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Andrew Maxwell

How to Make a Fish Smoker

In celebration of the fact that Tanked Up is now available as an online publication, I have decided to go all out and give away a fabulous trade secret. It is something we sometimes teach at my amazing, world class Culinary Academy, Tante Marie and is something I used to do when working in restaurants... basically the home made fish smoker.

There are loads of expensive toys you can buy online for smoking fish, but the reality is that they are incred- ibly easy to build yourself, and you can smoke just about any fish.

Before I begin, let’s just be clear – if you are going to do this, be sensible. You are building a smoker. That means it is something that gets hot and if you are silly with it, it might burn your house down. I must cover my back. Don’t try this at home. If you do, you might die. Have an appropriate fire extinguisher to hand at all times. Have a good insurance policy. Your house may go up as well as down. The author and publisher accept no responsibility for any form of death or injury or absolutely anything that may occur as a result of anything you do. This is your choice.

Firstly, let’s just clarify the different types of smoking – hot and cold smoked. Hot smoking means that the fish is smoked close to the heat source and is there- fore cooked. (Think smoked mackerel). Cold smoking is where the fish is further away from the heat source, and so is flavoured by the smoke, but not cooked. (Think along the lines of the smoked salmon you find thinly sliced and served on brown bread). The bigger the smoker you intend to build, the easier it is to ‘cold smoke’ your fish. I am going to tell you how to make a small one, which will probably hot smoke your fish, but you could do this on a large scale (using an old metal dustbin) or if you are really ambitious, convert your garden shed – the fire in the middle only needs to be big enough to produce smoke. Obviously if it is too big, you will burn the shed down, and that would not be good. I find this often results in burnt fish which has an unpleasant flavour. And an angry wife.

The basic principle of a smoker is that you need a fire- resistant (metal) container which is an appropriate size to hold a wire rack across the top, and deep enough to be able to put some hot, smoking wood chippings into the bottom. (How deep depends on whether you want to hot smoke or cold smoke your fish. If it is shallow, the heat will inevitably cook your fish).

The basic smoker is easy to make. You will need:

  • 1 x metal container with a lid, such as an old bread tin, that you can sit over a gas flame
  • A small amount of chicken wire
  • Wood chippings

How to build:

  1. If your metal tin is painted, you might need to burn or scrape off the paint before using it, or your fish with be infused with toxic paint fumes. (I find this does not really go that will with the potato crepes in the recipe below – it is a bit... erm... deadly).
  2. By whatever means necessary, you need to create a wire platform about two thirds of the way up the tin, that you can sit your fish on. This might mean drilling 4 small holes (2 on each side) in the tin and sliding a thin metal rod through, onto which you can sit a cooling rack or piece of chicken wire, (like a ‘stretcher’ for the fish).
  3. Place the wood chippings into the bottom of the tin and sit on top of a hob with the heat

    on until the chippings are smouldering and smoking. Turn the heat down so that the wood

    continues smouldering but does not catch fire. Lay your piece of fish onto the wire rack and put the lid onto the smoker. (Your lid must be a snug fit – if it is not, cover the tin with alu- minium foil before putting the lid on, to make a seal).

  4. Leave the fish in the smoker for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the fillet. You may not need to keep the heat on for the whole of this time but try and avoid taking the lid off, as the smoke will escape.
  5. If the fish is black, it is cooked. Too much.

There are lots of variables that effect flavour and it is ultimately up to you to decide, for example, what type of wood chips you want to use, as they all have differ- ent flavours – oak is a popular one, but pine (which has a high sap content) is not brilliant. There are lots of websites where you can buy chippings.

Equally you can marinade or cure your fish beforehand – smoked salmon is often covered in salt (sometimes with chopped herbs or spices mixed through it) for 24 hours before being smoked. This draws out moisture and adds flavour. It really is up to you and it can be great fun playing around with options to create your own signature smoked fish.

Potato Crêpes with a Trio of Smoked Fish

These are a real favourite of mine – they are simple to make and easy to assemble in such a way that they look really impressive. A dinner party dazzler to wow your guests! The pancakes can be made ahead and everything else can be prepared so that all you have to do is assemble them at the last minute.

For the crêpes:

454g potatoes, peeled and diced 3tsp plain flour

3 eggs

4 egg whites

50ml double cream 50ml milk

salt and black pepper oil for frying

50ml crème fraîche lemon juice to taste

For the filling:

100g smoked salmon 100g smoked trout 100g smoked halibut

To finish:


lemon wedges

  1. Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water, or steam them and dry on kitchen paper (they must not be dripping in water or your crêpes will be soggy) then pass through a vegetable mill and beat in the flour. Add the remaining ingredients and beat well.
  2. Heat a heavy frying pan and brush it with a little oil. Fry pancakes (about 1 tbsp of batter per crepe) until set and brown on one side then turn them over and cook the second side. Cool and chill until required. (At Tante Marie, we use oiled cooking rings 7.5cm (3 inches) diameter as a guide, to keep them the same size in the pan – simply sit the ring in the pan and drop the batter into the middle of it to cook).
  3. Reheat the pancakes in the oven gas mark 5, 190oC for 5 minutes.
  4. For the filling: cut the smoked fish into strips and toss together to mix. Sprinkle with black pepper and lemon juice to taste. Arrange the pancakes on serving plates in stacks of 3 with a spoonful of crème fraîche and a quarter of the fish per serving, arranged between the layers. Garnish with chives and lemon wedges.
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