There are few foods that bring me as much joy as smoked bluefish. Specifically, smoked bluefish on a Ritz cracker with a little dollop of sour cream in between.
And not just ANY smoked bluefish. Certainly not store-bought smoked bluefish. No, if you really want to appreciate smoked bluefish, you need to catch it and smoke it yourself. I realize that some of my readers don't live near the northern Atlantic, and may never get the opportunity to catch and smoke a bluefish filet, and for that I am sympathetic. Please forgive me while I go on and on and on, unfettered. I can't help it.
There are a lot of people who turn up their noses at bluefish. They say it's too oily, too strongly flavored. I've never felt that way, but smoking the fish is certainly one way to eliminate any oily or strong fish flavors. But it also depends on the size of the fish.
The babies - the skipjacks - are just little guys, ranging from about six to ten inches. The flesh is delicate at this age, and we usually just dredge them lightly in flour and pan fry them very quickly. When they're about two to three pounds, that's the best size to eat them without smoke. Especially if you bleed them immediately after they're caught. A lot of the undesirable flavor probably comes from the blood, so if that's drained off before it has a chance to settle, the fish tastes cleaner. At this size, I usually bake the filets with a seasoned cracker topping. It's also good for various Asian-style whole fish dishes. As the fish get up to four pounds and over, that's when we smoke them. The filets are a nice size, the flesh is thick and can stand up to hours of smoke.
I mentioned yesterday that my husband brought home three nice-sized blues, mixed up a brine, and put the filets in to soak overnight.
That was early Saturday evening. The fish hung out in the brine, in the fridge, until late Sunday morning.
Bill topped the brined fish with a variety of seasoning combinations. Several were done with a blend of lemon pepper and salt, and one of those also had paprika. One had salt and curry powder. One had salt and garam masala. And one had a chili garlic paste and some paprika for additional color. And salt.
At noon, he set up his Little Chief electric smoker (our grill wouldn't be able to accommodate all six filets)
and got things going.
Every hour, we added some more smoking chips,
and about six and a half hours later, Bill took out the two bottom filets, which, because they were closest to the heating element, were done first.
He left the rest of the fish in there until nine at night.
I don't know when or where we started eating smoked bluefish on Ritz crackers with sour cream, but that's our tried-and-true recipe and we seldom deviate from it.
The kids, naturally, have their own individual preferences. Alex leaves off the sour cream - he doesn't like the texture. Julia? Well, for some reason Julia hasn't been her usual fish-loving self the last few days, so she just ate sour cream on some crackers and Bill ate her fish.
We gave the kids the fish with garam masala, figuring (correctly) that they wouldn't like the chili pepper heat on the other one.
Bill and I both agreed we really liked the chili paste on the fish - the little kick is nice mixed in with the smokey taste, and both are balanced out by the cool, tart, creamy sour cream.
And, of course, everything tastes great when it sits...well, you know.
I guess it's sort of like a poor man's version of caviar and sour cream on a blini.
Keep your money - I'll have the bluefish.