When I was a boy my father used to smoke eels at home. As most of you probably know, smoked eels are a delicacy in Europe and are very expensive to buy. Being Polish, I can tell you all about it. But most importantly, the Polish eel smoking method works just as good on other fish like salmon and trout :) When I was growing up as a boy in Launceston, my father taught me everything about smoking eels. He would leave me in charge of the smoker and I had to make sure that the fire was just right - otherwise lookout for my father's belt!!! All this while he enjoyed straight Vodka with an old Polish friend in the afternoon or even better....sliwowica (plum vodka AKA rocket fuel).
Anyway, this method is proven and I will guarantee it to all of you. This is the cheapest fish smoker you will ever make....and if you follow these simple steps, I guarantee that you will be satisfied with the result!!!!....................
1. Get yourself a 44 Gallon drum. An old oil drum or similar is fine - drums used to store pesticides or nasty chemicals are a no no for obvious reasons. Take the top off and light a hot fire inside it with normal firewood and burn it until the paint and other nasties are well burned out of the inside of it. Let it cool so its cold.
2. With a grinder, cut a large keyhole out of the bottom. A welder cranked up on high power works just as well to cut the hole. NOTE: MAKE SURE YOU FOLLOW THE FIRST STEP AND BURN INSIDE BARREL FIRST - YOU DO NOT WANT ANY EXPLOSIONS!
3. Next find a patch in your backyard away from anything that might catch fire. Dig a 5ft to 6ft trench with a shovel. It needs to be around a spades width and depth...a little larger is fine. One end of the trench needs to be made deeper and a lot wider - this will be your firepit.
4. Place the barrel you have prepared over the other end of the channel (opposite end to firepit). The large keyhole you have cut needs to be over the end of the channel to allow smoke in. The top of the barrel is open at this stage.
5. Cover the channel with old roofing iron or similar, partially covering the fire pit.
6. Cover all of the gaps/holes around the roofing iron and base of barrel with the soil you have dug up from making the trench. Use the clumps of grass/weed you have dug up to cover the larger holes along with more soil.
7. Test the smoker to see if it draws smoke properly through the barrel. i.e.....light a small fire in the firepit. You need to make sure the fire pit is lower than the barrel base height in order for it to work properly.
8. If it draws well then you are almost there.....next step cut yourself some rodden dowels to sit over the top of the barrel. These will be used top hang fish. They need to be wood and not steel. An old broom handle cut up is just perfect for the job.
9. You know need an old hessian sack. If you dont have one...Bunnings sell the stuff by the metre ...around $3.00 bargain! You will only need a metre or so.
10. Next step is the fish brine. I can't give all of my secrets away, so you will have to look on the web for brine recipes....there's heaps out there and most are pretty good.
11. Brine the fish in an esky overnight. Frozen fish is fine as long as its defrosted by the morning. For normal trout I just scale them, clean inside very thoroughly and remove the gills, but not the head (IMPORTANT LEAVE HEAD ON). For larger fish, like Atlantic Salmon, cut into 1 inch thick cutlets. Saltwater species are also really good...... cod or mackerell are great!!!! Anything that has a good oil content will smoke up just fine :)
12. Remove fish from brine and string up postage parcel style from the tail all way up to head. Make a loop at the head and slide over the rodden dowels you have cut. Fish must not touch each other and should hand head up vertical.
13. Drip dry the fish over a box or towel which will catch the liquid. You are aiming for the outer skin to be dry.....air dry for around 1 or 2 hours.
14. Once fish are dry, fire up your fire pit in the smoker. Use standard firewood and wait for the fire to die down until there are red embers left. Now, use green fruit wood. Apple , pear, apricot, plum etc are best. I am talking about branches (not saw dust) 3 or 4 inches thick cut into long lengths - 1 metre or so. Place them on the warm embers to start smoke. You are aiming at them smoking profusely and only just burning.....a small flame should be just visible throughout the entire process. You must keep an eye on the fire...check every 20 mins or so...VERY IMPORTANT....if its too hot, you will end up with yukky dried fish. To keep it going, simply push the branches further into the pit as it burns.
15. Next place the wooden dowels over the top of the barrel with fish hanging from them inside the barrel. Do not let the fish get too close or touch the sides of the barrel.
16. Get the hessian sack you have and thoroughly wet it with the garden hose while its on the ground. Ring out excess water so there's no runnoff.
17. Cover the top of the barrel with the hessian. This keeps the smoke in and also allows it to draw from the fire pit.
18. TEMPERATURE TEST - You should be able to put your hand inside the barrel under the hessian. The perfect temperature is when you can hold your hand inside the barrel without getting burnt.....it should feel very hot however.
19. WHEN ARE THE FISH READY?........Here is where the head of the fish comes in......look at the eyes of the fish - once they go entirely white, the fish is ready and safe to eat!!! (like a hard boiled egg white) If you are not sure.....normally around 4 hours on a low flame as I have described. This is trial and error to people who are new to the game :)
20. The end product should be golden brown and smell absolutely sensational. The fish should be fairly oily and moist. The natural oils come out and the skin keeps the moisture in.
Enjoy with a good polish beer or a good polish Vodka (as pictured)!!!!!