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Product Spotlight: Smoked seafood

Specialty producers keep traditional preservation technique alive

 - Photo courtesy of Ducktrap River Fish Farm
By April Forristall
June 01, 2007

Smoking has been used to preserve seafood for centuries. It has been suggested that the technique was discovered accidentally in ancient times when people learned that fish dried faster when hung over fire. It's hard to believe that a process that takes talent and has such flavorful results could have been discovered by chance.

Thanks to technological advances such as refrigeration and efficient transportation systems, smoking is no longer the only way to preserve food, and the main desired result of smoking seafood is flavor. Worldwide demand for specialty products has allowed smokers to get creative with their techniques.

The variables responsible for changes in the flavor of smoked seafood can be controlled by ovens, choices in wood and elaborate techniques of both hot and cold smoking (see Smoking Techniques this issue, p. 28). Such progress in analyzing the details of smoke has taken the guesswork out of smoking and gives chefs more control over the resulting flavor.

While smoking processes vary, all begin with a few common techniques. First, the fish is treated with salt - either a strong brine or a surface coating of dry salt. Most fish are given a second cure after the initial salting to add more flavors. Browne Trading Co. in Portland, Maine, smokes haddock, sablefish, trout, cod and sturgeon. The company cures and brines its Scotch Cured Smoked Salmon in Scotch whiskey and finishes it over fruitwood smoke. Its Citrus and Basil Smoked Salmon is smoked over a blend of hardwood and fruitwood after being brined in lemon, lime and orange zest oils with vodka, fresh basil and natural sea salt. After curing, the fish is rinsed to remove the salt and other curing ingredients from the surface, then allowed to dry in cool air.

No matter how a fish is smoked, the rich flavor of the seafood is brought out and makes a little taste go a long way.

Zhanra's, a restaurant in St. Augustine, Fla., produces its own smoked product. Its smoked salmon is marinated with sea salt, sugar and fresh dill then hickory smoked in a stone oven and used as a topping for pizza with cream cheese, onions, capers, fresh dill and roasted-garlic infused oil. Zhanra's Executive Chef John Doering, also the corporate chef for Coastal Restaurant Group of St. Augustine, Fla., smokes with "lots of different kinds of woods" because they all have unique properties. His personal favorite flavors are hickory and apple wood.

While salmon is the most popular smoked finfish, many restaurants don't stop there. The Fish Market's upscale Top of the Market restaurant in San Diego has smoked Pacific albacore tuna, Idaho rainbow trout and Pacific swordfish on its menu.

A testament to the product development conducted by small smokers is the dry-brined and hardwood cold-smoked halibut from Diamond Lodge Enterprises of King Salmon, Alaska. The product took home two prizes this year, the grand prize at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood's New Products Contest and best new retail product at the International Boston Seafood Show's New Products competition.

Shellfish is also a popular item for smoking. Ducktrap River Fish Farm and Browne both offer smoked mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops. Ducktrap adds its smoked mussels to a cold mussel rice salad, and recommends its black cherry and hardwood-smoked shrimp be used in a sandwich with roasted red peppers and fontina cheese marinated in a white wine sauce. The Belfast, Maine, company smokes littleneck clams over a blend of hardwoods and scallops with sugar maple smoke.


Editorial Assistant April Forristall can be e-mailed at aforristall@divcom.com


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