Smoked Cero Mackerel

Whenever we smoke fish, I plan on making smoked fish dip with the leftovers. Lately it seems like we eat the just-smoked fillets so fast I never get around to making the dip.I use this same recipe for all smoked fish.  Mullet and bluefish are my favorite.  Any fish that’s a little strong and a bit oily will work well.  The smoky aroma overwhelms the senses at first, but the taste is meaty and briny, and the outside is caramelized.  I like to leave some of the brine spices on top.  I like how the smoked mustard seeds pop when you eat them.

conch key catch

 Toby’s birthday present this year:  A charter with his friend Dan Duimstra of Shark River Charters.  Captain Dan is a Florida native who transitioned from commercial fisherman to guide.     He fishes out of Conch Key, near Marathon.

cero mackerel from shark river charters

Part of this year’s catch was a Cero Mackerel.  Dan said it’s great smoked, so we brought it home and brined it.

cero mackerel on the smokerAnd onto the smoker it went.

 The smell of smoked fish lures the neighbors to our yard.  Maybe that’s why I never have enough to make smoked fish dip.  I’ll share that recipe one of these days.

Smoked Cero Mackerel


mackerel fillets with skin

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup dried chilis, broken

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

2 tablespoons mustard seeds (black, yellow, or both)

5 bay leaves



Step One:  Brine the fish.  Place the fish in a single layer in a 13×9 baking pan.   Pour the soy sauce in a bowl.  Whisk in the sugar and salt until it begins to dissolve.  Add the rest of the spices.  Pour the mixture over the fish.  Add enough water to the pan for all the fish to be submerged in brine.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Step Two:  Dry the fish.  Place racks on a baking sheet.  Remove the fish from the brine and place them on racks, skin side down, to dry.  Many people say you can leave this at room temperature.  If you live in a hot, humid climate, I suggest you put it in your fridge.  When I’m low on space, I’ve improvised by placing ice packs in the bottom of a cooler, covering them with a layer of foil, and resting the racks on top of that.  Let the fish dry at least a few hours.  Ideally, the surface will be less shiny and it will become slightly tacky to touch.

Step Three:  Smoke the fish.  Prepare your smoker.  Here is Toby’s technique:  start the fire with hickory briquettes.  When they turn gray, add grapefruit wood (mesquite chips or any kind of dried hardwood works).  When it’s nice and smoky, put the fish on.  He keeps a spray bottle of water nearby to keep the flames down in case the wood ignites.   We don’t smoke it dry; only about an hour or so.

It’s tasty with crackers, Crystal hot sauce, a key lime, and a Jai Alai from Cigar City Brewing.


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