It’s not really correct to imply smoked fish is a specifically Medieval thing, and for that I apologize. People have been smoking fish since long before recorded history began, and we could have done this recipe at any point on this website’s culinary journey.
But as we touched on in episode 16 of the podcast, since both the diets and entire economies of northwestern Europe during the middle ages were so dependent on dried and smoked fish, now seemed an appropriate time to make some.
Though the fish of European Medieval times was herring, I was unable to locate any in my home town, so I opted for an all purpose recipe, for smoking just about any fish, as was done on Weber grills across the ages .
You can smoke whole fish, cleaned filets, or something in between like the catfish I’ve got here. (The whole fish are little smelts)
Not much of a recipe really required here. All you need besides a good piece of fresh fish is water, salt, and coals and wood chips for your grill. I used apple wood, likely a popular choice for millennia. We’re just going to brine the fish in salt water, then smoke it in low heat for several hours.
TO MAKE THE BRINE:
-1 cup coarse salt, mix with
-7 cups coarse water
I went for a pure brine, but feel free to add any spices by bringing the brine to a boil, adding the aromatics then immediately turning it off and letting it fully cool before using.
For large fish, submerge and cover for 30 minutes. For little fish, only brine for 15 unless you want a very salty finished product.
Remove the fish from the brine and lay it on a greased rack. Let cure uncovered for 2 hours in a cool place to develop a pelican skin. (Even better if you’re willing to cheat, in the fridge over night).
TO TURN YOUR GRILL INTO A SMOKER:
-Set up a pan of water on one side of the grill to control temperature
-Light 1/3 of a chimney of coals (about 8 medium sized chunks)
-Let the coals fully ignite, turn white with ash, and burn off for a bit (about an hour total), then dump into a compact pyramid shape on the side of the grill opposite the water.
-Close the grill with the lid holes fully open, letting the grate preheat for 5 minutes
-Rub the cold side of the grate with an oiled towel, then place the fish over the pan of water
-Add about 6-8 wood chips on top of the coals. Once they start producing smoke, put the lid back on the grill.
-Now we’re smoking. Smoke large fish for 6-8 hours, and smaller ones for 3-4. Every two hours, add a few more wood chips to the coals, and after four hours or at any point that new wood chips don’t smoke, add more coals to keep the fire going.
Remember, you’re cooking the fish with the smoke, not with the heat of the fire. A low heat is good, but keep it low! I didn’t use a thermometer, but if your grill has one it shouldn’t be much hotter than 110F inside.
It’s done when the fish is cooked through and it looks deeply darkened and smokey on the outside. This stuff is delicious and can keep for a few days at room temperature, or much much longer in the fridge.