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. All future smoked fish of the whitefish family will be scaled before going in my smoker.
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 nothing short of delicious. The subsequent smoked specimens did not last long.
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 great fish fats that are good for us: Omega-3 fatty acids. Tastes great, good for you- why not tullibees?