
State fisheries agencies generally do a good job of conservatively managing commercial and recreational fishing, which is one of the reasons the TRCP and many of its sportfishing partners support the Modern Fish Act—because it would increase the role that states play in federal management and data collection for recreational fishing.
CMac’s special recipe.
Cats, Carp, and Courtbouillon
Like sheepshead, there are other fish thought of as trash, simply by reputation. On a late-March trip to Grand Isle, my fishing buddies got to tie into a handful of gafftopsail catfish, another much-maligned, yet hard-tugging and good-eating saltwater predator. I kept the fish, despite some dirty looks, and I used the filets to make a catfish courtbouillon, a rich tomato-based stew my family ate on Good Friday.
Everyone said it was delicious. They had no idea they were eating trash, I guess.
Gafftops, unlike their cousins the hardhead catfish, aren’t bottom-dwelling scavengers. They strike lures as aggressively as redfish and speckled trout and fight every bit as hard. On a memorable day in late August a few years ago, several five-pound gafftops exploded on topwater plugs in the Grand Isle surf when I was aiming for specks. The surface boiled and my drag screamed as if a redfish or big trout had busted the bait. But when the fight was over, my friends looked in disgust at what was on the end of the line. Similar to the way sheepshead were looked at 30 years ago, some of my friends won’t even put a gafftop in the ice chest for fear of scorn at the cleaning table.
But the list of reformed trash fish is growing each year. Bonito were once only kept for cut bait and chum, but if the meat is taken care of, they are just as tasty as their blackfin tuna relatives. Even the dreaded invasive Asian carp is pretty tasty after being dredged in seasoned corn meal and dropped in hot grease. There are more than enough of them available for those who want to give them a taste.
Making the Most of Our Time on the Water
I’m not suggesting that I would give up on a good trout bite or a school of hungry redfish to chase down gafftops or throw chunks of hermit crabs at sheepshead. But, like many fishermen who have busy home- and work-lives, I like to catch something while I’m out there—I’m not going to turn down the opportunity to hook aggressive-striking, hard-pulling fish and keep a few of them for the grill or the fryer.
And I’m not suggesting that improving the management of popular species like red snapper or cobia is less important because there are other fish out there to catch. My point is that, too often, anglers fall into the trap of getting hung up on catching one fish or another, and it can lead to a less enjoyable time on the water if a particular season is closed or the target species doesn’t cooperate that day. It might be up to us to “dig in the trash” more often.
But as attitudes towards these fish evolve and change, it will be even more important that our system of federal fisheries management does not ignore recreational fishing—because restaurant trends will come and go, but the importance of predictable seasons to local outdoor recreation businesses will not.
Read more conservation news at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership here
Our Coast’s Food: The Best Clam Chowder
While turkey is the undisputed table champion on Thanksgiving, most of us who have spent our time around the water would not mind starting off the big meal with a bowl of clam chowder–here’s a look at a few of the ways this great coastal dish can be prepared, from Coastal Review Online.
by Liz Biro, Coastal Review
from The Fishing Wire
Down East clam chowder is always made with mostly clams. Photo: Vanda Lewis/North Carolina Sea Grant, from “Mariner’s Menu”
Most Americans would say that the United States has two clam chowders, the creamy New England-style and the tomato-based Manhattan kind. They know this in a large part due to the Campbell’s Soup company bringing both chowders to the masses. Who didn’t grow up with Mom pouring a can of clam chowder into a pot?
I would argue there are three types of clam chowder in America, the third and best being North Carolina’s own. Some people call it “Hatteras clam chowder,” others call it “Down East clam chowder,” but most locals just call it “clam chowder” because no matter where you’re from on the N.C. coast, it’s always made with mostly clams.
Agreeing on a clam chowder recipe is no small deal. In New England, where those other two chowders are from, cooks constantly quarrel over which recipe is correct. Milk- or cream-based New England-style with potatoes and onions might be thick or thin. Manhattan-style seasoned with garlic and often soup vegetables such as carrots, onions and celery has many variations. Long Islanders add milk or cream. Floridians include hot chilies. In New Jersey, cooks stir in light cream, creamed asparagus and celery powder.
