Native Smoke Houses

As told by Elenore McMullen to Gordon Norman



†††††††††† The kinds of fish that I smoke are salmon and trout. Usually in the spring, in May when the first fish come, which are trout and red salmon, I usually smoke red salmon in strips. I smoke those, humpies are good.

††††††††† If you donít strip them just leave them filleted in half. King salmon will have to be stripped cause itís fat and takes longer to dry. Red salmon you also have to strip. You can smoke trout, and you can smoke dog salmon. Dog salmon isnít as tasty. Thereís no fat in it and itís a dry, hard, smoked fish. Silver salmon is very good, but during the silver salmon season itís always so rainy and the flies are so horrid you canít do a very good job at it. I did this fall, kipper smoke, or what ever you want to call it. I donít know what to call it. Any way I took filleted chucks of silver salmon, the whole halves and laid them on screen wire and laid them in the smoke house for twelve hours. I removed the skin and the bone and all been removed and then I canned those. I put a little chunk of garlic and la little piece of onion at the bottom of the jar and then some of the fish. I soaked it in brine first, before I did that and some of it I didnít and both tasted just as good. Those that I didnít soak in brine I added salt to them before O put them under 15 pounds pf pressure for half an hour. It worked out really beautiful, real tasty and flavorful I did that with king salmon too.††

††††††††† I use salt, thatís all I use. I use 100% brine. In order to make your brine I usually take warm water, and dissolve take warm water, and dissolve enough rock salt for a 5 gallon container I use about 3 gallons of water, hot water, a coffee can, and 2 coffee cans full of salt. I also use a raw potato. I mix these up when my fish of ready and everythingís ready to go. Dissolve as much of the salt as I can and then I place the potato in the water and when the potato comes to the surface of the water then I feel the that I got 100% brine. Some people use a spike. I donít use a spike in it. I just use a potato. I soak the fish in the brine for only 30 minutes. Sometimes 20 minutes, depends on the thickness of the fish. If itís humpies and thin sliced red salmon, I soak them for 20 minutes. No longer. Then itís not fit to eat. Itís so salty. The fish should have kind of bluish color to it, if you hold it at different angles in the light. I always feel thatís real sage. Lots of people donít do that and then they end up with pieces of strips hanging in their smoke house and about four and five inches of it are white, nothing but salt. All the salt drains down to the bottom. I rinse it real good. I hang it in the smoke house 12 to 16 hours and let just hang there and dry. I let as much air in to circulate as much as possible. You have to watch out for flies.

††††††††† Then I smoke it for 4 days, sometimes 5, but no longer than that. I use cottonwood. I donít use any thing else, only cottonwood that I picked up from the beach. Otherwise you will have bitter tasting fish, if you use alders. Alders are good but you have to use small amounts of it all day long. I have the smoke house going day and night for five days, four days depends on how much smoke there is on the fish, itís not a hot fire. Smoke just enough to get a good smoke going 24 hours a day.

††††††††† Screen would be just fine. Our smoke house is made of the old roof of the school house. We donít have screen, only in my drying part. It is really not necessary to have screen, you know, it depends on what time of the year your going to be smoking fish. If you keep a good steady smoke then you wonít need that screen there. After the fish heads smoke for 4 or 5 days, I usually put them in the dry part where there is screen and as fly-free as possible and let it hang there for a couple of days before I put it away. But if a person could afford it he can buy screen. I like to keep mine about as closed in as possible. Lots of people, my mother used to have a smoke house made of burlap. Sheíd have about 4 foot walls, plywood walls or boards and then the balance of it was burlap. Then later on she got screen wire.

†††††††††††† I felt like you know the purpose of the smokehouse there was to smoke the fish and you want to retain or keep in as much of the smoke around the fish and not just let it blow out of the building. Maybe if you were drying fish and wanted a little smoked flavor that would be a nice way of doing it. The screen is to keep flies out. Flies destroy fish. You can fish all day long and come home and fillet fish for 3 hours of the night and then lose it all Ďcause I didnít have screen in my drying shack and itís just too much hard work and fish war hard to get. You can use alder wood, small amounts of it. Cottonwood, you really have to search the beaches to find it, but you usually find enough. One log lasts you two summers depending on how much fish you smoke. I smoke a lot of fish. I usually smoke 30 to 40 fish in the spring and one log lasts me two summers. Usually Ďcause we donít use that much. If theyíre not the texture I want, maybe theyíre too soft yet. I put them in the drying shack and let them dry, dry hard, maybe four days.

††††††††† They are ready to eat the second day. Theyíll be ready to eat but they need cooking or to be baked in the oven. On the fourth day the tips of them are ready to eat. It depends on what kind of fish they are. Humpies, four days and theyíre ready to eat. Reds maybe five or ten dayís letíem hang depends again on the thickness. Then king salmon, probably the same length of time from five to ten days. It depends on your taste again how you like it soft smoke or a hard smoke or a medium smoke. Take you pocket knife and just nick it. I store my smoked fish in the freezer. I donít put it n unwrapped. I donít put it in unwrapped. Once in a wile I put them in jars. If you store it in a box and put it in a cool place I find I lose them. They get moldy or else a varmint will get into them like a little chipper or something. But thatís the best way to store them. I chop them up into chunks and the chunks size Iím going to serve them in the plastic. They keep very well.

†††††††† Red salmon and king salmon have lots of fat in them and they keep really good. By spring if you havenít used them all up they lose all their fat. I usually go across the bay for wood. Even on this side across the point I usually spend a whole day looking for wood. I carry an ax with me to chop into the wood to make sure itís the right kind if wood. Lots of times cedar looks just like cottonwood if itís been in the water long enough. Then you have to shop into it and many, many times some of our long logs have been used for pilings and they have tar on them, and you definitely donít want that. I donít put oil in my fish. Lots of people put some in, about two tablespoons. I donít use oil Ďcause the fish that I use make their own oil. With kippered fish I donít add any water or anything to it, it makes its own juice, and after itís been smoked 10 to 12 hours I just chop it up into chunks and put it in the jars and pack it tight. I add a little piece of garlic and a little piece of onion in the bottom just to flavor it and I do not soak it in brine. I put a Ďtablespoon of slat in it. It depends again on the size of the jars. The quart jar Iím talking about I put in a tablespoon of salt and I tossed them in there and they made their own juices, about a cup of juice.†††††


Ralph Ukatishís smokehouse

Tania Anahoakís



Smoke fish in smokehouse that isnít smoking

Elenoreís smokehouse

Story, layout and Photos By: Gordon Norman




Copyright 1981,Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.All rights reserved