Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Smoked Bluefish and Mackerel

A few weeks back, I took a little trip to the south shore of Long Island. Aside from seeing family, I had an ulterior motive: to bring back a large quantity of fish to smoke. It had been a while since I smoked some trout, and I wanted more. By that I mean quantity. I had two ideas: mackerel and bluefish. I don't really love either one except for when they are smoked or pickled. Walking into the fish store I like, the first sign I saw was for Long Island bluefish, right off the boat, for $1.99 a pound. Score! It was that cheap, of course, because no one really likes bluefish. The mackerel was from the Atlantic, off the shores of Boston. I bought about ten pounds in all, and had them butterflied, with the skin left on. Back home I had to jump right into production. With oilier fishes, you don't want them to sit very long at all. Ideally, you want to catch them yourself and get them going as soon as you dock. Being quite the landlubber, except for the eating of fish, I am not yet at that stage.

I brined them in different brines. Let them rest and dry, to form that good old pellicle, and smoked them at 190 degrees until they were done, which was about two hours. The bluefish, being bigger and thicker, took a tad longer. After they cooled they were wrapped up and put in the freezer for consumption over the year. Smoking fish does not preserve the fish. It must be refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for up to six months. It freezes, I have learned, beautifully. Now I will always be prepared for guests, and the occasional bagel, that comes my way.


5 to 7 pounds of butterflied fish, skin on, heads removed

For the brine:

2 quarts of water
3/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of molasses
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of fennel
lemon and orange peels (I used a whole lemon and orange)
1 teaspoon of peppercorns
pinch o' red pepper

Dissolve the salt and sugar in the brine. If you use hot water, let it cool, preferably overnight before adding the fish. Brine the fish for three hours. Let it dry on a rack for a few hours until the pellicle forms, the fish is sticky or tacky to the touch. Hot smoke at 190 degrees from 2 to 4 hours.

Mackerel - follow the same directions using this brine:

2 quarts of water
3/4 cup of salt
3/4 cup of sugar
2 bay leaves
4 grapefruit peels
1 teaspoon of pepper
pinch of red pepper

Heavily coat the mackerel with cracked black pepper after the brine, before the drying.


  1. Julia! You totally rock! It looks just brilliant.

  2. Fabulous! I love the brine ingredients and want to use them for other foodstuffs. Freezing is the way to go for sure it lasts a really long time if wrapped tightly.

  3. Bluefish is delicious, and you may not want to look at the following information from the Environmental Defense Fund that ranks fish in order of the nasty chemicals they contain thanks to our polluted oceans.


    But bluefish is one of the unfortunate species that are towards the top of that list. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  4. Jane - Aw, thanks! It was tasty!

    Pat - I know, the brine was lovely. I took pictures, but they didn't come out so well...

    Daniel B. - It is unfortunate news, but I do welcome information of this kind. Thank you. And thank you for delivering the news so politely. That list is so incredibly sad. I am very aware of the unfortunate state our oceans are in, and that's why I so rarely eat fish. I actually thought I was doing right with these two, but when I got home and did a double check I found that Long Island bluefish is the least sustainable of the bluefish. It was even almost on the endangered list ten or so years ago. Sigh.

    So. I'll keep this list in mind, but will eat and probably relish the rest of this batch of bluefish. The Generation X attitude in me has a predictably nihilistic response to those horrible mercury levels, which is: even smoked food is bad for me, and I'll only eat small amounts, and not often, so hopefully it won't be so bad. Next time I go, though, I'll probably only get mackerel.

  5. I have never had bluefish. Or mackerel. Or any type of smoked fish.

    BUT. For $1.99 a pound, I'd give it a shot.

    Wait. I said that before I read Daniel's comment. Not sure my anxiety issues could handle a mouthful of bluefish now. There goes that idea...

    Yammer yammer. Prattle prattle. Ramble ramble. Ya.

    Come over to my house. You bring the mackerel, I'll bring the mahi.

    Aloha :D

  6. Mama - I know, right? Would love to be a guest in your house! At least I can visit virtually...

  7. Good post. Do you think it's necessary to maintain particular fish display chiller for seafood?

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