Smoke fish at home safely

January 1, 2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Smoked fish is unlike any other. As a salty finger food, it quickly disappears from the buffet table but can be plentiful any time of year if you have family members who love to fish.

Salt, smoke and heat are the essentials of making delicious hot-smoked fish at home, but unless you consider one more factor – safety – food-borne illness can be a major problem and even lethal.

Explicit directions on how to avoid harmful bacteria can be found in "Smoking Fish at Home – Safely," (PNW238) a publication of the Pacific Northwest Extension offices at Oregon State University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho, available online.

The four-page pamphlet focuses on hot-smoked fish only, not cold-smoked fish, which are not pasteurized and must be handled with extreme caution to avoid illness from harmful bacteria.

The publication warns that smoke itself is not an effective preservative under most conditions.

In fact, three parameters need to be met to ensure that the fish will not support growth of harmful bacteria, according to Carolyn Raab, an OSU foods and nutrition specialist.

  • Heat the fish until the internal temperature reaches at least 150 degrees (and preferably 160 degrees) and is maintained for at least 30 minutes.

  • Salt or brine the fish long enough to ensure enough is present throughout the fish.

  • Store under refrigeration at 38 degrees or less.

On the West Coast, ideal species for smoking are shad, sturgeon, smelt, herring, steelhead, salmon, mackerel, sablefish and tuna. Those with higher fat smoke faster and have better texture than lower-fat fish.

"You can smoke any fish without worrying about food-borne illness if you observe the basic principles explained in the publication about preparation, salting, smoking, cooking and storage," Raab said.

The publication also includes a diagram illustrating the basic elements of a good smoker, and describes how to refrigerate and freeze the fish after smoking.

Only hardwoods are recommended for making smoke; maple, oak, alder, hickory, birch and fruit woods are all good. Wood from conifers, such as fir, spruce, pine or cedar, can leave an unpleasant taste on the fish.

A printed copy of the "Smoking Fish at Home – Safely" publication can be ordered for $1 plus shipping and handing by calling 800-561-6719, or order online.

Author: Judy Scott
Source: Carolyn Raab