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DEFINITION:
A process by which salted seafood — fillets, steaks, loins, whole fish or shellfish — is flavored by being placed in a drying oven where dense smoke is passed around and through the product. Finfish commonly smoked are salmon, herring, haddock, pollock, whiting, catfish, trout and mackerel. Smoked shellfish include clams, oysters, shrimp, scallops and mussels.

Advantages

Added profit. Smoking creates tasty products from inexpensive, underutilized finfish like mackerel and exotic products from prime, high-quality fish like bluefin tuna. 

Unlimited market. There’s a sizeable range of seafood that can be smoked and a range of options for curing and smoking — from lightly to heavily salted, and nearly raw to jerky-like. 

Shelf life. Smoked seafood will keep three months if properly refrigerated.

Disadvantages

Not shelf stable. Most smoked products other than jerky must be refrigerated as if they were fresh.

Easily overcooked. Extra care must be taken when cooking fillets, especially thin fillets of lean-meated fish species.

Checklist

  • Look for a bright, glossy surface with no trace of blood or salt. Flesh should be firm but silky. 
  • Skin should be moist but not sticky to the touch, and flesh should flake away easily from the bones. 
  • Vacuum-packed smoked seafood should appear fresh and moist. Air in the package, swelling or loss of vacuum may indicate spoilage.

How It's Done

Oven types. Two types of ovens are typical in smoking: forced-air ovens, in which air and smoke are mechanically pumped around the product (normally a horizontal flow is used for seafood, which is typically placed on racks), or natural convection ovens, in which air and smoke flow freely around the product. 

Smoke options. Various kinds of hardwoods are used during smoking, depending on the product being smoked, the flavor desired, available wood and regional traditions. In the Pacific Northwest, smokers use a lot of alder. In New England, they use more oak and maple. Hickory-smoked seafood is common in the South. 

Curing. Before being placed in the smoker, fish is cured by being soaked in brine or coated or injected with salt. Curing firms up the flesh, adds flavor and gloss and removes moisture that allows bacterial growth. Seasonings like brown sugar, garlic or pepper are often added during the curing phase. 

Brining tends to leave fish more tender than coating, or “dry salting.” Coating helps dry the outside of the product, allowing it to acquire a denser, firmer texture. Injection distributes salt and spices throughout the fish flesh but can sometimes leave “pockets” of flavor. 

After curing, fish are normally surface-dried before smoking to prevent the accumulation of moisture and assist in the even deposition of smoke.

Smoking Methods

There are two basic methods of smoking — hot and cold. Though they differ greatly, both provide adequate flow and exchange of air (ver tical or horizontal) to remove moisture from the product. 

Hot smoking. This process essentially cooks the fish by heating it to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F for 30 minutes, as required by federal law. This results in a firm, dense texture. After smoking, the product is rapidly cooled to prevent contamination. 

Cold smoking. In this process, temperatures are kept below 95°F, since the product is not cooked but just air-dried and smoked. Cold-smoking produces a more delicate flavor and texture than hot-smoking.