It was all too much for one Maine legislator to take. In the mid-1900s, New England clam chowder devotee Rep. Cleveland Sleeper was so offended by Manhattan-style chowder that he kept drafting bills to make putting tomatoes in clam chowder a crime. Offenders would have been forced to dig a barrel of clams at high tide.
The issue was supposedly finally put to rest in the so-called “Maine chowder war of 1939.” It was a chef-to-chef battle, New England vs Manhattan. New England won, and Sleeper gloated. “If a clam could vote,” he said, “I would be elected president.”
Debate, however, never ended.
Maine Rep. Cleveland Sleeper believed that the tomatoes in Manhattan-style clam chowder polluted the stew. Photo: Wikipedia
Sleeper thought, as other Manhattan chowder haters still do, that tomatoes polluted the stew. So does milk or cream, as far as native coastal North Carolinians are concerned. They put nothing but clams, potatoes, onions and water in their clam chowder because they like chowder that tastes like fresh clams. What’s more accurate than that?
Food historians think the word “chowder” derives from the French word “chaudière,” meaning “boiler,” or a large iron cooking pot. When early French settlers landed in what are now Canada’s Maritimes, they found the region’s native Micmac peoples cooking clams in hollowed out tree trunks, Alan Davidson writes in “The Oxford Companion to Food” (Oxford University Press, 1999). Water was poured into the tree trunks and fire-heated stones were dropped into the water. When the French introduced their chaudière, it seems chowder was invented.
The word chowder, showed up in North America in the 1730s. Today, it means seafood stew, but it may have originally referred to any soup or stew cooked in a large pot to feed a crowd. Back then, there was no such thing as an “authentic” chowder recipe.
The oldest chowder formulas were water-based fish soups containing root vegetables, potatoes among them, Food Timeline has found. Wine, cider and spices added flavor and hard bread or crackers bulk. Nary an ounce of milk went into a recipe billed New England Chowder in the 1847 cookbook titled “The Frugal Housekeeper’s Kitchen Companion or Guide to Economical Cookery.”
Mid-1800s recipes suggested flour to give the chowders body. Around the same time, Rhode Island cooks were adding tomatoes, thanks to Portuguese immigrants introducing the state to their country’s seafood stews.
New England-style clam chowder includes milk or cream. Photo: Wikipedia
By the end of the century, New Englanders were leaving out wine, cider and spices in favor of onions, potatoes, salt pork and milk from the dairy cows that took well to the Northeast’s cooler climate.
Meantime, tomato-based chowder became known as Manhattan-style for no exact reason. In “The Book of Chowder” (Harvard Common Press, 1978) author Richard J. Hooker tells of famed New York restaurant Delmonico’s 1894 recipe for Chowder de Lucines made with pork, parsley, thyme, onions, potatoes, clams and tomatoes.
None of the debate mattered to working families living frugally along the North Carolina and other state coasts. They made clam chowder with what was available. The humble version favored in North Carolina also took hold in Delaware, where cooks added butter. Salt pork went into some North Carolina pots for seasoning. Cornmeal dumplings floated on top added the extra bulk men and women needed for the hard work of fishing, farming and tending homesteads.
Coastal North Carolina families still love that basic chowder. Many tourists visiting the state’s beaches wouldn’t think of a fried seafood dinner at a restaurant without a first course of Hatteras clam chowder. It never goes out of style, and it never comes in a can.
Down East Clam Chowder
¼ pound salt pork, sliced
1 quart coarsely chopped large chowder clams
1 quart water
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups diced white potatoes
In a large saucepan, fry pork over medium heat until crisp. Remove pork. Add clams, water, onion, salt, pepper and, if desired, chopped pork to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer slowly until clams are tender, about 1½ hours. Add potatoes and onions, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.
