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By now, we all know that including fish in our daily diets will lead to better health. It’s an excellent source of protein that provides an array of vitamins and minerals that are essential for our well-being. But often overlooked are the smoked versions of certain fishes, which can provide a welcome variety and yet still furnish the full health benefits-especially omega-3 fatty acids-that make our piscine provisions so vital.
Smoked fish has been consumed by humans for millennia, though initially it was less a delicacy than a necessity. Smoking allowed for the preservation of the day’s catch long before refrigeration came along, and seaside villages depended on it for their continued existence. Nowadays, smoked fish is prized for its subtle deliciousness, and has made its way into multiple ethnic and regional cuisines.
Essentially there are two types of smoking-cold and hot. Both processes involve an initial brining of the flesh, followed by exposure to smoke. The cold method doesn’t cook the fish, so that it remains raw and must be kept refrigerated. The most familiar example is the smoked salmon usually referred to as “lox.” Silky and delicate, it is customarily thinly sliced and used for canapés, appetizers, and salads.
Hot-smoked fish is firmer and generally fully cooked, and is often served flaked or chunked. Trout is the most ubiquitous example of this method, but others include whitefish, mackerel, and the ever-popular British breakfast food “kippers,” which is a smoked herring. Specialty items may include such esoterica as smoked scallops, albacore tuna, and even shrimp.
If you’re feeling bold and want to try a new culinary adventure, consider doing your own smoking! Inexpensive home smokers are readily available, and tutorials to guide you through the process abound on the Internet. As long as you have a reliable fishmonger, a little patience, and plenty of time, you can create your own unique offerings. Different types of wood chips, from alder to cherry to apple to mesquite, will each impart their own special savor. And if you happen to be an avid fisherman, what better way to utilize your catch and delight your friends and family?
One thing to keep in mind with smoked fish is portion size. Because it has been brined, the sodium content will be higher than usual. Hence, it is best used in smaller amounts: served as nibble food, garnishing a salad, enhancing some soft scrambled eggs. You’ll find that its deep flavor profile makes a little go a long way.
Don’t forget to try gravlax as well! This is fish-most often salmon, arctic char, and similar pink-fleshed species-that is cured, not smoked. Fresh herbs and liquids such as vodka or aquavit (a spicy liquor) used in the curing process make this popular Scandinavian delicacy a unique treat.