Fish Jerky Recipes
The following fish jerky recipes will be added shortly. Thanks for your patience. Eldon R. Cutlip
Fish Jerky-The Process
I began experimenting with different kinds of fish jerky shortly after moving to Idaho. It was more or less, out of necessity because the rainbow trout we fished for regularly at Winchester Lake were super aggressive and usually took the bait or lure deep enough to cause internal injuries to the fish. Moreover, this was a catch and keep situation and it wasn’t uncommon for my son and I to return home with our limits of 10 to 14-inch trout. Although, they were primarily hatchery fish they made excellent jerky in a pinch between hunting seasons when fresh game meat was relatively scarce.
On the other hand, we seldom kept the west slope cutthroat trout, which inhabited Idaho’s pristine rivers and streams. We fished for these stunningly beautiful fish with barbless flies and happily released them unharmed. There wasn’t a desire or a need to kill native fish when we had a lake full of hatchery raised trout that seemed more than willing to die for the cause.
While fish jerky has probably been made out of almost everything that swims, from sunfish to shark, certain types of fish make the best product. Whatever your preference, it’s a good idea to avoid oily/fatty fish because the excessive fat is likely to cause rancidity, and decrease the long-term shelf life of the product. Just the same, salmon, which has an exceptional flavor, is a prized commodity among commercial and home jerky makers alike. On the down side, salmon has a high percentage of intramuscular fat (marbling) which is virtually impossible to remove without totally mutilating the fish.
Low-fat fish include bass, bluegill, cod, crappie, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, Pollock, rainbow trout (small), rock bass, rock fish, sea bass, sea herring, sea trout, smelt, snapper, sole, sunfish, whiting and yellow perch. Oily/fatty fish include catfish, lake trout, mackerel, rainbow trout (large), salmon, shark, whitefish and tuna.
Most species of freshwater fish make excellent jerky, but it must be free of parasites, the most common of which are round worms, tape worms and flukes. While these organisms can cause ill effects to humans, they’re easily avoided by staying away from the internal organs. Roundworms are similar to tiny earth worms (smooth and cylindrical in shape), with a white translucent sheen. Tapeworms, on the other hand, are flat and ribbon like, they’re segmented and border on the edge of “creepy”, while flukes are stouter and more oval shaped.
In addition, the fish must be reasonably fresh if you expect to produce a quality product. If its been subjected to the hot sun, or worse yet, bloated after a day or two in a cooler full of melt water, it isn’t going to make good jerky and might better be used to fertilize the family garden. The old saying "garbage in––garbage out," certainly applies here. If you do use ice to store fish, open the drain or drill holes in the bottom of the cooler so the water from the ice can escape. Check the ice often and refresh as necessary, otherwise, the fish/fluids will contaminate the “melt water” and cause rapid spoilage of the fish. If you can’t afford an extra bag of ice or you’re too busy to administer the proper care, catch-and-release is your best option. Save the fish for someone who is responsible enough to take care of their bounty.
If one of your buddies try to pawn off a mess of post-rigor fish because he or she is too damn lazy to take care of them, use your nose, eyes, and hands to make sure the fish are fresh enough to make jerky. If they’re truly fresh, the flesh should be firm and resilient enough to bounce back when you poke it with your finger. The gills should be moist and bright red––the scales largely intact––and shiny––the odor minimal. Anything less and it may prove not be worth your time and effort. Might better say no rather than get stuck with a mess of rotten fish. Most of us old timers have dealt with this unfortunate dilemma at least once in our lives.
When you are ready to process the fish into jerky strips it’s best to do so outside or in a place that cleans up easily as fish scales have a tendency to fly in every direction. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find them hanging on the ceiling months after the job is done. Most of the wives that I have been acquainted with didn’t find fish scales that amusing.
Even though there are a number of specialized fish scalers on the market, I’ve had good luck with a simple bread knife. To start, lay the trout on several layers of newspaper. Hold the fish down with one hand and use the knife to scrape away the scales, moving from the tail end to the head. When you’re done, double check to make sure you have removed all of the scales, especially around the fins and the tail––flip the fish over and repeat the scaling process with the other side. Rinse away the scales with cold running water. Check to see if you missed any by running your knife blade against the grain of the fish. Place each one on a bed of crushed ice until you finish scaling the entire mess of fish.
Next, place the trout’s back at the edge of the cutting board. Use a fillet knife to cut down behind the gill plate to the backbone. Jockey the blade of the knife so that it lays flush on the backbone, then cut along the backbone all the way to the tail, this will separate the right fillet from the carcass. Lay the fillet, skin side down, so the ribs are facing upwards. Insert the tip of the knife between the ribs and the flesh and cut out the rib section. Afterward, run your hand along the flesh side of the fillet to locate the pin bones, then use the tip of your knife to make a “V” shape incision down to the skin on each side of bones. Cut out the pin bones and discard.
To remove the left fillet, make a cut with the tip of your knife from the back to the belly, then cut down along the stomach and over the belly fin to the anal fin. Jockey the knife until it lays flat against the back bone and cut all the way to the tail. Turn the fillet over to expose the ribs and remove the ribs and the pin bones the same as you did on the right side.
Cut the fish fillets lengthwise, with the skin intact, into 1-2” (2.54-5 cm) wide strips. (The skin is absolutely necessary to hold the fish jerky strips together throughout the jerky making process.) When you are finished, store the fish strips at 36-40°F (2-4°C) while you gather up the recipe ingredients. If it’s allowed to remain at room temperature for any length of time, the bacteria and enzymes naturally present in raw fish, will begin to break down the flesh and turn it soft and mushy.
To make fish jerky, combine the recipe ingredients (or repackaged seasoning) in a sauce pan with the suggested amount of liquid and bring it to a rapid boil. Reduce heat and simmer minutes; set aside to cool. Afterward, pour marinade into a non-corrosive container and stir well. Add the fish strips, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Next day, remove the fish strips from the marinade and drain well.
Preheat your oven or smoker to 145°F (63°C). Spray the drying screens with non-stick cooking spray. Arrange the fish strips in a single layer, leaving enough space between the pieces to allow sufficient air flow. Dry at 145°F (63°C). A combination of factors, including the relative humidity, ambient (or room) temperature, strip thickness, type of dehydrator and how heavily it’s loaded will determine how long it takes to dehydrate the product. It will take somewhere between 7 to 12 hours to properly dry fish jerky.
To test for dryness, remove a piece of fish jerky from the dryer and cool slightly. Bend or twist the jerky. If it cracks without breaking it’s properly dried and ready to eat. Because salmon jerky is almost always thicker than most fish types used to make fish jerky, it generally takes longer to dry. Or dry the fish strips in an oven, smoker or dehydrator according to the instructions that come with your drying apparatus.