Source: Adapted from “Mariner’s Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas” (North Carolina Sea Grant, 2003)
Recently I was talking with Kenny DeLay about carp. He shoots them with his bow, and has a boat set up for going after them. He asked me if I ever ate one. That went right along with an article I read recently about using every part of a deer you shoot.
I grew up on a farm and we wasted nothing. The old saying about using everything about a pig except its squeal was applied to our living. From that it is hard for me to throw out anything edible, even if it seems strange to some.
Back in the mid-1980s I was at our place at Raysville Boat Club on Clarks Hill, camping in my small trailer. Mom and dad were staying on the other side of the point in their mobile home. I was off for the summer so I put out sinking catfish food under our boat docks every day, hoping to get some catfish baited up.
One day about noon I was walking from the bath house past the docks and saw my mom fishing under them. She was sitting in her chair and reared back on her rod and Zebco reel, fighting something big.
I watched for several minutes and was close enough to hear her coaching herself, reminding herself to stay calm and not reel too fast. I heard her say “”keep you rod tip up.”
I went to help and netted a six pound carp for her. Since we considered them trash fish and considered them inedible because of all the little bones, we threw it back and mom went back to catching bream and trying for catfish to fry.
That night I got to thinking about the carp coming to the catfish food. I found a can of kernel corn, something I heard they liked, and got one of my light spinning rods rigged with a small hook. I had been under the dock only a few minutes when something hit my corn and took off. It turned out to be another six pound carp.
I caught three more that night before going to bed. The next morning I got mom and dad to fish with me and we started catching carp. Although I think we lost more than we landed, during the next three days we caught 37 weighing 157 pounds.
We didn’t want all the carp in the lake so we threw them in the bottom of our run-about tied under the dock. The first afternoon dad went to a nearby marina to get some hooks and a guy there told him how to cook carp.
We fileted all those carp and put the chunks of meat in pint jars with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of oil. Mom then put them in the pressure cooker at 15 pounds for 90 minutes. The jars sealed when they cooled.
Carp are full of little bones and hard to eat, but after canning them the bones were soft, like the bone in canned salmon. Although they don’t have the same flavor as canned salmon they make great croquettes
when mixed with spices and fried. I ate many meals of them over the years.
A few years ago Hovie Smith and I were at an outdoor writers meeting at Lake Eufaula. I took him out bow fishing and he shot a gar. I had never eaten one but he said he would show me how to clean it and cook it.
Hovie took tin snips and cut up the middle of the back, then peeled out the meat along both sides of the backbone. It was like taking out the back straps of a deer. There was a round piece of meat about 18 inches long and and two inches in diameter.
I cut the meat into two inch long chunks and sautéed it in butter. It was good and reminded me of Florida Lobster. The meat had that musky flavor and was a little chewy, but good.
It is way too much trouble to clean a gar that way but I found a much easier way. A few years ago I saw a jug moving around in the middle of Germany Creek in the middle of the day. It had a four foot gar on it and I took it in.
After killing it I gutted it and took a hacksaw and cut its body into one foot chunks. That night after grilling a steak I put the chunks on the grill, covered it and left it for about an hour. When I took it off the armor-plated skin peeled right off and the meat was warm and good when dipped into melted butter!
As I said, we never threw any food away. My mom could cook and old boot and make it taste good, so imagine how good regular food tasted. But we did go to extremes. After a dove shoot some folks pop the breast out and throw the rest of the bird away.
We cooked it all, to the point of saving the tiny hearts and livers to make giblet gravy to go with the fried birds. We would even take the little gizzard, split it and clean it out to add to the gravy.
I am careful shooting deer to try not to hit the heart or liver. I enjoy slicing them both and frying with onions, then making rich brown gravy. The liver is easy to clean, all you have to do is cut out the white connective tissue and the big blood vessels at the base of it. The heart takes a little more time since you have to take out the valves from all four chambers, but I think it is worth it.
I ate beef tongue one time and it was good. A recent magazine article told how to take out a deer tongue and clean and cook it. That will be my new meat for this year when I kill a deer.
