We took a couple of rods and a few beers out on an absolutely fabulous September afternoon to check up on the bluefish activity, which is usually pretty good this time of year, and came back in a few hours with about 30 pounds of fish. We also released about that much.
I've become spoiled by living within range of the bluefish run for so many years, so my position on bluefish is that it's great if you cook it within a few hours of catching; fresh-tasting, flavorful, meaty. I usually grill it whole or fillet it and simmer the meat in a mixture of saké, murin (Japanese sweet cooking wine), soy sauce and some shredded ginger. Since they swim in feeding schools, it's a common enough occurance for a fisherman to have a lot of bluefish in a hurry, so there are whole books of what to do with bluefish...a popular one is subtitled "101 Ways to Get Rid of Bluefish." (For those unacquainted with the bluefish, it's a powerful cold water Atlantic predator fish, quite plentiful, and it has dark, oily flesh, a lot like mackerel. For more information - and more recipes - see Blues, John Hersey's meditation about a summer spent fishing for blues off Martha's Vineyard.)
If I can't cook it within a few hours I just fire up the smoker, and that's what I did last week, since we had unchangable dinner plans the day we caught all those fish. There are lots of uses for smoked bluefish, some of which I'll be posting here in the next few days, but my favorite way to serve it is just as it comes from the smoker, a nice honey brown side of fish. I usually put out a few bland crackers - saltines will do - or little toasts if I'm being fancy, and a sauce made of sour cream, lemon juice, horseradish and minced dill (proportions to taste).
This is a three-step process (brine, dry, smoke) which takes all day, so you have to start early!
4 sides (fillets) of average-sized bluefish (5 - 7 lb of fillets).
2 qts water
3/4 C kosher salt
3/4 C sugar
1/4 C soy sauce
2 bay leaves
zest of 1 lemon
2 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
Mix brine well in a glass, porcelain or plastic container large enough to hold the fish meat and the brine. You have to stir for about 10 minutes to dissolve the salt and sugar completely. Warming the water accelerates the dissolving time but the water must be cool before putting the fish in, so I usually make the brine with warm water in the evening and then refrigerate it overnight. That way, when I get up to get started in the morning I just have to slip the fish into the brine.
Put the fish in the brine. Place a plate or some other object on top of the meat to keep it submerged. Brine the fish about 3 hours, refrigerated.
Remove the fish, rinse, pat dry and lay out, skin side down, on cookie or jelly sheets lined with waxed paper. Discard brine. Place the fish in a dust-, cat- and dog-free place and allow to dry uncovered for about 4 hours until a skin ("pellicule") forms on the surface of the meat.
Smoke, skin side down on a greased, foil-covered rack in a smoker at about 190º (See Grill Basics for procedure, equipment and setup) for 2 - 4 hours. The fish should be honey- to molasses-brown and still visibly moist when done. The flesh when finished still has some give to it, like a rare steak, when you press on it with your fingers. Don't smoke it too long or the result will be dry.
Cool, wrap tightly and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature as described above, or use in recipes that call for smoked fish, such as omelets, paté, pasta sauce, etc.
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