Curing haddock and smoking it over a light-flavored hardwood, such as alder or apple, gives it a firm texture, distinctive yellow color and rich, full flavor. In bygone centuries towns such as Grimsby in England and Findan in Scotland were famous for this specialty, but it's easy enough for any modern enthusiast to make. It just takes a modest amount of advance preparation, and a commercial or improvised smoker.
Things You'll Need
- Coarse salt
- Large pot
- Paper towels
- Wire rack
- Baking sheet
Preparing the Fillets
Prepare a brine for your fish. You can vary the mixture to suit your own taste, but for every gallon of water you'll need roughly 1 to 1 1/4 pounds of coarse salt and at least 1/4 pound of sugar to mellow the salt's harshness. Simmer the ingredients in a large pot until the salt and sugar are dissolved, then pour your brine into a food-safe container and refrigerate it.
Feel the haddock fillets with your fingertips, to ensure all the bones have been removed. If your fillets are skin-on, wipe them with a clean paper towel to remove any loose scales. Immerse the fillets in your brine, covering them with a plate to keep them underwater. Soak them in the brine for 8 to 10 hours.
Drain the fillets and rinse them, then let them sit in cold, fresh water for 10 minutes. This leaches a small amount of salt from the outer surface of the fillets, where it's strongest. Drain the fillets again, and carefully pat them dry with clean paper towels.
Place a wire rack over a baking sheet, and arrange the fillets on the rack. Leave room between them for air to circulate. Clear a shelf in your refrigerator, and slide the pan of fish onto it. Refrigerate them, uncovered, overnight. The dry air of the refrigerator will form a thin skin, or pellicle, that helps the fillets retain flavor from the smoke.
Smoking the Fillets
Prepare your smoker according to the manufacturer's instructions, using light-tasting alder or fruit woods, and set it for 185 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you're using a charcoal smoker, adjust the vent and damper to the lowest temperature you can maintain. Usually, that's between 200 and 225 F.
Arrange the haddock fillets on the smoker's racks, leaving room between them for the smoke to circulate. Close the smoker.
Hot-smoke the haddock fillets until they reach an internal temperature of 150 F, which takes approximately 2 hours, depending on their thickness.
Cool the fillets completely, then wrap them in airtight packaging and freeze them for later use.
Tips & Warnings
- A gallon of brine will cure approximately 7 or 8 pounds of haddock fillets. You can fine-tune its taste by simmering onions, peppercorns, fresh herbs or other flavoring ingredients in the water, then straining them out when you refrigerate the brine.
- Haddock can be smoked with or without the skin, whichever you prefer. Skin-on fillets are easier to handle without breaking them, but fats in the skin will eventually become rancid even if they're refrigerated. Hot-smoked haddock is fully cooked and can be eaten cold.
- If your smoker is capable of cold-smoking, set it for 80 F and smoke the fillets for 6 to 8 hours. Cold-smoked haddock must be cooked before it's eaten.
- If you live in a coastal area, you might occasionally be able to purchase small whole haddock, roughly 1 lb. in weight. These can be gutted and smoked whole, and take about 50 percent longer than fillets.
- Garde Manger: The Art and Craft of the Cold Kitchen; Culinary Institute of America
- Home Book of Smoke Cooking: Meat, Fish and Game; Jack Sleight, Raymond Hull
- Pacific Northwest Extension: Smoking Fish at Home—Safely
- Photo Credit Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images