The Sunday Project: Smoked Steelhead Trout ( or any fish)
with Karen Ralph
I hadn’t gone to Surplus Herby’s in Vernon, B.C., to buy discounted jars of BBQ sauce or choose
from the impressive selection of fishing rods, lures, camping gear and hunting knives. I was on a
mission to find an inexpensive, good quality fish and meat smoker. My father-in-law, an avid
outdoorsman and bird-dog trainer, said that I should check out Herby’s, it would have what I was
looking for. He was right.
Sandwiched between jars of pickles and stacks
of scented candles, the Big Chief and Little Chief
front-loading electric smokers gleamed under the
florescent light. The Big Chief was only $75 and
included all of this: five easy-slide chrome-plated
grills, electric cord, drip pan and wood chip pan,
a bag of Smokehouse alder wood chips, a recipe
booklet and complete operating instructions.
The smoker – 24-1/2”H x 18”W x 12”D – smokes
up to 50 pounds of meat or fish. The construction
is durable embossed aluminum that’s lightweight,
easy to transport and easy to store. It plugs into a
standard household outlet.
This was exactly what I’d been looking for and if
I‘d had any doubts, a couple of Herby regulars,
examining fishing rods, nodded approvingly at
my choice and suggested throwing the recipe
book away. My father-in-law gave me five lake
trout that he had caught and froze in milk cartons,
as well as his brine recipe. I was set.
As soon as as we got home, I thawed out a
couple of the smaller fish and brined them for 24
hours in a mix of kosher salt, brown sugar, lemon
juice and crushed garlic. The next day, I rinsed
the brine off, patted them dry and put them in
the fridge so that a film called the pellicle could
form on the flesh surface. I soaked three cups of
the wood chips in water for about 20 minutes,
drained them and put them into the wood chip
pan. Then I plugged in the smoker, put the pan
on the element, checked for the pellicle, put the
fish on the grill and slid the door shut.
Following the recipe book, it said to smoke the
fish for six hours. It seemed excessive, but I kept
adding chips. Six hours later we
had an inedible, over-smoked, burnt fish –
a waste of food and time.
Luckily there were three more fish and, learning
from my mistakes, I threw out the recipe book
and the next batch was fine. Two pans of wood
chips and two hours of smoking resulted in the
perfect smoked fish. Since then, I’ve experimented
with brines, using Sauternes (a sweet
white wine made with noble rot-affected sémillon
grapes from Bordeaux) for sweetness and
vibrant lift, beet juice for colouring, various spices
and herbs and maple syrup or honey glazes.
After you’ve successfully made your own candysmoked
salmon, there is no going back.
The Big Chief isn’t just for fish, you can smoke
meat, cheese, vegetables and I’ve even tried
smoking salt, but fish is what I return to time
and time again. Earth’s Finest wood chips are
excellent and can be found at Canadian Tire and
anywhere that sells barbecues.
Read the Sunday Project in the digital issue of City Palate.