Hot-Smoked Fish: The Bacon Alternative You Should Experiment With

When someone says that something that is not bacon tastes like bacon, it's usually high praise. Shiitake mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, cheese, and even fruits and vegetables can mimic the beloved pork product's rapturous effects on the senses. The secret? Smoke. 

When a food spends time in a smoker, it takes on a deep, complex flavor. By distributing an even stream of a high temperature, smokers bring out a tender texture and a warm, slightly sweet aroma, thanks to the wood that serves as the base of the fire. While not all bacon is traditionally smoked, it always tastes smoky. That's because some manufacturers will inject it with liquid smoke to speed up the preservation process. 

To be sure, bacon is a big selling factor for the wood-smoking business. But if you're cutting back on your red meat intake, try hot-smoked fish as a deliciously smoky, meaty alternative that, surprise, tastes a lot like bacon. 

Turn it into butter and spread it on everything

Cookbook author Ali Slagle calls smoked fish "the bacon of the sea," and she's not wrong. Her recipe in The Washington Post for "Baked Potato With Smoked Fish Butter" is a tribute to the classic American side that features crumbly bits of bacon peppered on top of a baked potato, which can and should be doctored up with sour cream, chives, and all the usual fixings. But in this case, the fish butter serves as enough of a complement by itself. 

Slagle lists trout, salmon, mackerel, white fish, and tuna as worthy candidates for smoked-fish butter. As long as it used to swim and is labeled as smoked or smoked-roasted, you're good to go. 

To make the flavorful butter, Slagle works her flaky smoked fish of choice into eight tablespoons of softened, unsalted butter. She adds chopped dill, scallions, and black pepper, leaving the salt to the fish itself. Put it on baked potatoes, spread it on toast, or use it as an indulgent base for your next butter board. 

If that doesn't appeal to you, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy smoked fish, including flaking it into salads or over scrambled eggs, adding it to creamy pasta dishes for a salty kick, or eating it on its own. When we have $40 to spare, we love the sustainable trio of smoked salmon tins from the buzzy Fly By Jing x Fish Wife collaboration.

So you want to smoke fish at home

You might think you need a fancy outdoor smoking rig from the hardware store to smoke fish at home. We're happy to report that all it takes is some good-smelling wood chips and a charcoal grill. A recipe in Martha Stewart Living follows that method. It adds a three-ingredient brine of water, dark-brown sugar, and salt, which can be used on any kind of fish, though the recipe suggests trout or arctic char (the latter of which gets points for sustainability). 

In the simplest breakdown of the process, all you need to do is soak your wood chips of choice in water for an hour, drain them, and add them to the coals of your grill. If you're working with trout fillets, you'll have smoked fish in 12 to 15 minutes, at which point the fish will be cooked through but still moist.