florida smoked mahi fish dip jalapeno pineappleFlorida

Smoked Fish Dip: Variations on a Florida Classic

So we are back in Florida for a short travel break and the first thing my husband does is break out the smoker. He loves smoked fish (me too!) and it is something we rarely find during our travels. It doesn’t take long before the amazing aromas of the smoking fish have me yearning for a Florida classic … Smoked Fish Dip. Whenever we are here, we take advantage of the availability of smoked fish from smoke houses and even smoking our own as often as we can to make dips or spreads in a variety of styles.

florida smoked mahi fish dip jalapeno pineapple

Smoked Mahi-Mahi Dip with Jalapeño and Pineapple (recipe below)

Smoked fish has long been a tradition in Florida, where fisherman bring in oily fish like mackerel, mahi-mahi, wahoo, amberjack and mullet that lend themselves to smoking. Mullet has been a local favorite for smoking, though it is mostly used as bait fish elsewhere in the country. Mullet fisheries thrived in Florida in the mid-20th century and many locals have a nostalgic connection, swearing that the fish is good eating. Maybe???? I confess that I’ve never tried it.

Ted-Peters-Smoked-Fish

You can still find a few classic old fish smokehouses in business, one of the most famous being Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in South Pasadena, Florida. Ted Peters opened his first smoked fish restaurant in the late 1940’s. The current location has been in operation since 1951. Partnered with his half brother Elry Lathrop, it has always been a family business spanning five generations. It is still in the family with Ted Peters’ great grandson Ben smoking the fish.

Ted Peters smoked fish smokehouse florida

The smokehouse of Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish

Inside the smokehouse, the fish is smoked for 4 to 6 hours on wooden racks over a fire of red oak, which is native to Florida. They used to only smoke mullet and mackerel, but now you’ll also find mahi-mahi and salmon on the menu. They are also famous for their fish spread, made with a recipe from Ellen Peters that includes mahi-mahi and mullet, celery, onion, and sweet pickle relish. (They revealed their recipe on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives)

smoked fish racks ted peters famous florida

Racks of smoked fish at Ted Peters

On a recent visit to St. Petersburg, we made a stop at the smokehouse where people were lined up out the door to pickup freshly smoked fish. We joined the line and stocked up on smoked mahi mahi, mackerel, and salmon to take home with us at prices that rival buying the fish fresh and having to smoke your own.

Smoke Your Own Fish

Let’s say you don’t live near a fish smokehouse. You may want to get a backyard smoker and smoke your own. We did, and my husband coaxes all kinds of delicious smoked land and sea creatures from it. We found some beautiful fresh mahi-mahi at our local seafood market. We asked the fish monger to keep the skin on, as this holds the meat together.

We start by soaking the fish in a brine. Brining not only seasons the fish, but also firms up the flesh and helps it retain moisture during the smoking process. A basic brine really only requires water, salt, and sugar, but you can use the opportunity to also add some seasoning to the fish. The recipe below is enough for one pound of fish, so scale up as needed to cover the fish.

Smoked Fish Brine Recipe

Per pound of fish fillets, with skin on
(cut into smaller pieces if necessary to fit the grill of your smoker)

1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
1/3 teaspoon ginger powder
1/3 teaspoon onion powder

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir until sugar and salt are mostly dissolved.

Rinse the fish fillets, pat them dry, and place skin side up in a glass or plastic container (not metal) with a tight fitting lid. Pour the brine solution over the fish, making sure the fillets are fully immersed. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

smoked fish brine

Fish in brining solution

The next day, remove the fish fillets from the brine and drain on a rack while preparing your smoker. I won’t go into the details of smoking the fish, since there are many styles of smokers and each will be different. We followed the manufacturers instructions for our particular smoker and the fish was done after about 2 hours of cooking around 250 degrees.

Brined-fish-drying

Drain brined fish on rack

If you are making a smoked fish spread or dip, allow the fish to cool to room temperature before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

smoked mahi-mahi with pineapple

Our house smoked mahi-mahi and pineapple

Now this may be the hardest part of making smoked fish dip—those golden brown fillets sitting there filling the kitchen with their smoky aroma are irresistible. I mean, you have to taste it to make sure it’s done, right? One bite leads to another and the next thing you know…no more fish.

