Steelhead are a coastal rainbow trout, popularly fished for an enjoyed in the Pacific Northwest; in fact, it is the official State Fish of Washington. The fish are born in freshwater streams then spend as many as four, I have heard five, years in the Pacific Ocean and return to the rivers to spawn, mostly during the winter months. While part of the salmonid family, steelhead, unlike salmon, do not die upon spawning.
I have not had the pleasure of catching a steelhead of my own but I have eaten quite a bit of it and enjoy it as much as I do salmon. Last week I ventured out to Taholah, where the Quinault river meets the Pacific Ocean, and came home with 32 pounds of fresh-caught steelhead for a small fraction of what I would pay in a supermarket. I challenged myself to smoking some and I consider the outcome a success so I am sharing the method with you today. You can use this method for smoking salmon and other fish as well. You will need a good nonreactive container for brining the fish. I recommend The Briner Jr.
1. Stir together over medium heat until sugar and salt are completely dissolved
5 quarts water
1 cup sugar (I use brown Demerara)
1 cup molasses
1 cup fine salt (not iodized)
1 cup desiccated onion or 1/3 cup onion powder
1 Tbsp granulated garlic
Six whole allspice berries
2. Allow the brine to cool completely, transfer to a nonreactive container then add
3 lbs steelhead or salmon (filleted)
3. Ensure that the fish is completely submerged. Cover the container and refrigerate for 8-12 hours
4. Remove fillets from brine, pat dry and place skin-side down on a rack.
5. Rub exposed flesh with a mixture of
1 Tbsp Cajun or Creole Seasoning (I use Slap Ya Mama’s white pepper blend)
2 Tbsps sugar
1 tsp granulated garlic
6. Return the rack to the fridge for another 6 hours, allowing the fish to air dry. In the meantime, soak your alder chips.
7. Set smoker to 150°F and add soaked alder chips.
8. Place fish on oiled grates, skin-side down. Smoke for 2 hours at 150 °F then for another 2-4 hours at 180°F. The longer you smoke it, the firmer the fish will be.
9. Allow fish to cool then refrigerate.
Enjoy as is, or in smoked fish creations such as dip.
- I smoked the steelhead on my Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue, not a dedicated smoker. I used the plate setter for indirect heat.
- Rubbing all over the flesh of the fish will limit secretion of albumin (the white protein that oozes out of the fish as it cooks)