This story is over 5 years old.


How to Hot-Box a Fish

There’s something nice about harnessing the connection of smoking with fire—it’s one of the oldest and most important relationships we have as humans. Here's how to smoke your own fish at home. Just remember to open the windows.
Photo via Wiki Commons user Lesekreis

Inspired by Charlet's Arbroath Smokie adventures in the third instalment of our MUNCHIES Guide to Scotland, we thought about how we could make our own smoked fish at home, without the luxury of clean, crisp Scottish air and the guidance of a lovely, calm man with a lifetime of fishy experience. So we did the next best thing and asked Peter Weeden, Head Chef at London's brilliant Newman Street Tavern and all-round curing and smoking connoisseur (his cured trout is worth a pilgrimage into Central London alone), for some tips on how to do it at home, DIY-style. Just make sure you open the windows.


Home smoking is about being resourceful and using the things you've got. Of course you could go out and buy something like a Weber smoker and let that do it for you, but there's something nice about harnessing that connection with fire—it's one of the oldest and important relationships we have as humans.

This is a very basic beginner's method for hot smoking that will impart the flavour of smoke and give you some smoked fish that will be perfect for kedgeree or to have for breakfast with poached eggs and hot, buttered toast. Once you've got the hang of it you can start experimenting with more controlled and complex methods that require ventilation. You can use things like old fridges or chest freezers, but then you're talking about having a separate fire box and pumping smoke in at the side. There's loads of stuff about that on the internet.

All you need for this hot smoke method is a baking tray and a wire rack, some tin foil, a blowtorch and either a handful of wood chips or tea as a combustible. A blow torch is useful—you can get one for under a tenner at Robert Dyas—and a ripped-up egg box to put under your combustible (It'll help it burn and smoke for longer). If you're using tea, some sugar will do the same.

Start with one fillet of white fish like haddock, cod, pollock, or an oily fish like salmon, mackerel or sea trout. I wouldn't smoke farmed salmon—I can't believe that people still eat it. If you manage to get a bit of fresh wild salmon, that would be amazing. It does take a little bit of time, but if it's something very thin like mackerel, you don't have to leave it quite so long. It's very simple, really.


Some really good wild salmon. Photo via Flickr user torbakhopper.

Step one: The Cure Season the fish liberally with sea salt to dry cure it, then leave it in the fridge for a good couple of hours to draw out the moisture. Pat it dry—you want it to be a little bit tacky to the touch. If you put it on a rack and leave it in the fridge once you've dried it, it stops the fish getting too sweaty when it smokes.

Step two: Building your smoker Now you need to make some kind of smoking container. The easiest way to do this is with a roasting tin—if you've got one with a rack that sits inside it, ideal, and if not, a cake rack on top will to the job. The idea is that you need a good couple of inches between the smoke, combustible and the fish, otherwise you'll get scorch and overheat the fish.

Step three: There's no smoke without fire All you're really trying to do is to make the wood chips, tea, or whatever it is your using, burn to produce smoke. Then you need the whole apparatus sealed so that the smoke stays with the fish, which you could do by covering it in tin foil or by placing another equal sized tin on top. I'd strongly suggest you do this where there is good ventilation—outside is good, obviously, or in the kitchen with the doors to the rest of the house closed and all the windows open.

Put your fish into your container (has to be one that you don't mind getting covered in smoke and tar) on a heatproof surface—either a cement or tiled floor. You could easily make a little hearth out of tin foil so that your fire isn't spread across the whole base of the roasting tin, but contained in about a fifth of the total area. Light your fire with a blow torch—you could do it with matches but I would question your commitment. Alternatively, of course, you could just put the tin on top of a gas hob and light it that way.

Put the fish onto the rack on top, but not directly above, the fire, and get your tinfoil or lid on as quickly as you can to trap the smoke—the whole thing should billow. If you're using a tinfoil lid, put a little hole in it so you can see if the smoke is still going. Let it smoke like that for 20 minutes to half an hour. The likelihood is, if you don't have enough ventilation going through your homemade smoker, your fire will keep going out, but you can keep relighting it—it'll still impart the flavour of smoke.

Step four: Make it safe to eat The fish will be cooked, or almost cooked, after about half an hour. To make sure it's set and fully cooked through, finish it in a low oven (about 120 Celsius) for about 10 minutes.

As told to Rosie Birkett