Preserving Your Fish


One of the oldest ways to enjoy and preserve fish is by smoking them over the flame. The wonderful smoky aroma of the wood coupled with the delicate meat of freshly caught fish is quite brilliant. In this chapter, let’s look at the simple steps you should follow for preserving fish at home.

1. Selecting the Fish

Iced whole fish displayed with a slice of lemon for freshness

For preserving fish, starting with fresh catch is always the best. Compared to factory-farmed variants available on the market these days, fish caught in the wild is always better. The fresher the fish, the better the result produced. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on some freshly caught fish, try to keep it alive for as long as you possibly can. After this, thoroughly clean the fish and chill it so it doesn’t go bad. This is especially true during warmer months when the temperature starts increasing. In such conditions, fish tends to go bad quite quickly. Don’t forget to carefully store the cleaned fish and place it in an ice cooler. As a rule of thumb, you need two pounds of ice per pound of fish.

Fatty fish can absorb a smokier flavor. So, any naturally fatty fish such as trout and salmon are good options. You can either use the whole fish or parts of it for smoking. Usually, fillets with the skin are the ideal choice for smoking. It’s important to consider the wood you will be using. Depending on your preference, you can choose any wood of your choice. Usually, alder is used for smoking salmon. However, any other wood, such as oak and mesquite, works well too.

2. Preparing the Brine

If you are making the brine at home, you need to add 2.23 lb. of salt to one gallon of water; the concentration or the strength of the brine used for soaking fish matters a lot. As a rule of thumb, dissolve one cup of salt in seven cups of water per 2-3 pounds of fish. You can always use a commercially available brine mixture. Simply follow the instructions on the packing if using a store-bought mix. To make the brine at home, combine the salt and water over low heat until the salt is fully dissolved. If the brining process takes less than 4 hours, then the ideal temperature of the brine should be less than 60°f. If it takes longer, the temperature shouldn’t be higher than 38°F.

Once you have prepared the brine, it is time to make a dry rub. This step is entirely optional. Using a dry rub will further enhance the flavor of the cured fish. A simple dry rub is a Cajun spice mix that includes various spices that lend a mellow kick and flavor to the preserved fish.

3. Preparing the Fish

Fresh fish preserved on ice to maintain quality and freshness

If you are using fish purchased from the market, you don’t have to do anything here. You simply need to keep it on ice or place it in the fridge until you can use it. But if you are using freshly caught fish, you need to clean and prepare it. Remove the scales by scraping the dull edge of the knife against the grain of the scales. The next step is to remove the head, tail, and face. Rinse the body cavity, remove all the tissue and blood present inside. Once it’s clean, cut fillets from the fish. Alternatively, you can also use the whole fish after thoroughly cleaning its body cavity.

4. Place It in the Brine and Rinse

Thin pieces of fish are about ½-inch thick at their thickest point and should be soaked for a maximum of ten minutes in brine. In comparison, fish over ½-inch thickness need around 30-40 minutes of soaking time. This is an important process and keeps the fish fully submerged for the desired duration. If you are placing the brine in the fridge to maintain the desired temperature, don’t forget to cover it with plastic wrap. This ensures the smell of the fish does not mix with everything else in the refrigerator. Fish is quite light, and fillets are even lighter. They tend to float to the top of the bowl. To prevent this, place another bowl on top to ensure they stay submerged. The bowl holding the fish and brine shouldn’t be too tightly packed. There must be room for the fish to circulate instead of getting cramped up.

After patiently waiting for the fish to soak in brine, it is time to prepare it. Remove it from the brine bath, rinse it under cool water, and dry it. The simplest and efficient way to do this is by patting them dry using paper towels. Alternatively, use grease racks and place the fish on them. Wait for around 2-3 hours or until a shiny skin or pellicle has formed on the fish. This ensures the natural juices from the fish are not lost during the smoking process. Once the fish is dry, it’s time to apply the dry rub. This is entirely up to you. If you don’t feel like adding any spice rub, skip the step. Before you apply the spice rub, don’t forget to coat the fish lightly with a layer of butter, so the spice rub sticks to the fish evenly.

5. Smoke the fish

While smoking the fish, the ideal temperature should be less than 150 °F. Maintain this temperature for the initial 1-2 hours of smoking. After 2 hours, turn the heat up to 200°F and continue smoking. The fish is thoroughly cooked once it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F. It’s always better to smoke the fish at a low temperature to preserve the flavor and texture. To keep the grates of the smoker clean and don’t want the fish to stick to it, use aluminum foil. Place the fillets or fish on the aluminum foil with the skin side up while smoking it. If you are using skinless fillets, use a solid surface such as a wooden plank to ensure the fillets don’t fall into the smoker. To regulate the smoker’s temperature, especially if it tends to heat beyond 200°F, put some ice in a pan and place it inside the smoker.

6. Enjoy the Fish!

Once the fish is brined and smoked, it is time to enjoy it! Serve it with some baked potatoes or fries for a classic fish and chips meal. It also pairs well with crusty bread and butter, salad, and some flavored rice! If you don’t want to eat it immediately, you can store it for later. To do this, wrap the smoked fish in foil or wax paper. When placed in the refrigerator, it can stay for up to 10 days. To prolong its life, you can place it in the freezer.

Chapter 10: Preserving Your Poultry

Nothing compares to the wonderful aroma and taste of smoked or cured poultry such as smoked duck or cured chicken. The salt, sugar, and nitrites present in the curing mix cure the poultry while preserving its flavor. The nitrites in the cure help retain the pinkish hue of the meat and prevent the growth of pathogens. Once you cure the meat, it can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. A point to remember with poultry, any uncured smoked meats should be stored for the same duration as any other regular cooked meat. In this chapter, let’s look at all the different steps you can follow for preserving poultry.

