Smoked Haddock

Cold smoked Haddock is the main ingredient in Finnan Haddie, a delicacy of my family from Nova Scotia.  I’ve seldom seen it outside of the Maritimes, and only found it frozen in New England, with only one exception in Stonington, Maine.  Chef use this secret ingredient in chowders.   If you know of anyone commercially making this, please feel free to leave a comment.   You can find my Finnan Haddie recipe here.

This is for a batch of 3-4lbs of Haddock and is in three steps: Brine, form pellicule, and cold-smoke.   It will take all day, so I usually smoke on a rainy day.   The brine semi-preserves the fish, and the cold smoke additionally cures the fish.   However this is not a fully cured recipe and you should refrigerate/freeze to store and then fully cook smoked haddock.   You can get sick by eating food not properly cured, so you may want to read some books on this before you make this.  In other words, I take no responsibility for your use of this recipe.

Preface: This is a starting point.  I just had some finnan haddie from this recipe and I wished it was smokier.   That means longer time in the smoker, which means to be safer, I’d increase the salt in the brine to ensure its cured more…again were smoking cold, so its a raw piece of fish outside for 10+ hours.

1/4 C kosher salt
1/4 C white sugar
15 peppercorns (make sure they are all the same size, and use exactly 15)
2 bay leaves crumbled
2 C water
Boil all above (not the haddock)
Add 3 C cold water (or same volume ice) to make total of 5 cups of cold brine.
Once the liquid is cold, brine the fish in fridge for 1.5-2 hours.

For optimal smoking a pellicule must form on the fish.  Pat dry with towels fillets until they are no longer wet and arrange them on a wire rack.   I put a baking sheet underneath in case the fish drips.  Use a small fan to blow air across the fish for 1-2 hours, or until they are about room temperature and there is a sticky, matte appearance to the fish.   During this process my jealous wife gets in on the smoking action and lights (pine tree scented) incense as she married a musician not a fish monger.   Yes it will smell slightly like a fish monger while you do this.  Obviously keep flys, dogs, cats, beavers, or anything else away from the fish during this process.

Cold Smoke:
Arrange the fillets on an oiled rack so they do not stick while smoking.  You will want them to be spaced enough for smoke to work its way around your smoker, as to maximize surface area of the fish.   Cold smoke 5-8 hours at low temperature (70 degrees).   I use mostly apple, some cherry, and a small amount of hickory at start.   A cold smoker uses heat to make smoke, but the heat does not enter the smoking chamber.   My neighbor in Nova Scotia puts sawdust down in a small (4′ x 8′, 10′ tall) converted shed that has an opening in the roof.   Sawdust is put in rows on the floor and burnt creating the smoke.  He uses spruce shavings.   For my smoker I use a commercially made consumer hot smoker that I have added a cold smoke generator to.   Its a stainless tube that sits on the side burning wood chips whilst a fish tank bubbler blows air through the bottom and into the smoke box.   I use a Smokai on mine, but there are tons of ways to generate smoke.   Many are overpriced metal tubes with a fish tank bubbler, but there are other options.  Just remember you don’t want the heat in a cold smoker.  I have to tend the Smokai about every 20 minutes with the air up all the way and use a propane torch to keep lit.  Since I’m not feeding a village, I make 3-4lb batches and vaccum-pack and freeze what I don’t immediately eat (after cooking in a recipe).   Final color should be yellowish, but not a super dark color.  Much commercially produced product has dye added.   If you increase the cure (brine) you could smoke longer.  I think if I had the patience and did bigger batches, I’d prefer a 12-15 hours.  Either way its all delicious.

Additional notes:
The degree to which you salt (brine) the fish and cold smoke your fish will produce different degrees of: “shelf “-life, saltiness, smokiness.    This recipe is not particularly salty, and a good medium smoke.  The flesh is not dried out and its great for finnan haddie.   I’ve had some smoked haddock that was very salty and tough and it’s probably closer to the origins as it would be more stable for storage.   My understanding is the original smoked haddock would have been very salted and smoked allowing little to no refridgeration.   Come to think of it the fishmonger I just bought my haddock from said her grandad always had some on the clothesline by his back door.   Probably very salted.  I prefer less salted and moderate smoke as I’m interested in the taste not as a means of preservation.   Fresh fish is a must.  Whats the expression?  “
Shit in, shit out.”   Incidentally the fish she sold me was landed (day boat) two hours before she told me about the door fish.   I left after purchasing some Perry and watched a fellow wash his face off with gasoline from her gas pump.   They seemingly sell everything but grease remover.  I digrease.  Do some research on cold smoking and brines and you’ll understand the science.  With this recipe I play it safe as I don’t intend to keep smoked fish in my pantry.

Lightly Smoked Haddock