Except for a couple of half-hearted and unsuccessful outings as a child, I didn’t go fishing until I was in my forties. And now, pushing fifty, I look back on those four fishless decades as a grand waste of time.
Fishing is absurdly, inexplicably, disproportionately exciting.
If you’ve never been introduced to the joys of fishing, bluefish are a great place to start. They’re abundant, they’re easy to find, and, pound for pound, they give a better fight than anything this side of a tuna.
The problem is, when you have a successful day bluefish fishing, what you come home with is a cooler full of bluefish. Now, a really fresh bluefish that’s been bled and iced is a beautiful thing. A day-old bluefish, not so much. That’s a problem.
The solution is as close as your kettle grill.
When you come home with more than one bluefish (or even when you can get fresh bluefish at the market), you simply have no choice but to smoke it. Luckily, you don’t need any special equipment or technical know-how. All you need is that kettle grill, charcoal, some hardwood chips, and a large aluminum roasting pan. Got that? You’re good to go. You’ll brine the fish overnight, and then dry it and smoke it the next day.
- Brining: Make a brine of ¾ c. Kosher salt, ½ cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice per half-gallon of water. Make enough brine to cover the fish, and soak it overnight, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Drying: Drain the filets and pat them dry. Lay them out on racks and let them dry until they form a shiny skin, called a pellicle. This usually takes 2-4 hours. Once they’re dry, sprinkle them liberally with freshly ground black pepper.
- Smoking: Soak about 6 cups of hardwood chips in water for a few hours. In a kettle grill, start a large chimney of charcoal. When the charcoal’s surface is mostly covered in ash, spread the coals in a rectangular pile roughly the size of the roasting pan in the middle of grill, leaving the sides clear. Drain the woodchips and spread them over the charcoal.
- Punch a bunch of holes in the bottom of the roasting pan (this is for the smoke to escape) and place it, upside down, over the charcoal and wood chips. Put the filets on the grill, and cover it. Adjust the vent so it’s almost completely closed, so the fire doesn’t get too hot. You’re aiming for a temperature of about 150F. If your grill doesn’t have a thermometer, you can guess, or you can buy one at any store that sells grilling accoutrement and install it by drilling a hole in your grill cover.
- Smoke the filets until they’re cooked through. This should be about an hour for 1/2-pound filets, an hour and a quarter for 3/4–pound filets, and an hour and a half or longer for larger filets.