While some of you were shivering through the polar vortex earlier this month, I was home in Florida. Before you get all jealous know that I made the last minute trip home for a family emergency. What you could be jealous of though is the quantity of smoked fish dip I ate while I was in town.
If you’ve spent much time in Florida, you may have come across smoked fish dip. It’s a smoky, creamy, rich, refreshing dip traditionally made with mullet, tuna or amberjack and served with crackers or veggies. Growing up, it was on the table at every family gathering from Thanksgiving to Easter and everything in between. No special meal was ever complete without this appetizer.
When I was a kid, my dad built a smoker and propped it up on a boat trailer in the backyard next to our orange tree. In his younger days he was a spear fishing guide, so you know he knew where to catch them and when. He would bring home amberjack which he filleted and smoked for his own smoked fish dip. My favorite memories from my childhood will always include my dad sweating over his smoker as he checked his amberjack. Today, whenever I take a bite, I am transported to my childhood backyard full of tropical flowers, oranges, and that fishy smoker.
The legendary smoker on its rusty throne
My dad never wrote down any recipe for his dip and seasoned with whatever he felt like in the moment, but here is what I was able to squeeze out of him on how he makes his smoked fish dip (98% of the time).
- Favorite fish to smoke includes amberjack and king mackerel. The more oily, the better.
- Keep the skin on when smoking for more flavor.
- Marinate overnight - he favors a zesty Italian dressing for a marinade.
- Smoke for about 3 hours at 200-220 degrees F, depending on thickness.
- Mix with about half mayonnaise and half cream cheese to desired consistency for spreading.
- Note: A lot of people just use mayonnaise but the cream cheese makes it so much better!
- Season with sea salt, fresh ground pepper, lemon juice, fine chopped green onion, and garlic. My dad recommends using minced garlic and pressed garlic if possible for variety in texture and heat from the garlic.
- Gradually add your ingredients to the fish, rather than fish to the spread ingredients. You don’t want to find yourself short on fish in your spread!
- Serve with Saltine crackers, lemon wedge, hot sauce (Crystal is a favorite) and jalapeño if you like.
Where to find smoked fish dip when you’re in the Tampa Bay Area:
- Ted Peter’s, St. Petersburg Beach
- Sea Hags, St. Petersburg Beach
- The Wharf, St. Petersburg Beach
- Tapz, Petersburg Beach
- Crabby Bill’s, St. Petersburg Beach
- Skipper’s Smokehouse, Tampa
- Smokin’ Out, Holiday
- Publix Supermarket, locations everywhere
Smoked Mullet Dinner at Ted Peter’s Smoked Fish House
Ted Peter’s Smoked Fish House
Smelling the mullet smoker on display in the Florida exhibit at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. Smells like home!
Can’t make it down to Florida for some smoked fish? Check out The Chopping Block's outdoor grilling classes coming in May where you can learn how to smoke meat, vegetables, and more on the Big Green Egg.
In the meantime, sign up for our Seafood 101 class happening Tuesday, March 26 6:30pm at Lincoln Square. You'll conquer your fear of cooking fish by learning how to prepare:
- Snapper a la Veracruzana (Snapper Braised with Peppers, Tomatoes, Olives and Capers)
- Blackened Catfish with Cajun Remoulade
- Miso-Glazed Salmon with Honey-Soy Roasted Broccoli
Are you new to fish cookery and not sure where to start? Find a reputable fish provider like Hooked on Fish, Dirk’s Fish Market, or H Mart. Don’t be afraid to ask the fish monger how a certain fish is best prepared or where it came from.