Smoked Fish Dip

Traditional smoked fish dip can be pretty simple, blending smoked fish with mayo or cream cheese, onions, salt, and lemon juice. Of course, we are rarely satisfied to stick with tradition. Smoked fish is so flavorful and bold enough to stand up to many seasonings, why limit yourself to one recipe?

Chipotle Lime Smoked Mackerel Dip

Chipotle Lime Smoked Mackerel Dip

Below are three of our favorites. They all come together in a similar manner. We use a standing mixer, but all of these steps could be mixed by hand if necessary. Begin by combining softened cream cheese and sour cream in the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the seasoning ingredients and mix on a low speed until well blended.

Break the smoked fish up into small chunks. Save about half of the fish, including the fattest, best pieces, to stir in at the end. Put the other half into the bowl with the cream cheese mixture and blend on low speed until thoroughly mixed. Give it a taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. (Here we might add a few shakes of hot sauce if it is not spicy enough for us.)

Fish-dip-in-mixer

Add the remaining fish a little at a time and mix in gently by hand until it is incorporated. You could choose to mix it more aggressively if you want a smoother spread, but we prefer to leave some flakes of fish intact. When making any of these recipes, you can add more smoked fish to make a thicker, more fishy spread; or you can add more cream cheese and sour cream to make a softer dip.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour to firm it up before serving. In Florida, smoked fish dip is usually served with saltine crackers, sliced jalapeño peppers and a bottle of hot sauce on the side.

Enjoy!

smoked mahi fish dip pineapple jalapeno thyme

Smoked Mahi-Mahi Dip with Jalapeño and Pineapple

Smoked Mahi Mahi Dip with Jalapeño and Pineapple

To complement the mild flavor of smoked mahi-mahi, we gave this spread a tropical touch of smoked pineapple, a kick from jalapeno peppers, and balanced it out with herbal notes of fresh thyme.

Since fresh juicy pineapple chunks would release too much liquid into our fish dip, we threw a few slices of fresh pineapple into our smoker along with the fish. This not only releases some moisture, but also caramelizes the sugars and concentrates the fruit. It’s so good you may want to make some extra for snacking. ( If you are not smoking your own fish, it works perfectly well to grill the pineapple slices or even roast them in the oven.)

Ingredients

6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sour cream
4 green onions, minced
4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Lemon zest, from one lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup smoked pineapple, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped, without seeds
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
1 pound smoked mahi-mahi

Instructions

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment, combine softened cream cheese, sour cream, green onions, fresh thyme leaves, salt, pepper, and the zest of one lemon.
2. Mix on low speed until well blended.
3. Add one half of the smoked fish, the chopped pineapple, the jalapeño peppers, and mix on low speed until thoroughly blended. Adjust the seasonings to taste. (Here we might add a few shakes of hot sauce if it is not spicy enough for us.)
4. Stir in the remaining fish a little at a time, blending gently by hand, until it is incorporated.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

Chipotle Lime Smoked Mackerel Dip

The bold flavor of smoked Mackerel is strong enough to stand up to spicy ground chipotle chili peppers. The juice and zest of lime is perfect to cut through the powerful fish. We love this bright spicy combination.

Ingredients

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
Zest and juice from one lime
2 tablespoons of minced green onions or shallot
1 teaspoon of Chipotle powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound smoked Mackerel

Instructions

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment, combine all ingredients except for the smoked fish.
2. Mix on low speed until well blended.
3. Add one half of the smoked fish and mix on low speed until thoroughly blended. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
4. Stir in the remaining fish a little at a time, blending gently by hand, until it is incorporated.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

Smoked Salmon Dip

Nothing goes better with smoked salmon than the classic combination of lemon and dill. I can eat this one for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!

Ingredients

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream
Zest from 1 lemon plus ½ lemon of juiced
2 tablespoon fresh dill leaves
2 tablespoons of minced green onions or shallot
Hot sauce to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound smoked salmon

Instructions

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment, combine all ingredients except for the smoked fish.
2. Mix on low speed until well blended.
3. Add one half of the smoked fish and mix on low speed until thoroughly blended. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
4. Stir in the remaining fish a little at a time, blending gently by hand, until it is incorporated.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Serve with crackers or toasted baguette slices.

Categories: Florida, Recipes

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