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Smoking foods is an age old tradition used across multiple different cultures to preserve edible materials without the use of refrigeration and while often simultaneously adding unique and distinctive flavors.
Smoking fish in general probably first started being used in a commercial setting around the 17th century in Poland; however, the process had been colloquially in practice across various waterside cultures for hundreds of years before that.
Though smoking fish has historically been a great way to keep things flavorful and safe to eat, in the 21st century we have adapted processes of storing food that can significantly extend the shelf life beyond “just” smoking it.
In this article we will talk about how to store smoked fish to maximize the flavor and freshness of the fish for as long as possible.
How does smoking preserve fish?
Before the advent of refrigeration, traditional smoking methods could preserve the life of fish for months depending on the type of smoking and the amount of time the fish spent being smoked.
As far as types of smoking go, there is cold smoking and hot smoking. Both of these types of smoking originated as ways of preserving food for lengthy amounts of time, but they do produce significantly different products.
Before you begin any kind of smoking, you must cure your meat.
Curing usually involves lathering your meat in salt or injecting a salty brine into the meat. This first step is fundamental for ensuring the preservation of your meat.
The application of salt is a simplistic method for preserving food.
Applying salt to your fish before you smoke it helps to draw water out of the fish which assists in preventing the growth of bacteria.
Additionally, salt is capable of killing certain microbes that would disturb the quality of your fish.
If, after curing your fish, you choose to go the hot smoking route, you will place your fish in a smoker and maintain a temperature of around 212 to 280 degrees fahrenheit.
Hot smoking will cook your fish and incorporate smoky flavors into the meat as it goes.
Usually hot smoking makes use of things like wood pellets or chunks of wood to incorporate flavors into the meat.
If you are opting to attempt hot smoking at home, make sure that you do not use any soft or sappy woods as burning these may incorporate unpleasant tastes and potentially harmful chemicals into your food.
Hot smoked filets of trout or salmon are a popular type of smoked fish. This type of smoking gives the fish a flakey, flavor filled, fall apart texture.
Cold smoking is characterized by very low temperatures for a long time.
This gradual process does much the same thing as hot smoking, but at a much slower rate.
When utilizing the cold smoke method, your fish will be smoked at a temperature of around 86 degrees fahrenheit for between 1 to 30 days.
This type of smoking is less about incorporating flavors from outside sources, and more about preserving the natural flavors of the food you are trying to preserve.
Cold smoking can be a bit of a finicky process as it allows for the meat your are working with to sit in the “danger zone” for an extended period of time.
According to the USDA, any foods left for an extended amount of time in between 40 to 140 degrees fahrenheit are more liable to grow dangerous levels of bacteria.
For this reason, be sure that you use proper technology that is thoroughly sanitized if you decide to attempt cold smoking at home.
Cold smoked salmon is probably the most common example of this type of smoking.
The texture of the fish turns out smooth and pleasantly “fishy”. Think silky pink strips of salmon on top of a traditional New York bagel.
Both hot and cold types of smoking help to preserve food by drawing out moisture and thereby limiting the amount of bacteria that can grow.
But, these methods are not foolproof, and they can only successfully prevent bacteria from growing for so long, especially if the meat you smoke is not properly stored.
How to store smoked fish
Early smoking methods relied on smokehouses (or “smokeries) to smoke and preserve fish.
These windowless buildings were constructed from clay covered stone, wood, or brick often in a round or small square shape.
Smokehouses allowed for meat to be smoked and then stored long term in the same place.
This particular solution for how to store smoked fish is only conducive to smoking and storing hot smoked products, and it has mostly faded out of fashion in modern times.
Nowadays, we know that as soon as something is smoked, it should be cooled, and then promptly eaten or refrigerated.
Most smoked salmon that you buy at the store is vacuum sealed to preserve freshness and then refrigerated or frozen. With the proper equipment, you can easily do the same thing with fish that you smoke at home.
Vacuum sealing smoked fish is one of the easiest and most common ways to package the food for a lengthy stay in the refrigerator or freezer.
Vacuum sealing helps to lengthen the lifespan of your food by reducing the amount of oxygen the food is exposed to and thereby making the food an inhospitable place for bacteria to flourish.
The WOMSI Vacuum Sealer Food Saver (view at Amazon) is a great vacuum sealer option for helping to preserve the longevity of your smoked fish.
This vacuum sealer is great for preserving things of varying textures.
Because smoked fish is a delicate food, you want to be sure that the device you use to vacuum seal it does not over compress it, turning the fish into mush.
The WOMSI vacuum sealer has a “wet” and a “dry” functionality that you can choose between to make vacuum sealing “juicy” foods less messy.
You can also easily cut down the included vacuum seal bags to the ideal size with the built in cutter knife.
A storage rack for the vacuum seal bags is also attached to the vacuum seal machine.
This vacuum sealer comes with one roll of vacuum seal bags, two vacuum sealing brackets, one vacuum pipe, and an instruction manual.
WOMSI provides lifeline repair and support service with the purchase of this vacuum sealer.
If your fish has been properly vacuum sealed and then refrigerated, it can last for up to 3 weeks.
Storing vacuum sealed smoked fish in the freezer can preserve the life of the food even longer.
Frozen, properly vacuum sealed smoked fish can maintain ideal flavor and texture for up to 3 months in the freezer.
The fish is safe for consumption for years to come if properly sealed and frozen, however the taste and texture of the fish will begin to alter after the three month mark.
Vacuum sealing smoked fish is paramount to maintaining quality of the food in the freezer. Without being properly sealed, fish can quickly get freezer burnt.
Freezer burn happens when a product is not properly rapped, allowing moisture to vacate the food and introducing oxygen.
Though you may safely eat some foods that have a little freezer burn, they will most certainly not taste good.
The MakMeFre 2 Pack 11×50 Vacuum Sealer Bags Rolls for Food Saver, Seal a Meal, Plus Other Machine,BPA Free Food Saver Bags Rolls (view at Amazon) are a quality choice for vacuum seal bags that will keep your food safe in the refrigerator and freezer.
These microwave safe, boil safe, and freezer safe bags are designed to keep air out and flavor in.
These bags are compatible with all “clamp style” vacuum sealer machines and are constructed from BPA free materials.
The MakMeFre vacuum seal bags are heavy duty and puncture resistant, further defending your food against unwanted intrusion from pointy things in your freezer.
You can purchase these bags in an 8 by 50 inch roll or an 11 by 50 inch roll.
When preserving your smoked fish (either bought from the store or smoked at home), be sure that you do not refreeze fish that has already been frozen and then thawed out, regardless if it has been preserved in a vacuum sealed bag or not.
Refreezing thawed smoked fish can result in odd textures and less than ideal tastes, and you certainly do not want to spend good money (and time) on something just to ruin it in the freezer.
Smoked fish (and raw fish for that matter) that you buy at grocery stores should notify you on the packaging if the fish has been frozen before.
If you can not find this information, it may be in your best bet to just eat the fish after buying it and store leftovers for a little less time in the refrigerator.
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