why brine and other questions

Discussion in 'Fish' started by jasper, Sep 3, 2008.

  1. jasper

    jasper Newbie

    I am new to smoking (6 cooks total on my WSM so far) and especially to smoking fish. I just picked up some nice-looking trout and want to try smoking them. Everything I've read here starts with brining the fish. Why brine fish before smoking?

    And then there is the pellicle--what purpose does it serve and if I don't brine the fish, do I need to have a pellicle form?

    And, is it possible to smoke trout and not have them turn out leathery? I have whole fish and didn't plan on filleting them. Fillets seem more likely to get like fish jerky, which is NOT what I want.

    Or maybe, if I don't want fish with that pliable texture, I should just grill them and forget the smoking?

    thanks for any help or suggestions!
  2. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Have ya read thru the Fish forum? You asked enough questions for a book of answers, and alot of it is in there.

    Short form:
    Brining helps moisture retention and adds flavor, as well as adding a measure of anti-bacterial protection.

    Pellicle... meat that is wet, or fish..does not take smoke very well, and will tend to collect soot, etc. especially while cold surfaces remain. Also, the drying of the surface helps prevent massive protein coagulation <The white goop> you see on fish smoked with a bit too high a moisture content. Not that it matters, just less attractive. I tend to brush any off with mop while smoking anyway.

    And sure don't over-cook it. As soon as the thicker portions flake easily..it's done.
  3. flash

    flash Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Does depend on the fish you brine. I tried brining some bluefish and spanish, but if we are making a dip, we want a drier fish, not moist. I tend to like all my smoked fish on the dry side. If I want them moist, I'll fry them. [​IMG]
  4. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Good point.... if I'm making salmon dip I also cook/smoke it longer..ALMOST to the "leather" LOL!
  5. richoso1

    richoso1 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I'm with Flash on this one.
  6. jasper

    jasper Newbie

    Thanks for the explanations, Richtee, and the advice from everybody else.

    I'm not so good at carefully following a recipe or technique--always trying to throw some modification in there. Doesn't work so well if I don't know why the recipe tells me to do something. [​IMG]

    so my new thought is: I've got four of these trouts. Maybe I'll grill two for dinner and smoke the other two to leather sometime when I've got the smoker going for something else. That way I can see if I like the dry texture of the thoroughly smoked trout and I can still have dinner.[​IMG]
  7. Jasper,

    Brining is not the only way to cure fish in preparation for smoking. You can do a dry cure, which is what I do. Here's how.
    • fillet the fish as you otherwise would.
    • mix 1 cup of tenderquick to 3lb of canning & pickling salt
    • cover the fillets with the salt/tenderquick mixture in a tub
    • let stand on the counter for 2 hours.
    • rinse the salt off of the fillets with COLD water & pat dry
    • let stand 1½ hours on counter
    • dust fillets with brown sugar to *lightly* cover
    • let stand additional 1½ hours, heat smoker to desired temperature.
    • start burning your smoke media (chips, bricks, limbs, etc...) about 15min prior to next step.
    • Move fish to smoker
    • Smoke in heavy smoke with dampers closed for 3 hours
    • open dampers ¼ open and continue under light smoke for 6-8 hours
    • Take out, let fillets cool before refrigerating or enjoy while still warm.
    The idea is to keep as much moisture in the smoker as possible early on, while you're smoking heavily. This will help prevent your fish from drying out too much later on.

    I like it very dry, and my family likes it moist, so if anyone else prefers drier fish, start with a light smoke and dampers ¼ open and open to ½ open at 3 hours. Move to heavy smoke about 3 hours prior to finish. I occasionally will smoke for 24hrs if I have a lot of fish in my smoker, or if I've got some really thick cuts.


  8. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hmmm one runs the risk of tarring the stuff if they take this advice literally. Dampers closed is dangerous- and an exhaust damper should NEVER be fully closed. Also, your recipe calls for Tenderquick in an amount not related to the amount <weight> of fish. Use no more than 1 Tbsp. per Lb. of meat. I'd feel much better making the cure up for the weight of the fish I have, instead of making a general batch. Nitrates are your friend, and possible enemy.

    Stop into Roll Call forum and say howdee and perhaps enumerate your experience, and fill us in on your smoker type.
  9. Just stopped by roll call,

    Yeah, the tenderquick does seem excessive, and in a brine, or as a rub on less oily meats, it would be. 3lb of the TQ& Salt mix will cover about 15lb of fish. I premix my cure in batches then just use what I need later.

    Regarding the dampers, I should have prefaced that I typically use my electric smokers for day to day smoked fish, and only fire up my smokehouse when I need to smoke large items like split salmon or hams & bacon. So, I was referring to the dampers on my electric. Closing down a fired smoker would indeed be a foolish misadventure.

  10. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Yanno... that's ALWAYS baffled me... why some electrics do not have an exhaust. It just don't add up.
  11. Yep. I had to make them on the big chiefs I have (by Luhr Jensen). The Totem foods smoker I got at a garage sale had one on it from the previous owner. That's what inspired me to install them on my big chiefs. It's an absolute must for smoking sausages, where humidity is crucial.

    The dampers I made are pretty basic, a tuna fish can lid with holes punched in one half of it, screwed to the side of the smoker, over a hemispherical hole. I put one of these on each side of one of my big chiefs... WAAAY too much vent there. You only need one on the unit.

    My smokehouse isn't anything to write home about. It is 4FT² by 6' tall, 2x2 framing with ½" CDX sheathing. For fish, I have a rack right down over the fire. For hams and bacon, I hang them right up top so they can have a nice amount of smoke, but not be exposed to too much heat.

