My favorite food is seafood, so naturally that would play a big part in my summer project to learn how to use a charcoal/wood smoker like a pro. Some of my first smoking experiments were ribs and spatchcock chicken, but I knew I wanted to play around with different kinds of seafood even before I attempted the ultimate pitmaster test of a brisket.
I'm lucky to live in Florida where we have access to the freshest seafood at wholesale prices, thanks to Joe Patti's Seafood. If you ever travel to the Panhandle, I highly recommend a visit to the Pensacola institution to stock up on fish and shellfish for your vacation.
My first seafood smoke was a side of salmon and some Ahi tuna. Joe Patti's makes a tuna dip that I absolutely love, but I was determined to make a better version myself.
The first step in smoking seafood is to brine it so that it doesn't dry out during the smoking process. It also adds to the flavor of the fish. This can either be a wet or dry brine (more on that later) but with my pound of tuna, I went with a wet brine.
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/8 cup salt
- 1 pound Ahi tuna
Combine salt, wine and water. Soak tuna steak in the brine for one hour before smoking. Pat the tuna dry very well and transfer to smoker set at 225-250 degrees for about an hour or until cooked through, with an internal temperature of 140 degrees.
To make the dip, I rough chopped the tuna as I like some chunks in mine. If you prefer your dip smooth, finely chop it.
Smoked Tuna Dip
1 pound smoked Ahi tuna, rough or finely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise (use more or less depending on your preferred consistency of the dip)
1 Tablespoon heavy cream or half and half
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup green onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (or more if you like heat like I do)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Mix all ingredients together and serve with crackers.
Now, for the salmon using dry brining. A dry brine serves the same purpose as a wet brine - to impart flavor into the fish and help prevent it from drying out.
- 1 cup salt with chili flakes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 side of salmon, skin on
I coated the salmon with the brine and let sit in the fridge for four hours.
Rinse off the brine and pat the fish dry very well. Let sit in the fridge for another hour.
Pull the salmon out of the fridge and let it sit at room temp directly under a fan for another hour. You'll notice I put a lot of effort into drying this fish before smoking it. The process forms a ‘pellicle’ – providing a coating (like a second skin) that helps seal in moisture, allows better smoke adhesion and provides a better looking finished product. If the fish is still wet when it goes on the smoker, it won't develop flavor or color well. When it has completely dried, the pellicle will have a slightly tacky feel to it.
Transfer the salmon to your smoker set at 225-250 degrees for about an hour or until cooked through, with an internal temperature of 140 degrees. The images below show the tuna and the salmon, which I smoked at the same time.
This salmon had the perfect amount of smoky flavor, and the fish was tender and flaky. There are so many ways I love to eat smoked salmon which is good because a side of salmon is a lot for one person! I turned some into a similar dip as the tuna above and shared with friends. I ate it with cream cheese and bagels for breakfast, but the best way to enjoy smoked salmon to me is simply on a salad. I used homemade buttermilk ranch dressing on this one, and it was delicious! I also enjoy smoked salmon on a kale Caesar salad.
Next up for the smoker is experimenting with shellfish so another trip to the seafood market netted me a whole red snapper, lobster tail, sea scallops and jumbo shrimp.
Smoked Red Snapper
For the snapper, I purchased a fish that had its scales removed and inside cavity cleaned. I used the same dry brine as above for the salmon but since this fish was much smaller, it only needed a couple of hours in the fridge with the brine. Be sure to put the brine inside the fish's cleaned cavity.
Just like the salmon, rinse off the brine and put the fish back in the fridge to dry out. If you have enough time, a little time in front of a fan to help develop that pellicle always helps. While that was happening, I prepared the rest of my seafood.
Smoked Sea Scallops Wrapped in Prosciutto
For the scallops, I rinsed them in cold water and pulled off the tough muscle on the side of each scallop, then patted dry with paper towels. I sprinkled salt and pepper and wrapped each scallop in a piece of prosciutto. I put a tiny pat of butter on each scallop before sealing up the packets. You could secure them with a toothpick but I found that by using one piece of prosciutto for each scallop, it was easy to wrap the entire scallop in the meat and secure the bundle just by folding it.
Smoked Lobster with Garlic Butter
I wanted to keep the lobster very simple so I could taste how the sweet meat did with the smoke. I used kitchen shears to cut through the bottom of the tail and pulled apart the meat from the shell with my fingers. I drizzled the tail with some melted butter with minced garlic.
Everything went on the smoker when it hit 250 degrees. The lobster should be shell down.
One of the best things about smoking seafood is that it doesn't take very long at all. It took just 45 minutes until all of this was done. I used a thermometer to make sure that everything was at 140 degree internal temperature before pulling it off the smoker. My dog, Boz, kept an eye on the smoker for me while I prepared the shrimp dish.
One of my all-time favorite recipes from The Chopping Block is Crab Stuffed Shrimp with Tabasco Beurre Blanc. I wrote about it years ago, and it's a go-to impressive appetizer for parties. So, why not do a version for the smoker? I read about a different way to devein shrimp in one of my new smoking cookbooks, so I thought I would also give that a try.
Smoked Crab Stuffed Shrimp
First, you want to buy the biggest shrimp you can find. I got jumbo but if you can find U4, that's even better for this dish. In industry speak, standard cocktail-size shrimp is called 16/20, which means you'll get 16 to 20 shrimp in a pound. U4 means there are under four per pound. They are bigger than jumbo shrimp, but may have to be special ordered from your local fishmonger.
Peel the shrimp, leaving the tail end intact. To devein and butterfly shrimp from the belly side, start from the tail and make an incision through the shrimp but not cutting through it completely.
Remove the vein and rinse under cold water if necessary.
Spread the meat out and flatten as much as possible. Your shrimp are ready to be stuffed with this delicious crab filling!
Crab Stuffed Shrimp
1 Tablespoon butter
3 scallions, finely chopped
1/2 cup green papper, small dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound crab meat, picked over
1 Tablespoon Dijob mustard
Dash cayenne pepper
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons parsley, rough chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 pound large tail on shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter. Gently sauté the scallions and peppers until softened. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in the crab meat, mustard, cayenne, Tabasco sauce, breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, egg, parsley and lemon juice. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Form the crab meat mixture around the shrimp, but be sure to leave the tail poking out. This is a loose filling so don't worry about trying to get it to completely adhere to the shrimp.
The shrimp and filling didn't want to hold together well, so I knew they couldn't be placed directly on the smoker's grate. So, I pulled out my trusty Emile Henry pie dish (which is obviously good for a lot more than just pie baking), lightly buttered it and arranged the shrimp in it.
Smoke at 250 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the shrimp is 140 degrees.
I had extra crab stuffing and considering the expensive price of crab these days, I wasn't about to let that go to waste. So, I mixed some with my scrambled eggs the next morning. You can also use it to make crab cakes or top a steak with it if you are feeling fancy!
If you aren't the experimenting type, especially when it comes to seafood which can be pricey, we have two classes coming up this weekend to help hone your skills. One is in-person at Lincoln Square if you are local to Chicago and the other is virtual, so you can join us from anywhere:
- Shellfish on the Grill Demo Saturday, August 28 6:30pm Lincoln Square
- Virtual Sunday Dinner on the Grill: Lobster Thermidor Sunday, August 29 4pm CST
We also have lots of other seafood-focused classes:
- Italian Steakhouse Demonstration Thursday, September 2 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Shrimp Diavolo
- Jamaican Grilling Demo on the Patio Saturday, September 4 11am Lincoln Square featuring Citrus Marinated Shrimp with Grilled Scallions and Mango-Habanero Relish
- New Orleans Brunch Demo on the Grill Sunday, September 5 11am Lincoln Square featuring Cajun Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Remoulade
- Seafood Boil Demonstration Friday, September 10 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Seafood Boil with Shrimp, Crawfish Tails, Andouille Sausage, Corn and Potatoes
- Hands-On Summer in the City on the Patio Friday, September 10 6:30pm Lincoln Square featuring Grilled Scallops with Sweet Corn-Prosciutto Relish
Making seafood on the grill is this week's challenge for our private Facebook group. Join the group, smoke or grill some seafood this week and share your creations with other home cooks.