Salted, smoked and air-dryed fish were a staple source of protein in times past when refrigeration was non-existent and transportation far more primitive. Today, smoked fish, sold in gourmet shops from New York to California, is considered a luxury.
Fish smoking is a fine art, and skills as refined as those of a wine maker or master chef are required to produce a consistently high-quality product. The variables of temperature, humidity, fuel and characteristics of the raw fish all must be taken into account and kept in balance.
Before the fish is smoked it is immersed in a brining solution that may or may not contain flavoring agents such as rum or bay leaf. The salt in the brine solution acts as a preservative, which allows the fish to be cured rather than cooked.
Wood Determines Flavor
The single most important variable in smoking fish is the type of wood used. Different regions of the United States use their own local hardwoods. The Northwest is famous for their alder smoked salmon. The Southeast is fond of hickory. Oak, maple, beech, fruitwoods and vine cuttings are all popular in different locales and all imbue a different flavor to the finished product.