March 27, 2011
Strike Three Kayak Fishing

“Smoke ’em if ya got ’em!”

I first became familiar with smoked fish spread soon after moving to Florida.    It was an appetizer I saw at local restaurants and I also had a friend who talked about “taking a bucketful” of the stuff to his hunting buddies on a regular basis.    In time, I supplied plenty of fish to Brian for his homemade fish spread.   With the right combination of ingredients and a regular source of fish to run through the smoker, fish spread is something all your friends and neighbors will be pestering you for on a regular basis.  Just about any fish can be used to make a spread but there are definitely some species that are destined to end up in the smoker.   The return of mackerel to the region is a reason to fire up the smoker, as one specific species that will definitely be turned into fish spread.

The finished product, spread on crackers, or scooped up with carrots or celery (with hot sauce added to personal tastes) is a delicious item to snack on, put out at parties and share with friends.   I have many friends who have put in a lot of time honing their recipes for the fish spread.   They are very tight-lipped about their measurements, ingredients and chef “secrets” that they have come up with.  But part of the fun is making your own.   Ingredients to consider for your own spread:
· light cream cheese, softened
· light mayonaisse
· finely minced onion
· finely chopped celery
· finely chopped jalapeno
· finely minced fresh parsley
· sweet pickle relish
· lemon juice
· Worcestershire sauce
· red bell pepper, minced
· fresh ground black pepper
· Cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
· fresh thyme, chopped fine
· fresh sage, chopped fine

The smoking process is relatively simple.   Leave the skin on your fish fillets and then prepare them by brining them in a non-iodized salty slush of water and ice for at least an hour and a half.    Pat dry the fillets and lay them on the smoker racks.   Then consider a marinade topping that can be brushed onto the fillets at the start of the smoking and done a second time during the smoking of the fish.    One good option is Honey Mustard barbecue sauce.   

Talking to people who are “smoking” fish, you will determine different things about whether they are really “smoking” the fish meat or if they are cooking the fish and there is some smoke that goes into the fish.   As smoking experts with other meats will tell you, most of this equation is temperature.   How I learned was with Spanish mackerel and I honestly believe that the end product is best if the meat is actually cured in smoke instead of cooked by higher temperatures in the cooker.   With wet wood chips, the enclosed area will surround the fillets in smoke and in five or six hours time the smoke and curing process takes out all the oils that are naturally in a “high sardine diet” species like Spanish mackerel.   The choice in wood chips?   People will use a variety of woods for their smoke but I prefer citrus woods for smoking fish.

The late Captain Mel Berman would use the leftover fish from dinner than was “cooked” and added liquid smoke, another way to create a fish spread without actually using a smoker.    I’m told this is what some of the restaurants do as well to utilize their fish supplies eliminating waste.

In the preparation of the spread after the fish is done, there are many directions to go using various quantities of the potential ingredients above.    If I know I’ll be sharing the spread, I’m more likely to skip one item that I would put in it if I knew I would be the only one dining:  Jalapeno.    When the fish spread is put on the crackers, the individual can control their own heat and spice with some people keeping it “as is” and others livening it up!   My favorite hot sauce to squirt a few drops is Srihachi.   Any hot sauce will do, but if you try this one and you like hot sauces, you will probably keep it around to use on other things as well.

My most popular fish spread was a combination of flounder and pompano, prepared with a lot of the ingredients listed above.    But people are very happy with the mackerel fish spread and “less cooking” more smoke is the reason why.    Heavy smoke curing of an oily fish like mackerel will remove a lot of the oils in the meat.    The other ingredients will add extra taste and the right consistency to the spread.

A quick internet search will give you plenty of recipes and suggestions on amounts for the ingredients.    Experimentation and “taste testing” will lead to magical recipes of your own!

Neil Taylor

Full time kayak fishing guide, Neil was an advocate for conservation since before the time he started guiding.Outdoor writer, speaker and radio show host, Neil connected closely with Captain Mel Berman and did many positives with Mel to promote ethical angling. After Mel passed away, Neil managed and eventually became that web site’s owner.
Neil Taylor

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