Trend Alert: Smoking Fish Adds Seasonal Flavors

By Olga Boikess  |  November 20, 2013

Smoking fish is one of the hottest trends in cool kitchens, as we discovered while cruising the tastings at this year’s Capitol Food Fight, the annual DC Central Kitchen benefit event. Top restaurants were serving smoked fish dishes that piqued our interest to learn more about the age-old techniques involved. We discovered that the chefs use different woods, brines and cold or hot smoking procedures - some harking back to Native American culture - to add delicate flavors to the seafood. Read on to find out how this fish tale plays out in six popular dining destinations.

  • BlackSalt, the Palisades fish specialist, hot-smokes both trout and salmon, using them in a spread and for rillette, respectively. This technique results in a strongly flavored product that works well with creamy sauces and dips. The chefs also cure salmon, using smoked salt, along with lemon, lime and herbs. The salt imparts a smoky taste that's similar to the cold-smoked variety that the restaurant used to source commercially (202-933-3000).

  • At his Penn Quarter New American, Cedar, chef Aaron McCloud smokes up a storm in “Old Bessie,” his grandfather’s Sears smoker. She’s some 60-70 years old, and sits proudly on the countertop (pictured). He uses it to smoke salmon for the weekend brunch’s eggs Benedict, and keeps a smoked trout appetizer on the menu nearly year-round - currently served with salmon roe, pickled onion, endive and a preserved kaffir lime emulsion (202-637-0012).

  • Chef Cedric Maupillier, at Adams Morgan’s Mintwood Place, waxes poetic about the smoking process, saying that it lets him “interpret the season with food." He can “create a dish that people can unconsciously relate to personal memory…an autumn dusk, the smell of leaves burning slowly in crisp fresh air, the warm orange color of the scenery." He uses a smoker as well as a wood-burning grill for a popular salmon preparation - brining the fish, and then quickly smoking it with applewood to just coat the flesh with a delicate wood fragrance.  Roasted and puréed squash, braised cabbage, quinoa and a chorizo jus are the accompaniments for this specialty that, he thinks, appeals to America’s BBQ culture (202-234-6732).

  • Credit: Scott Suchman

    Executive chef Brian McBride developed a hearty smoked  BBQ salmon dish for Arlington’s Mussel Bar & Grille. His chefs brine and short-smoke the fish “to give it an extra punch of flavor to make it unique," he explains. Since it’s smoked for only about 12-15 minutes, it’s not cooked, just given a different “flavor profile." As for the BBQ sauce, he points out that “the acids on the tomatoes and sweetness from the onions and cognac level off the smoky flavor." It’s served with basil smashed potatoes and rapini (703-841-2337).

  • At Frederik de Pue’s Table in Shaw, chef Francis Carrier follows traditional Inuit tribe techniques from his native Quebec region. Atlantic salmon (with good fat content) is brined, then dried overnight. Maple syrup and brown sugar are used during a warm smoking process over water-soaked, maple wood chips. De Pue likes to serve pickles with smoked fish, as “they cut through the smokiness that coats your palate," he says. Currently he pairs the smoked salmon with spinach sour cream and waffles (at brunch), and suggests a malty beer “instead of a hoppy one that would be too bitter” (202-588-5200).

  • Chef Lonnie Zoeller, at Vinoteca in Adams Morgan, likes to smoke rockfish because, he explains, it’s “a local MD fish and is very sustainable,” and it has a “pretty mild flavor and meaty, flaky texture.” What’s more, he says, it’s “a great way to use the entire fish and reduce waste." He smokes the parts that don't make it into the prime entree cuts," and creates a “whole new product." It’s paired with eggs that complement the salty, smoky flavor of the fish, dill and crème fraîche on the brunch menu (202-332-9463).