Smoked fish is considered a delicacy in many areas of the country. Depending on the area, salmon, chub, buffalo, trout, herring, haddock, mullet, carp and eel are species that have most often been smoked. Several of these fish can even be found in markets.
A tradition for smoked catfish has not yet been established. However, smoked catfish are great and are equally as tasty as other fish. In fact, once you have tried them, they are likely to get high priority on your meat list.
Start with either fresh or recently thawed whole carcass catfish in the 10 to 12 ounce range. Fillets or pieces cut from larger fish will work just fine, too.
Make a brine sufficient for 20 pounds of fish by dissolving 2 pounds of table salt and 2 pounds of granulated sugar in 2 gallons of water. Hold the fish in the brine in a refrigerator for 24 hours with an occasional stirring. Rinse the brine off the fish with cold water, pat the fish dry and place it on a rack. A thin, shiny crust called the pellicle will form on the surface of the fish. The pellicle prevents loss of moisture and protein during the smoking process. The entire smoking procedure takes several hours so plan some other work around the house or in the yard as it progresses.
Smokers have experienced a surge in popularity in recent years. You can find them at most home supply stores. Or, if you like, build a smoker at home out of plywood.
Hickory chips are most often used, but any other hardwood such as oak, beech or maple will produce a bed of coals and good flavor. Add either green or damp wood as needed to generate smoke.
Place the brined catfish on either lightly greased racks or hang them in the smoker by the tail. Smoking catfish should be done slowly for best results.
Hold the temperature in the smoker at 115F for the first three hours. Gradually raise the temperature to 170F over the next 19 hours. During the final four hours raise the temperature to 192 F and maintain it there for 1.5 hours. The internal temperature of the fish will rise to 180F for at least 30 minutes when this procedure is followed. Any harmful bacteria that may be present in or on the fish should be destroyed.
Once the smoked fish are cooled, they can be placed in plastic wrap and held refrigerated safely for at least a week with no quality loss. If you want to keep them longer, freezing is recommended. They can be thawed and served either cold or hot. Smoked catfish serves equally well as a main dish or cut into bite-size hors doeuvres. For a really special treat, make a cheese spread with some of the smoked catfish.
Thomas K. Hill
University of Tennessee
Fairway's & Green's Pard'!
Mike (Miguel Carlos)
"The more I'm around some people, the more I like my dog."--Sonny Burgess