If any of last year's salmon is taking up space in your freezer, now would be a good time to take it out and turn it into something tasty.
There are good reasons to smoke fish now. For one thing, you need to make space for the coming fishing season. If you don't do something with last year's fish now, you'll likely end up throwing them away or feeding them to animals.
Smoking gives months-old fish new life. While it won't reconstitute freezer-burned fish, it does add enough flavor to make marginal fish not only edible, but delectable.
Early May is a good month for smoking fish. The temperature is on the cool side, so spoilage during the brining and drying process is minimal. It doesn't rain much on the central Kenai Peninsula in May, so the humidity is relatively low, a good thing during the drying and smoking process.
Finally, smoking fish is something you can do while you're working in your yard, tilling your garden site or preparing your boat for summer.
Fish that has been frozen seem to be easier to smoke than fresh fish. The finished product looks better and has a better texture. It's my guess that freezing and thawing removes some of the moisture. Whatever, smoking fish that have been frozen seems to be a good way to do it.
According to "Smoking Fish At Home," a free brochure from the Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna, seafood should be thawed as quickly as possible, but never in hot water or at room temperature. It advises thawing fish in a waterproof plastic bag in cold, running water. Vacuum-sealed bags are perfect for this, because they contain no air, which is an insulator. Thawing thin fillets with this method will take 5 to 10 minutes; thick pieces will take longer.
I can't explain how to smoke fish in this limited space. Several books on the subject are available, and the Cooperative Extension Service has brochures. If you Google "smoked salmon," you'll find all kinds of advice. You can build your own smokehouse or buy one at a local store.
I usually eat smoked salmon as a snack, so I vacuum-pack it and freeze it in snack-size packages. I've found that cutting the 8-by-12-inch bags in half to make two 8-by-6-inch bags works well.
One caution about vacuum-packed smoked fish: Just because it has been smoked and vacuum packed doesn't mean it can be left at room temperature or in the refrigerator indefinitely. "Smoking Fish At Home" advises: "Most smoked products have had no preservation step. There is not enough salt, smoke or heat to preserve the product. The potential for bacterial spoilage and botulism exists."
Once fish is smoked, it can be refrozen, canned or eaten "fresh." If you don't want to refreeze or can your smoked fish, it will keep in a refrigerator (at 38 degrees or colder) for a few days.
One more reason for smoking last year's salmon: On those early-season fishing forays, when the air is nippy and the bite is iffy, gnawing on a chunk of smoked salmon will distract you from discomfort and give you the perseverance to prevail. What more could you ask of a fish?
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More fish-smoking info:
University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service, 43961 Kalifornski Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, 262-7788
"Putting Up Fish on the Kenai," a guide to precessing Alaska salmon in the Cook Inlet tradition, by Hazel Felton
"Smoking Salmon and Trout," by Jack Whelan
"Smoking Salmon & Steelhead," by Scott and Tiffany Haugen
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Les Palmer lives in Sterling.
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