I've been trying to get here to tell you this for weeks. There is no quiet time for sitting, no stolen moments of peace. There are sections and specials and service and cleaning and closing up and attempting sleep. There are two girls each morning ready to play, and laundry and cooking and a house to sweep. But! there are Saturdays: outside, all four of us, on the boat or at the beach.
One Saturday in late July, we took the boat into the bay. We had gear and ice and a picnic of scallop burritos and lemonade, and we set up the rods, trolling. We got a hit and then it was one after another, right in the thick of a school of bluefish. Alex caught one and Sally hooked one and lost it, and finally I got to reel one in. We had three keepers by the end of an hour, and Alex bled them out and iced them down right away.
We had way more than we could eat that day, though we fried a few fillets in bacon fat for dinner. We brined the rest in soy sauce and salt and brown sugar. After a few hours we took it out and laid it on a big cookie rack on dish towels in the fridge. I was worried about how long it would have to sit—I couldn't get to it for 3 days, maybe 4—but Alex said the drying out is the whole point. You want it to be sticky to the touch, "tacky," and when it is it's time to smoke.
The smoker we have came from a yard sale, and it's electric. It doesn't seal quite right in spots, but Alex has fixed it up with rope and strategic duct tape, and with a pan of water in the bottom and plenty of soaked hickory chips it makes plenty of smoke and most stays in. There are two round racks that fit into the middle, and they fit our roughly 10 pounds of bluefish just right. I sprinkled a little bit of brown sugar on top when I put the fillets in, and an hour and a half later they were done. We ate a lot, and froze a lot, and last Saturday we caught three more. The fillets have been brined and dried, and today we're firing up the smoker again.
I am now a woman who can not only catch but smoke her own fish! Full of surprises, this life. Hope you're enjoying it out there.
I looked at a bunch of brines online when I was searching for a recipe, and they all seem pretty similar. I made a gallon of brine to cover the fillets from 3 fish—about 10-12 pounds worth. This recipe makes a little over a quart, so adjust as needed. You need only enough to cover the fish.
Also: No smoker? No problem. Check out this article on how to use your grill.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
3-4 crushed bay leaves
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2-3 pounds fresh bluefish fillets
Mix the brine and pour it over the fish. You want the fish completely covered. Brine for 4-6 hours in the fridge. Set up a cooling rack that will fit in the fridge and cover it with dish towels. Take the fish out of the brine and lay the fillets in a single layer on the towels over the cooling rack. Let dry, refrigerated, for 2-4 days. When the fish is tacky to the touch, arrange it on a single layer on the rack of a smoker. Try to arrange it by thickness as thicker fillets will need longer than thinner pieces. Sprinkle each piece with brown sugar and smoke at 200 degrees F for roughly 2 hours, or until golden brown with a moist but firm, flaky texture. Cool to room temperature, then devour at once, or freeze and eat later.