Smoked Salmon and Trout On a Budget
Use your “freezer fish,” and avoid fishmonger sticker shock!
By Andy Lightbody and Kathy Mattoon
Photos by Kathy Mattoon
from The Fishing Wire
Depending on where you live, it seemed like a long and cold winter, where cleaning out the freezer of last season’s salmon and trout fillets just wasn’t in the cards. Now that most of the “arctic blasts” are over, it’s time to start reliving some of last year’s great angling memories and making room for some of the fresh fish from springtime adventures that are just around the corner!It’s time to clean out the freezer and turn those fillets into great eating and economical smoked trout and salmon. Instead of $26-$60 a pound for questionable quality, the Little Chief smoker let’s you make “great eats” for pennies on the dollar.
The big bonuses for doing some “refrig-rummaging” is that not only are you going to win a few points from your significant-other and cleaning out the freezer, but you’re going to turn out some mouth-watering smoked fish and likely discover new neighbors and friends that you never knew you had before.
Many of us live in areas where smoked salmon and trout are not something you can find at the local grocery store, or even a fresh fish mart. For many, it’s a treat and delicacy that can be only found by ordering on the Internet, and often times with less than delicious results. Do a quick computer net search and it is not uncommon to see smoked salmon selling for $26-$40 a pound, and rainbow trout at $60 a pound. Add in shipping and questionable eating quality, and I have very few friends that I want to spend that kind of $$$$ on!
Instead, of suffering from credit-card-sticker-shock, it is drop dead easy to make it yourself for literally a few pennies on the dollar.
Begin by defrosting your trout or salmon fillets. Ten pounds of fillets are going to smoke, dry and end up producing about 3-4 pounds of smoked fish when finished. If you want to take the fillets and turn them into jerky instead of moist fish bites, all you do is follow this same recipe and just increase the drying time until the fillets have about 90 percent of the moisture reduced. Ten pounds of fish fillets will turn into around 1 pound of jerky.
In order to keep everything as simple as possible and easy to prepare, our top choice for the brining process is the Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine Mix (www.smokehouseproducts.com). It’s a prepackaged, premixed combination of salt, sugar and flavorful spices that mix up with 2-quarts of water and can be used for up to about 15-pounds of fillets. If your fillets are more than ¾ of an inch in thickness, use a sharp knife and do some simple cross-cuts laterally on the flesh-side of the fish. This increases the surface area of the fillet and allows it to better absorb the brine and spices.The Smokehouse Trout & Salmon Brine Mix is prepackaged, premixed with salt, sugar and spices, and ready to use with 2-quarts of water. One box will do up to 15 pounds of fish and marinates your fillets in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.
Once mixed, fish and brine are put in a glass bowl or small plastic bucket and allowed to marinate for 8-12 hours. Even 24+ hours of brining won’t hurt a thing, and we often throw the bucket in the refrigerator and let it soak overnight. The real chemistry behind brining is actually pretty simple. All fish, poultry and meats already contain salt water. By immersing and soaking them in a liquid with a higher concentration of salt, the brine is absorbed into the meat. Whatever spices and flavors that are in that brine are absorbed as well.
After marinating, gently rinse the fillets and lay them out on your smoker rack to air dry for approximately 1-hour. As always, spraying the racks, even the supposedly “non-stick” types, with a non-stick spray or wiping the surfaces with vegetable oil will keep the fillets from sticking while smoking and drying.
Smokers are as much a personal choice and preference as trying to suggest what make/model of car is your favorite. For home-use, ease and affordability, there is little question as to why the Smokehouse Big Chief or Little Chief electric smokers (www.smokehouseproducts.com) reign supreme. They’ve been around since 1968, are easy to operate, provide constant temperatures and turn out “great eats.” Virtually everyone we know began their smoking-careers with one of these!
Regardless of your smoker choice, the idea behind all smoked fish is to dry/dehydrate and add flavor, without turning it into a high-temp oven. Low, slow and with temperatures of 165 degrees F to no more than 200 degrees F is the key to success.