  12. hot smoked a couple of trout recently.
    Some one gave a mate a couple of decent sized rainbow trout, my Mate gave them to me as he didn't know what to do with them and his partner doesn't like fishy fish (if you know what I mean).
    They'd just been gutted, I beheaded them and cleaned out the belly cavity properly. Way too much blood in there.
    Rubbed some evoo and rub on the skin (waste of time as it happens). shoved a temp probe into the belly cavity and smoked to 165.
    fantastic fish.
    I cooked at around 200 - took about 3 hours.
    Really tasty, moist fish. hardly any smoky flavour but definitely less 'fishy' tasting than trout normally does.

    Brining, curing, filleting - unnecessary for whole decent sized fish.
    Once cooked the trout just falls off the bones. I left them till cold and you can pretty much just lift the first fillet off and then remove the whole skeleton in one go.

    Next time I'll either stuff it with herbs or use rub on the interior of the belly cavity as well.
    But yep whole trout. Just head, gut and season. Nothing else really needed.

    And tq on fish ?????
    What kind of planet overkill are you people from ? lol
    Talk about unnecessary and pointless.
  13. erain

    erain Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    regarding the brining i love the flavor a good brine introduces to the flavour of the fish. it also serves a purpose as it will have a longer refrigerator life span. as far as the pellicle quoting a website and is pretty much same thing my gramps told me many years ago...

    a thin glaze called the pellicle is formed on the fish. The pellicle aids in the development of the color and flavor as the fish is smoking. It also helps keep in the juices and retain the firm texture of the fish as it is smoked.

    as far as filleting or leaving whole depends on how long you want to smoke them, if you wanf more smoke flavor half them down the spine or fillet. oor if you dont have the amount of time needed to smoke thouroughly a whole fish again half or fillet and your smoking time will be reduced, there are other factors other than taste which one may decide to cut fish into chunks or fillets, perhaps freezing after smoking is part of the plan, smoked fish freezes extremly well. so i cut into sections sizes i want to freeze before brining and smoking and when done smoking cool and vacpac and freeze.

  14. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Au Contrair- there is a distinctive flavor when TQ is used especially on salmon. Like a ham is just a pork roast without cure. I do not use it "full strength" but about 1 teaspoon per pound, splitting with Kosher. And it will increase shelf life as you know.
  15. lmao - if you worried about shelf life of cured, smoked fish - you're not making it right. :)

    if you're brining or dry curing and then hot smoking. There is no bacteria left. It's cooked !
    You don't need extra preservatives in something that's been salt cured, smoked and cooked. You really dont.
    Nitrites are an actual poison, they're really nasty. they might be necessary for curing pork, but using it for everything is just not good for you.

    And if you've got fresh fish, the least you do to it the better it'll taste.

    So when's the fatty wrapped in tq cured salmon bacon going on the smoker ? ;-)
  16. richtee

    richtee Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I have stated so many times. In proper proportions they are a prophylactic however.

    Maybe... but if yer processing it... that's different. I'll have grilled salmon. But smoked is different. Agreed?
  17. yep smoked salmon is different.
    But all it requires for cold smoking is salt. I add sugar and dill for flavour and the sugar will help in the dehydration. But it's traditionally just done with sea salt and smoke.
    Hot smoked salmon doesn't really need anything. Maybe a few herbs and some evoo. But nothing else.
    Have a butchers, yes it's a prophylactic in that it'll effect development in children and the ability of adults to reproduce.
    Seriously if you don't actually need to use tq - you really shouldn't. sodium Nitrite is bad news. even in small doses. If you're using it in most of the foods you're eating, then you face a potential cumulative build up.
    I have no personal axe to grind here, I've just done a lot more biology and chemistry than most people. I eat all sorts of crap. But I read the ingredients first.
    If all you're after is a food preservative there are many that are much safer than nitrites. Ascorbic acid is a great one (vitamin c). Freezing is brilliant. Drying stuff works well. Alcohols and acids/vinegars work. Honey is amazing.
    There are no doubt a number of artificial preservatives that are less toxic than nitrites.

    All I'm saying is think about when and how you use this stuff. If it's not strictly necessary - try and use something else.
  18. erain

    erain Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    quit grinding already, you wont have an axe left... ;-)
  19. If it does anything to your reprod. system, I don't know... the wife and I have 4 kids... who knows, it may cause overfertility. I just figured it was because we're Irish... <G>

    I do have to agree with Aardvark that if you're worried about shelf life, you might need to rethink your recipe. I've never had a batch of fish last more than a week. Any longer than that and it's been eaten.

    That said, safety is number one. Using curing salts in anything that isn't going to be immediately eaten or refrigerated is of prime importance. Whether you brine or dry cure is completely up to you and your taste. Just be sure to cure the meat properly.

    What I have noticed:
    • Brined fish tends to retain more moisture. Sometimes this can lead to a "mushy" texture. Especially with fish that's been gillnetted or has been running the river to spawn.
    • Dry cured fish can become overly dry rather quickly, which is great if you want to cure it so you can carry it in a pouch while you're hunting for two weeks. Most people tend to favor a moist smoked fish.
    • Brining allows you to introduce many flavors into your fish, you can create a very complicated flavor that is distinctly your own. Recipes for brining are often closely guarded secrets.
    • Dry curing doesn't really allow for a lot of different flavors. Typically just what is laid on the fish prior to smoking. Dry curing recipes are far less complicated and time consuming.
    In the end, what taste you prefer will be the final deciding factor. If you want the moist, subtly smoky flavor of a brined fish or the tough smoky flavor of a dry cure. Neither method is 'superior', they have different strengths and weaknesses that are each their own.

    Just my 2¢


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