Do Something New: Smoked Tullibee

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On a recent outing, I managed to get 5 good-sized tullibees.  The next day, I tried baking one.  It was good, but with my first-ever crop of tullibee, I wanted to experiment and make the most of my take. With four more in the freezer and a big love for everything smoked, the way forward was obvious.

A brine was in order.  I didn’t want to do anything fancy and/or pervert the intrinsic nature of the fish, so I steered away from things like garlic and spices. The internet pointed to a simple brining formula that was similar to what I’ve used for turkeys and other meats:

  • 1 gallon of water
  • 1/2 cup of non-iodized salt (I used kosher salt)
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar

I prepared them by gutting them and cutting off the heads. This was all about experimenting, so I scaled one, hoping the skin would stay intact while eliminating the mess of the scales come dinnertime. All four fish went into a tall plastic container with the brine for about 18 hours in the fridge.

On a cold February afternoon, they went into the smoker for about 5 hours. I wanted to get the temperature to around 200 degrees, but between the outside temperature and the wind, it was hard to keep it above 150. Near the end, I stoked the fire well and kept it at around 220 degrees for probably half an hour. As it turned out, scaling was a wise choice and the skin held up well in the smoking process.

We enjoyed the first one with crackers, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, apples, and olives during a well-publicized football game. It was a perfect finger food, and delicious. The subsequent smoked specimens did not last long.

Why Tullibees?

Tullibees, otherwise known as ciscoes (Coregonus artedi), are a member of the whitefish family and closely related to lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). Amazingly, the Minnesota DNR classifies them as a “rough fish,” with no limit and no closed season (with some exceptions- Mille Lacs being one). I can see no reason for this other than the fact that they are a prolific fish that are under appreciated by anglers. Being a fatty fish like trout (whitefish are actually a member of the trout/salmon family of fishes), they are well-suited for smoking. Additionally, they are high in those Omega-3 fatty acids, which are so good for us. Tastes great and good for you- why not tullibees?

*UPDATE, January 2023*

Things have changed in the last five years or so. Tullibees, whitefish, and others have undergone some re-classification by Minnesota DNR in recent years. As a result, they are no longer called “rough” or “under-utilized” fish. In addition, tullibees and some others will soon have bag/possession limits imposed (possibly March of 2024). Check regulations for the most up to date information. 



One thought on “Do Something New: Smoked Tullibee”

  1. I am expecting to enjoy my first ever Smoked Tullibees in two weeks after placing an order for them online. I am in Missouri and have long enjoyed Smoked Chubs but after learning of their demise caused by the Zebra Mussel, I now look forward to these Tullibees. Thanks for the interesting read.
    Landlubber stuck in Missouri…

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