With the fillets on the racks, you’re ready to add your personal touch and “flavor profiles.” Once brined, some folks like to just use the flavor from the wood smoke. Others want to go with Cajun, Lemon/Pepper, Chili, Mexican, Teriyaki, Dill, Rice Vinegar, and Hoisin or seasoned-salt options. Here is where you are limited only by your imagination!
Into the smoker, and our favorite wood flavor is Alder, because it is a light wood and delicate. For a sweeter touch, try apple chunks or chips. If you want to go bolder, try cherry, mesquite or even hickory. As with all smoking of fish or game, too much and it becomes overpowering and equates to eating a charcoal-briquette offering.Alder wood chips or chunks are the favorite for making your own smoked trout and salmon. Three or four three pans of chunks/chips will add a light smoke flavor without overpowering the delicious taste of the fish.
Our best results are from using 3-4 pans of wood chips (one immediately after the other) in total. Each pan of chips will burn/smolder/smoke for approximately 45 minutes, so you are actually smoking the fillets for about 3 hours, and they should start to turn a light golden brown as the smoking process continues.
After the smoke, simply use the heat from your smoker to finish the fish, which can vary greatly, depending upon outside temperature, wind conditions and even air humidity. Based on those outside weather conditions, your smoked fillets will be ready in anywhere from 3 ½-8 hours. At this point, the fillets can be brushed with additional Teriyaki, honey, Hoisin, soy sauce, etc. Just keep checking them periodically and dry them till they are done to your taste and texture.
Once smoked and prepared to taste, remove the fillets from the racks to prevent sticking and let them final cool/ air dry for an hour. This however is the most difficult part of the entire process, for you’ll be guaranteed that the temptation to taste, sample or simply eat will be virtually overwhelming. If there are any left to save for later, zip-lock bags and into the refrigerator will let them last up to a week or more. Put into vacuum sealed bags and placed into the freezer, they will last for many months and simply need to be defrosted when ready to eat.
Our rule of thumb is… if you think you made enough, you probably will soon discover that you should have doubled the recipe. Bon appétit!
I don’t cook many stripers and hybrids. They have a line of dark red, oily meat along their sides and it has a very strong fishy flavor. I would much rather eat a spotted bass or crappie. And when I try to cut out that dark meat as many suggest I just make a mess of the filet.
I do have one good recipe for those strong tasting fish. I took one of the filets and put it in a baking pan, covered it with slices of bacon and onion, covered it with tinfoil and baked it for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Then I took the tin foil off and put it under the broiler for five minutes to brown it some.
How To Cook Baked Striper with Bacon and Onions
Its very simple. A filet from a three to five pound striper or hybrid is what I like. I spray a baking dish with no stick spray and lay the filet in it. I then completely cover the filet with strips of bacon. Top that with onion slices about a quarter inch thick, cover and bake. Delicious!
Cooking it that way removes the strong flavor and it is good. I usually cook potatoes au gratin and broccoli to go with it and it makes an excellent meal.
The weather is getting nice and everyone will be fishing a lot in the next few weeks. I hope you can be a good, consistent fisherman rather than a luck fisherman like me. And if fishing gives you lemons, not the fish you are after, make lemonade by cooking them in a new and different way.
Jack Gaither sent me a recipe for bass filets in cheese and wine sauce I have cooked many times. It is very rich but delicious! The recipe seems complicated but it is not really difficult to cook.
You need the following ingredients:
bass filets – or any other mild white fish
cheese – several kinds of shredded cheese
Chop filets into bitesize pieces and put in greased baking dish. Sprinkle with white wine and let sit.
Chop up an onion fairly fine – I use a medium onion if I have about a dozen filets
Pour cheese sauce over fish and bake at 300 degrees until fish is done.
I serve with broccoli – the cheese sauce is delicious on broccoli, too! And i usually make potatoes au gratin to go with it. You can bake the potatoes at the same time as the fish. Or just chop up and boil potatoes and cover them with wine sauce. Make a lot of sauce to use with side dishes!