Author Topic: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe  (Read 25313 times)

Offline Smokeville

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Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« on: October 31, 2010, 01:31:44 pm »
Hi folks;

I've ventured into cold smoking haddock, as many of our customers have asked for smoked haddock, which seems to be best if cold smoked. Then it's called Finnan Haddie.

My first attempts have used a standard brine like for salmon -- 1 gallon of water, 1 cup of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar. Then the fillets are dried to form the pellicle and go in the cold smoke for 4 hours. This is from a Scottish recipe. After, I leave the fish in the fridge and a while later vacuum pack and freeze, or bake in the oven until it flakes. It was simply the best fish I have ever had.

My concern is simply bacterial growth during the cold smoke. 4 hours isn't overly long, but I would like to try for longer smoke times.

What does everyone think? I've read about 80% brines based on 3.5 cups of salt per gallon. But I really don't want the fish to be too salty. Finnan Haddie is meant to be salty, but I would prefer to keep the saltiness low.

Thanks, Rich

Offline manxman

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2010, 04:15:43 pm »
Hi Smokeville,

I have cold smoked cod, pollack (?different to pollock in the US I think) and haddock in my BS, all are similar in texture and have turned out well.

For skinless fillets from fish in the 6 - 8lb region I used an 80% brine for about an hour, the smaller the fillets the less time in the brine (30 - 40 mins) so as to ensure the fish is not too salty. I have never used brown sugar, only sea salt but that is personal choice.

I have tried smoking for anything from 3 - 8 hours without issue regarding bacterial contamination, however I have found beyond about 5 - 6 hours there is no great benefit to smoking for any longer and this is now the time I use.

Like you I leave in the fridge, usually for 24 hours, then vac pack and freeze. For cooking I usually wrap in aluminium foil with a knob of butter and a some fresh ground black pepper and bake ... wonderful.  :)

Hope this helps, the point I am making is that you can use an 80% brine and end up with a product that is not too salty.  :)  And all things being equal as long as the temp is kept below 80F there are minimal concerns relating to bacterial contamination if you extend your smoking times.
 
Manxman

Offline Smokeville

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #2 on: November 01, 2010, 07:56:26 pm »

And all things being equal as long as the temp is kept below 80F there are minimal concerns relating to bacterial contamination if you extend your smoking times.
 

Thanks, Manxman -- the quote above is the part about cold smoking and bacteria that I don't think I understand. I have had it drummed into me where the safe and unsafe zones are... 40F-140F and cold smoking seems to be right about in the middle.

Is the minimal concern due to the salt?

I have researched this to death based upon a number of university web sites and they tend to stay away from mentioning in depth about cold smoking bacterial stuff except to say there is a chance of contamination....

precookingsmoker

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #3 on: November 01, 2010, 09:50:35 pm »
From what I read you are doing, The brining kills MOST of the bacteria. The cold smoking afterward does the wood flavoring, and with extended times (like 7 hours) drying the fish more. The safe rule I have read (and which I do), is at some point at the end, raise the fish temperature to 160F to kill any remaining bacteria.

Most of the confusion is in "TRUE" Indian style cold smoking.... Brine is not used and the fish is cured by smoke and very low temperatures for many week....such as in Alaska. The temperatures there kill most bacteria in the fish and the prolonged smoke is an additional cure too.

Correct me folks if I have something misplaced here....... Tnx.

precookingsmoker

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #4 on: November 02, 2010, 12:42:26 am »
Addendum:
Maybe this will help clear up some confusion.

Commercial fisheries have freezers that go BELOW 0 degrees F. These frozen fishes are then afterward sent to markets where they are kept frozen, but at a now (higher) cold temperature for resale. The original fisheries freezers killed the germs, diseases, and parasites which could harm humans. No brine is used.

This same low level of cold freezing and germ killing occurs during an Alaskan Indian smoke shack during their normal 30 day periods of Salmon cold smoking up there. They can dry brine for taste before this Alder smoking too if they choose. 

