Smoked Bluefish, Fish Wrap Style

by | Mar 31, 2024 | 2024 Fishing Season, bluefish, recipes

Share This Article On…

Smoked Bluefish, Fish Wrap Style

In honor of my work with The Fish Nerds podcast, here is my favorite Smoked Bluefish, Fish Wrap Style recipe.

This simple and true recipe has three equal parts: brine, pellicle and smoke. Brine provides flavor and moisture through the smoking part. Pellicle adds a protective layer to keep moisture in the fillets and a surface for the smoke. The smoking part, well that’s what seals the deal. Each step is pretty straightforward and this recipe doesn’t require lots of ingredients to make a fine summer treat. I prefer mesquite or hickory chips but in a pinch, you can use a fruit wood like apple or cherry. The problem is that the fruity trees don’t provide much flavor against a strong fish like bluefish. So use mesquite or hickory and be happy.

A classic Mike Yarworth wood popper lands a big bluefish

Now the rules. Always use fresh bluefish. Always, Bluefish is a saltwater classic that fits the mold of “Fish and family both get old after three days.” Sorry Mom. If you are buying your fish from a store, and the flesh looks even a little grey, pass. Spend your money of a fishing rod or a day trip on a charter boat to catch your own. Keep only smaller fish. Larger blues tend to be higher in mercury.

Methyl mercury is formed in aquatic environments and as such, is biomagnified throughout the aquatic food web. Some mercury is absorbed at the bottom of the food chain by algae, which is eaten by higher level consumers. At each level of consumption, the concentration increases. Because bluefish are bio-accumulators, they excrete only minimal amounts of these and other contaminates, like PCB’s, which they consume through predation. Despite PCBs having been banned for more than thirty years, their complex chemical structures make them resistant to breakdown, as they settle in organs and body fat.

Bluefish, Terrapins Turbines, Trouble

Randy Degrace and a gator blue

Anyways, if you need more information on these amazing fish, click here. If you catch your own, fish need to be bled, gutted and iced as quickly as possible. Bluefish move their caudal fin 24/7, so they have a load of capillaries to deliver blood back there, which is partly why their skin in so dark. And have enough fillets to make this project worth it. This recipe requires some time so don’t go through the process for two fish. Use six or more.

Fish Wrap’s Smoked Fish Recipe starts with good, basic ingredients

  • 1 quart fresh water
  • 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsp mustard seed
  • 1/4 kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce

Obviously, increase these amounts based on the amount of fillets. The goal is to keep the fish immersed in the brine.

Yak Angler catching and releasing a nice saltatrix

  1. Mix the water and soy sauce together first. Then add salt and sugar, stirring all the while. Add the peppercorns, mustard and bay leaves. Mix thoroughly. Pour this over the fillets in a flat pan. Stretch some plastic wrap over the pan and put the whole deal in the fridge for 6 hours or so. As long as they are submerged, the brine will do its work in a few hours. You can let it sit overnight but you take the risk of absorbing too much salt. Then again, it is a saltwater fish.
  2. Set up a bowl of wood chips and submerge them in water. This will help them last longer through the smoking process.
  3. When you’re ready to start smoking, set up a thick layer of newspapers under some metal baking racks. Please use my Fish Wrap column from the papers, it will make me smile to see it recycled. This can get messy but it sure smells good. Place the fish, skin side down, on the racks and walk away. Don’t be afraid of this part. The bluefish now requires time to dry and develop a skin of sorts, called a pellicle. This is really important to locking in flavors and holding onto smoke. While this step is all about the air, avoid a terribly hot or unseasonably damp day. Let the fish sit for three or four, maybe even five hours. Watch for that layer to grow. And really, if you’re uncomfortable with this part, get out your tablet or phone or laptop or whatever, and look up how traditional salt cod is made, or how Native Americans dried their salmon for generations, outside, on wood racks.
  4. Now it’s smoking time. Place the fillets, again skin down, onto your smoked racks after you have sprayed them with a bit of olive oil to keep the skins from sticking. Pile in those wet mesquite chips and set the temperature to 200F. Keep the smoker door closed and clean up the mess you made in the kitchen.
  5. After an hour or so, give them a look and turn the heat down to 150F. Depending on how many fillets you used, this process will require another two hours or so. The goal is a delicious smelling, flaky fish that still holds together. I would pay attention to the last hour since the last thing you want is an over-smoked hunk of fish. No bueno.
  6. Once your fish has cooled, (this is hard since it’s really tempting to devour the whole mess when it’s hot) you can dig right in. You can also mix some into a killer pate or if you must, tightly wrap cooled fillets and freeze them. That latter option should be a last resort since they really are a treat that should be enjoyed right away. Plus, if your freezer is like mine, it seems to be about thirty feet deep so I keep finding treats like smoked venison or homemade pesto way in the back, dried out and lousy. Don’t be that person; eat it, mix it, share it.

Smoked Bluefish, Fish Wrap Style is a special summer treat

We’ll bring you more information and recipes on the Fish Nerds podcast soon so please subscribe to this newsletter and to the podcast.

As always, thanks. Todd


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Gathering On A River
Thanks For Your Patience
Lt. Lewis Kitts' Last Alarm
Lt. Lewis Kitts’ Last Alarm
TU Wants Your Christmas Tree
TU Wants Your Christmas Tree

You Might Also Enjoy…

TU Wants Your Christmas Tree

TU Wants Your Christmas Tree Trout Unlimited, a national cold water conservation organization with more than 300,000 members, would like to have your Christmas tree. That may seem an odd request but instead of tossing it onto a curb or over a stone wall or watching it...

Surf Day and Stock The Box

Narragansett Surfcaster’s Surf Day and Peter Jenkins’ Stock The Box Fly Tying Expo help us prepare for stripers, albies & full tackle boxes. Both fight off winter blues and build a sense of community with anglers new and experienced, young and old.

7 Late-Season Kayak Fishing Tips

Fishing from a kayak in cold waters can be fun and safe with a few precautions and the right gear. Here are 7 tips for kayak safety with hopes you get to fish far later and safer into the winter months.