Smokin' Fish

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

But if all you have is a kettle grill, you still can compete with your smoker-equipped friends. The key is having a grill that can be closed reasonably tight. Any grill with a close-fitting lid will do. Here's how to proceed.

The Fish

I don't know any kind of fish whose flavor isn't improved by grilling. Barbecued trout rivals imported smoked salmon for flavor. Smoked striped bass reminds me of the grilled halibut fillets served in four-star restaurants. Bluegill, catfish, even nongame fish are taste treats after grilling. I've never had the good fortune to sample smoked sturgeon, but I'm told the cooked critter is as delicious as the l ive fish is ugly.

Preparation prior to cooking is pretty much the same as for other methods of fish cookery. Before cooking striped bass, carp and other fish with red meat along the flanks, it's best to skin the fish and remove the strong flavored dark meat along the midline. (Skinning and removing fat is a good idea if your fish comes from waters that are under a fish consumption advisory from the Missouri Department of Health. In some cases it is okay to eat fish from these waters in moderation. For more information on the safety of fish in Missouri, call Gale Carlson at the Missouri Department of Health, 1-800-392-7245.)

Whole fish work best. Trout need only be gutted. White bass, sunfish and others must be scaled first. Leaving the skin intact holds in juices, allowing you to cook the fish slowly, so it can soak up the wonderful smoke flavor without drying out.

There are times when cooking fish without skin is desirable. The skin of some fish imparts a strong flavor. And grilling whole fish l arger than three or four pounds is impractical unless your grill is a heck of a lot bigger than mine is, so you are better off filleting and skinning them.

When grilling fish without the skin, check the fillets or steaks frequently to avoid overcooking. Actually, "overcooking" is a relative term. Personally, I prefer my smoked fish tender and juicy. However, if you want to cook your fish to the point where they are so dehydrated that they no longer need refrigeration, my definition of "overcooked" no longer applies.

Brining is a technique used to hasten the drying process and enhance the flavor of dried fish. Basically, brining is just soaking your fish in saltwater, which draws out much

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