We consumers, have freezers too.....(BUT) they do not go nearly low enough in temperature to kill all the harmful diseases. They kill some....but not all.

So we have to brine the fish. Mainly for disease control. We add flavor to the brine since a brine is necessary and it provides both benefits, killing diseases and adding taste. BUT..... not yet are all the possible diseases killed. Some of the most virulent and dangerous diseases and parasites could still be alive....and they could multiply at critical temperatures.....

So we bring our fish up to 160 degrees F. at the end to wipe out the last of the diseases......But we cannot store our fishes but for a short period....... Otherwise we get back into a new danger zone again.

Hope this helps some....     

Offline manxman

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #5 on: November 02, 2010, 01:19:42 am »
Quote
Is the minimal concern due to the salt?

Hi Smokeville,

No, the minimal concern is not related to the salt. For example if you want to use a weaker brine solution you could extend the time you leave the fish in it for.

I used that phrase because when smoking fish (and a lot of other things) it is the whole process from the quality of the original product through to food hygiene in the processing plant, how the fish was stored on the boat and a whole host of other variables that may be outside the control of the person doing the smoking so I used the work minimal to cover that.

For example all the fish I smoke is either caught myself or comes off a friends trawler so I know exactly what I am using and each step of the process complements the previous, including the freezing process and making sure the fish is cooked throughly.

When cold smoking salmon for instance there is no cooking involved and I was nervous about doing that for the first time but now don't give it a thought because I am confident in my method.  ;)

Also see:

http://www.susanminor.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?7-FOOD-POISONING-AND-FOOD-HYGIENE-PART-1

http://www.susanminor.org/forums/forumdisplay.php?5-FOOD-POISONING-AND-FOOD-HYGIENE-PART-2

Hope this helps.  :)
Manxman

Offline BuyLowSellHigh

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #6 on: November 02, 2010, 05:14:28 am »
Smokeville, I believe your concerns about food safety, as a vendor, are very justified.  A few thoughts from a purely food safety and food science perspective.

I think manxman hit the nail on the head when he said " ... it is the whole process from the quality of the original product through to food hygiene in the processing plant...".  It is about control.  I am not a fish smoker simply because I can't get at any reasonable price fish from a source I trust.  If I were to smoke fish today it would be only hot smoked to a food safe temperature for that reason.  I envy you folks who have good, reliable sources because I love cold smoked fish.

The big commercial plants  employ a lot of controls and processes in an attempt to assure product safety.  These start with  knowledge  and inspection of the incoming catch.  There is a lot of sanitation involved including sanitation washes.  Microbial testing is used both to assure plant sanitation as well as product safety.  In spite of their best efforts there remain product recalls.

A few facts - freezing below 0 °F  for a sufficient period of time can kill parasites, and I believe for that reason is now required for cold smoke fish sold in the US.  But it won't kill any of the common food borne pathogenic bacteria.  To kill requires heat to food safe temperatures.  In cold smoking curing, drying and smoking control the grow of bacteria present to keep them at acceptable levels.  After that storage practices determine if those safe levels are maintained.  A healthy fish harvested form good waters should have acceptably low levels of harmful bacteria.  Following that it is largely dependent on how the fish is handled to keep the levels low and prevent cross contamination.  

As far as the cold smoking process goes, commercially it is about keeping bacteria from multiplying. A lot of controls and checks are used to that effort.  In the home kitchen it is the same without many of the safeguards that are employed commercially, so the risk is increased.  A lot of what we rely on at home is based on being historically safe, so we continue the practice.  For cold smoking curing and drying are the key preservation steps, with smoke being used primarily for flavoring and to keep molds and further contamination at bay during the drying process.  The old Alaskan native methods were as much drying methods, to reduce moisture while keeping the product quite cold.  The smoking periods were quite long - days.  When finished it is still a raw and perishable product unless the fish has been really dried as in something like traditional salt cod.

In the end it is about risk and risk management.  If I am doing it for myself, for the enjoyment of myself and my family, that is one thing.  I would follow manxman's lead.  But for commercial practice, selling it to others, in my mind raises the bar a good bit.  Can you assure control from initial fish selection through processing and packaging and be comfortable that what you are offering is a safe product?  If so, press onward.

I suspect you may have already read this publication from the U of Alaska, but I'll pass it along just in case.

Also, this is the section of the FDA's regulations that establishes the basic safety criteria for seafood (21 CFR 123).  Down near the bottom see the section titled "General Guidance for Smoked and Smoke-Flavored Fishery Products".  In that you will find the processing requirements for smoked (cold and hot) fish.  Note that in those regs do not apply to fish that will be subsequently cooked (which includes the label finnan haddie).

edit   I meant to add this reference too.  It is meant to be a guideline for smoking fish in convection smokers, but it provides some of the best, easy to understand, background information about food safety on smoking fish I have found.  Note that it is now nearly 10-years old and regulations have probably evolved since then.
« Last Edit: November 03, 2010, 03:56:30 am by BuyLowSellHigh »
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Offline RAF128

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2010, 05:26:20 am »
There was a video here about how they commercially cold smoke salmon.    From memory, which seems to be going with years, they sprinkled on 26 spices, including salt.   The fish came to them frozen and they thawed over time with cold water running over them.   They were smoked for 24 hrs and the temp of the smoker was below 50º F.   I tried to duplicate it.   Spices weren't right, probably.    It turned out quite good, IMO.  And, I didn't suffer any ill effects.

Offline Smokeville

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2010, 05:41:54 am »
Thanks, everyone.

Ultimately, I know I have to ask our local health department since we are approved for hot smoking and cold curing (gravlax). When we went through the process, cold smoking wasn't an option. Right now I'm more confident that I have been doing the right thing.

Rich

Offline BuyLowSellHigh

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #9 on: November 02, 2010, 11:56:14 am »
After my prolonged discourse I'll pass this along ... As I was fumbling through Charcuterie (Ruhlman & Polcyn) this afternoon in prep for some Candian bacon and corned beef I glanced over their version of smoked salmon - cold smoked salmon.  I'd forgotten that they had a recipe for it.  The cure is dry with the addition of pink salt (Cure #1).  If you get past the health inspectors you may want to consider that as a way of further assuring safety.  The recipe is on pages 96-97 (right before the recipe for cold smoked scallops).
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Offline KyNola

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2010, 12:18:11 pm »
BLSH,
this is a bit off topic but you mentioned you are going to prep and make some canadian bacon and corned beef.

Would be most interested to see your methods.  Would you mind to start a different thread in whatever section you think is appropriate and share it with us?  Would love to see pics of course.

Thanks!

KyNola

Offline BuyLowSellHigh

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #11 on: November 02, 2010, 01:43:55 pm »
No problem KN.  It won't be anything new or different to these forums - I'll be using the recipe's from Charcuterie for both for curing.  It may be next week - I am trying to figure out when to pull the meats from the big chest freezer as they take a few days to thaw from -20 °F.
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Offline KyNola

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #12 on: November 02, 2010, 02:20:33 pm »
Thanks BLSH, looking forward to it.

Offline BuyLowSellHigh

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #13 on: November 03, 2010, 04:41:02 am »
Back on topic ...

After RAF's comment about a video I had to go looking, and I think I found the one he referred to here.  I also found this one, which I really like.

In the video on Samaki at 8:02 into it there is a really good closeup of the label of their Vodka Dill Smoked Salmon.  The ingredients show Salmon, Salt, Vodka, Dill, Coriander; so no nitrites/nitrates.
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Offline RAF128

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Re: Cold smoking fish -- keeping it safe
« Reply #14 on: November 03, 2010, 04:44:38 am »
It's the first one that I was referring too.