Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hot smoked sea-pike

Sphyraena novaehollandiae has almost got a long enough name to be a small and irrelevant fish (basic rule of ichthyology - if it has a short, simple Latin species name, it's a fish you have heard of. If it is 47 syllables, a mumble, snort, two clicks and a gargle long, then the size (and likelihood of your ever encountering it) are inversely proportional to the name-length. Anyway, the short-finned sea pike - or to confuse you even more, Snook (not Snoek - Thyristes atun IIRC occur here. They occur in our evening squid venture. (Yes, I would like to spend lots more time exploring, fishing, photographing, but I earn my living by writing fiction, not being paid to blog about the island. Of course the island and its life will creep into the books. In a way this is my relaxation writing, when I get stuck, because I just have to write it down, and I don't have to make it up or force it to make sense). We'd seen them chasing squid- jigs and I caught these two attempting to eat a silver wobbler (which is not a senior citizen leaving the pub, just a piece of slivery metal that moves rather like that.) Noel the plumber explained it to me in very graphic detail :-).

Two sites I'd looked at said gut it soon, and don't try freezing it. The first part I have confirm. In fact, ditch the belly flaps, and gut it immediately - The first one I kept for maybe an hour and a quarter, and the belly flaps were distinctly nasty - a faint coppery-tinny taste. We grilled one that night - and despite various sites claiming it to be a good to excellent table fish I wouldn't bother grilling it again. It's a bit soft, and not much flavour.

Anyway, I hot smoked the second fish. Smoking is not quite the mystery everyone makes it out to be, if you follow a few simple guidelines (like be over 18 before you buy and ignore the warning labels... um. I mean smoking meat or fish.) The key to good smoking is to salt and then air-dry your fish. If the fish goes in wet, you get little runnels forming, or worse little foamy white oozes. Salting is a trick too, which requires a basic understanding of diffusion or at least understanding the rules. See, most people bung salt on, and bung it straight into the smoker, or pan, or cook/smoke it and then add the salt later. Which means that you have a thin layer of very salty and the rest plain. Salt dehydrates fish or meat - which is a 'toughening' process - which is why you seal meat before salting, and rest a roast. But fish is a different matter - it tends to be soft - too soft sometimes, and often quite 'wet'(which if you just cook it results in that nasty ooze - washing out the taste and washing off the flavourings on the outside) and pre-salting draws out moisture and allows the salt to penetrate. It firms the fish up, and makes it less likely to disintegrate. So I salt the fish quite heavily with rock salt if possible. Then - depending on the type of fish, I leave it for one and a half minutes -to 2 minutes per centimetre thickness. I don't believe - except for tunas and swordfish (cooked rare) that fish should ever be thicker than 3 cm or the outside overcooks befor the inside is done - but that's just my point of veiw. Then the key is to wash the salt off, pat the fish dry with kitchen towel, and let it dry for a bit. Think about this logically - you're re-hydrating (a little) the outer surface and allowing the salt time to diffuse to a fairly evenly throughout the fish. Then you smoke (or fry) your fish. Smoking really needs to be a bit dryer than any other cooking method. The surface should be touch dry and if you poke it gently with a nice clean finger, indent (not tear or part) and then come back up.

don't do it too hot - or for too long. 8 minutes is what I did this for. And - unless you have to eat it right then, it'll be nicer cold, once the smoke flavour has penetrated more. I turned a fillet into a cold salad that evening, with boiled red potatoes (from the island) a couple of spring onions (from the island) boiled egg from Inge's son's chooks, and a few leaves of very own thyme from the garden. OK so the mayo wasn't home made (lazy) or even from the island.

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