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.

In my opinion, smoked tullibee is exactly like smoked whitefish, and every bit as good as smoked salmon. Different, yes. But right on par. 

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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