1. Select Good Quality Poultry

As with other types of meat, starting with fresh and high-quality poultry is a must. Using good-quality ingredients makes all the difference if you want good results. For instance, choose grade-A poultry, considered the best available on the market, and use it within an hour of slaughter. Do you know how to fermentation the food propery, let’s Discover more details about fermented foods.

2. Prepare the Brine Solution

As you have learned by now, you can either make the brine solution at home or purchase a readymade mix. To make a brine solution at home for poultry, for one gallon of water, you must add 1.6 ounces of saltpeter, 0.9 lb. of non-iodized salt, and 2.4 ounces of brown or white sugar. Ensure the temperature of this mixture is 45-50°F. You can use a sodium chloride Salometer to measure the salt levels and temperature of the brine. Thoroughly mix the solution and make sure all the ingredients have dissolved completely.

A commercially prepared mixture contains the correct proportions of salt, sugar, and nitrites. This is a faster and easier procedure. If you are using a commercially prepared mixture, dissolve 1 lb. of cure mixture into a gallon of water or carefully follow the brining directions given on the packaging.

3. Inject the Brine

As opposed to other meats, poultry is usually injected with brine then soaked in it to hydrate the meat instead of just soaking in it. However, birds that weigh less than 3 lb., such as quails or similarly small birds, need not be brine injected and can just soak in the brine directly.

Now that the brine mix is ready, you can start injecting it into the bird. You need to inject a measurement of brine solution equivalent to 10% of the carcass’s total weight. For instance, if a turkey weighs 15 lb., it needs 1.5 lb. of brine. This step is crucial because you must ensure the brine is equally distributed within the carcass. While injecting brine, you need to concentrate on different areas and not just go about randomly stabbing the carcass. While brining birds that weigh around 3-9 lb., such as capons, broilers, and pheasants, brine must be injected in three places. The birds are injected in each half of the breast, two sites on the thighs, and one on each of its drumsticks. About 60% of the brine must be injected into the breast region, 30% into the thighs, and rest into the drumsticks. Birds that weigh over 10 lb., such as turkeys, are injected into five sites. Larger birds follow the same injecting sites as smaller birds, namely, the breasts, the thighs, and the drumsticks. And you must inject the larger bird in either side of its back and once in each wing. About 50% of the brine must be injected into the breast for large birds, 25% into the thighs, 10% each into the drumsticks and wings, and the rest into the back.

4. Let the Poultry Soak

Now, this step is all about patience. Once you have injected your poultry, place it in either a plastic or stainless-steel container (food-use quality). Ensure the remaining brine is at a temperature between 34-36°F and cover the bird with it. You will need around a 5–10-gallon mixture of brine for curing two turkeys or over three broilers. You will need sufficient brine so the bird is immersed in it. Place the poultry inside an insulated ice chest to retain the desired brine temperature. You can always add more ice to maintain the temperature. However, remember the proportions of the cure must be maintained as more ice is added. As mentioned, quail and other similarly small birds need not be injected with brine and can be directly placed in the brine solution. Small birds need to stay immersed in brine for 4-6 hours, while small broilers that are not injected need about 4-8 hours in brine. Broilers, pheasants, capons, and turkeys weighing less than 10 lb. need to stay in the brine for 24-36 hours, while bigger birds need 48-72 hours.

5. Draining and Netting

Once the poultry is cured for the desired time, remove it from the brine solution, drain it, and let it dry for 15 minutes. There should be no extra brine left in its body cavity. If you have a conventional smokehouse, place them on stockinette and have them hanging breast-side down. If you are using a backyard barbecue smoker or cooker, you need not do this. Instead, tie the bird’s legs together using a piece of string or twine, tuck its wings towards the breast, and let it dry out. This helps the bird retain its shape even after cooking.

5.1 Smoking

Once the bird is almost dry, place it in the backyard smoker or the smokehouse. The ideal temperature for this step is around 170°F. Smoke can be applied only when the bird is completely dry. If you don’t let the bird dry out completely, the carcass will have a streaked look after being smoked. Don’t be in a rush and slowly cook the bird on a low fire while generating plenty of smoke. While smoking, keep the bird as far away from the heat source as you possibly can. The best woods for smoking poultry are pecan, green hickory, oak, mesquite, and other fruitwoods.

The time taken for smoking poultry depends on the thickness of the meat, whether it is deboned or not, and its fat content. Other factors are the external weather conditions and the insulation on the smoker. The smoker and the fuel it uses also influence the cooking time. Besides this, another factor you need to consider is whether the meat was at room temperature before you started smoking it or not. It usually takes 4-5 hours to smoke a whole turkey, whereas a whole chicken only takes 2-3 hours.

6. Complete the Cooking Process

When the bird has reached the desired color, increase the temperature to 200-225°F to complete the cooking process. Check the internal temperature of the bird. It is not fully cooked unless it reaches an internal temperature of 162-165°F in the fleshy muscles. You can also check whether the bird is fully cooked or not by twisting the leg quarter. If it moves freely, the bird is fully cooked. Don’t be alarmed if the bird’s size shrinks by 20% or so during the cooking process. Brining and smoking remove the salt and moisture present on the inside resulting in the size reduction.

6.1 Storage

Once you have followed all the steps for brining and smoking, it’s time to store the cured poultry. You don’t have to cook it any further, and it can stay refrigerated for up to two weeks. This is the same timeframe applicable to other cured meats as well. To store it for longer than 2-weeks, ensure it is kept in the freezer at 0°F. If the poultry is packed, cured, smoked, and stored properly, it can retain its quality and flavor for up to one year. Learn more about fermenting.

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