Fisherman Alex Villani, who fishes off the coast of Mattituck, Long Island, has some good news about local fish: "The stocks have never been better. Every year is better and better. This year, for the first time in the United States, there's not one species of fish that's over-fished."
That's good news for New Yorkers who like meaty local fish like bluefish, monkfish and eel. Villani and his wife, Stephanie, own Blue Moon Fish and are well-known at Union Square, Grand Army Plaza and Tribeca greenmarkets in the city. They've been selling smoked local fish since 1995 when Alex built their first smoker out of an old refrigerator.
Stephanie explained that, according to health regulations, she uses only frozen fish and adds that it seems to smoke better than fresh fish. Blue Moon uses a hot-smoking process, which raises the fish's temperature to 145 degrees.
"Cold smoking is like the smoked salmon you would get to have on your bagel," Stephanie said. "That's done with a dry rub of salt and sugar and smoked at a very low temperature for a long time, like 24 hours. The kind that we do is hot smoking, which the fish goes into a brine for 10 to 12 hours and then I put it into the smoker with apple wood."
Recently back from a few months' respite in the Florida Keys, the Villanis are now hauling in flounder, cod fish and monkfish. For smoking purposes, though, Alex notes that oilier fish work best. His favorite is bluefish, with smoked eels coming in a close second. The Villanis get in a supply of eels every so often, and Stephanie notes that the smoked version popular for sushi sells out quickly. "Apparently, [smoking eels] was really big in Long Island," Stephanie said. "They were known for their smoked eel, but a lot of the older fisherman who used to do that just aren't around anymore."
As for tips on how to eat smoked fish, Alex notes that simple presentations are often the best: Eat it with cream cheese on top of a bagel, or just eat it straight out of a bag and wash it down with cold beer.
Here are few other recipes for more elaborate uses of smoked fish: