Outdoor News: Frozen fish doesn’t keep: turn it into smoked treats

Unfortunately, fish doesn’t keep very well when frozen. The more time fish spend in the freezer the less desirable they become. And while there are ways to make fish last in the freezer for six to 12 months, dropping fillets in a zip-top bag won’t get you much past 60 days.

Surprisingly to some, fresh frozen fish lend themselves particularly well to the smoking process; you see, freezing causes cell tissue to burst, so fish that have been frozen take on the flavor of the brine ingredients and smoke better. You can really impress your friends by preparing your freezer fish this way.

Prepare your fish for brining and smoking by cutting your fillets into stripes about an inch wide, making sure to leave the skin in place, then thoroughly rinse these fish chunks in cold water and immerse them into your brine solution.

The brine recipe we use most often includes a mixture of 1/2 cup salt, 1 cup sugar and 2 quarts water — this is the right amount for 10-20 pounds of fillets. Pre-mix these ingredients in a stainless steel or plastic container and immerse your fillets into your brining solution. Keep in mind that almost any container will work for brining, but avoid aluminum containers as they can taint the taste of your fish. Then place your filled container in the refrigerator (or cooler with ice), for a minimum of six hours, stirring at least once during the process.

You can add other flavorings to your brine solution. Two of our favorite additives are wine (usually one of the fruity varieties) or soy sauce. Amounts vary depending on taste, but you might start off with a cup of wine and/or a quarter cup of soy sauce — just mix it in.

After six to 12 hours, or overnight, remove the fillets from your brine solution and rinse thoroughly in cold water. Remove excess moisture with paper towels and place your fillets on the smoker grills skin side down, which helps prevent sticking after the smoking job is complete.

A way to add additional flavorings to your fish is to sprinkle spices directly onto your fillets after the brining process — this can be done when the fillets are first placed on your smokehouse grills; for example, you can coat your fish with liquid brown sugar and sprinkle with your favorite spices, which might include ground onion, garlic or black pepper.

It’s important to allow your fish to air dry for at least one hour before placing in your smokehouse. Allowing your fillets to air dry will enhance the color, texture and flavor of your fish, and is the secret of many smoking enthusiasts. Then it is time to place your loaded rack in your portable smokehouse.

We use Little and/or Big Chief Smokehouses (made in Hood River) when smoking fish or game, which are fired with an electric heating element that not only burns the wood flavor fuel that creates the smoke but completes the curing process of slowly drying your fish. These portable smokehouses are designed to be used outside, well away from any combustible material. The smoking and curing process will take 8-12 hours, depending on the outside temperature, thickness of your fillets, and the quantity of fish.

Wood chips impart their unique flavor to the fish so their selection is important. Hickory is the all-around favorite for fish, jerky, steaks, ribs — almost any food item. Other wood flavors are available such as apple, cherry and alder, which impart a mild taste and what we use when adding smoke flavor to game birds, poultry or cheese. Mesquite wood imparts a distinct flavor that is popular for jerky or adding smoke flavor to ribs or steaks — it doesn’t take much mesquite to add a lot of wood flavor.

The better quality wood flavor chips have had the bark removed, which is bitter, and are ground and dried before packaging. A pan full of chips will smoke for about an hour before being consumed, and even though the entire smoking/

cooking/drying process may take up to 12 hours, you will only need two to three pans of wood fuel to add the correct amount of smoke flavor.

After the smoking process is complete, we allow our fillets to cool and then store in a brown paper bag with several paper towels folded at the bottom. Keeping your smoke house treats in a paper bag and stored in your refrigerator will keep them fresh tasting for up to three weeks. Don’t let your frozen fish become freezer burned or poor tasting by remaining in your freezer too long. Wow yourself and friends by smoking them now.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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