In Florida, there are as many varieties of smoked fish dips as there are countries represented at Epcot — probably more. And it’s everywhere — in restaurants, supermarkets, seafood retailers. It would not surprise me at all to see someone selling homemade batches out of a cooler on the side of the road. Some people go with a chunky, vegetable laden version, others pump it up with hot sauce, some are very smoky. And I’ll warn you right now, at least once or twice, you’re going to come across a bone. Because real fish have bones.
For as long as I can remember, my favorite — I’m talking all-time, hands-down, most swoon-worthy fish dip came from Joe’s Riverside Grille in Pompano Beach. Chef and owner Joe Cascio knows how to prepare seafood and his fish dip was legendary. He has since moved (sniff!) to Athens, Georgia and has a new restaurant endeavor, Square One Fish Company. I know he’ll do well there, but his departure has left me in a lurch without his dip.
Undaunted, I worked with my sources to come up with a pretty close rendition of his fabulous spread. It starts with kingfish fillets. The fish goes into a pickling bath for an hour or so before it’s slow smoked.
We used cherry wood chips, but I’m told apple or hickory would work too — just don’t use mesquite – it’s way too strong for the delicate fish.
We smoked the fish over indirect heat, which means that the burner under the smoker box was the only one that was lit. The fish was set on the opposite side of that burner and was infused with the smoke for a good 2 – 2 1/2 hours. See the gorgeous color it takes on?
And because it’s not a direct cooking method, the fish stays moist and tender. Remove the skin and then transfer the fish fillets to a food processor. Pulse 3-4 times to break down the fish a little.
Then add the seasonings. Jalapeno, cilantro, white pepper, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Ok, I also added lemon zest — I can’t help it. I love this stuff! But you don’t need much… Half a teaspoon will add a brightness to the dip.
Whiz around in the food processor until smooth. And here comes the hard part. You have to wait until the next day to serve it. The flavors will marry and become more pronounced. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. Joe served his dip without any embellishments, but I really like mine with tangy pickled onion and some extra sprigs of cilantro and jalapeno.
Smoked Fish Dip
- 1 1.5 ounce jar pickling spice
- 1 1/2 pounds skin-on kingfish fillet
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1 lemon zested and cut in half
- 2 jalapeños finely diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- crackers for serving
- sliced jalapeños
- pickled onions
- fresh cilantro leaves
- grill or smoker
- cherry or apple wood chips
- smoker box
In a dish large enough to hold the fish fillets, add the pickling spice and several cups of water. Add the fish and ensure that the water covers the fillets. Set aside for 1 1/2 hours.
Prepare the grill or smoker for indirect cooking (one side of the grill has heat and the other side doesn't) Add the dry wood chips to the smoker box. Set the wood chips over the heat source on the grill and heat until it reaches about 250-275 degrees and begins to smoke. Add the fish fillets, skin side down to the opposite side of the grill that doesn't have the heat on. Smoke the fish for 2-2 1/2 hours until the skin has taken on an amber color and the flesh is cooked through. Transfer the fish to a baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.
Remove the skin from the fish and discard. Add chunks of the fish to a food processor and pulse 1-2 times. Add the mayonnaise, cilantro, lemon zest, juice of half the lemon, jalapeños, salt and pepper. Pulse several more times until the dip is smooth.
Transfer the dip to a food storage container and refrigerate overnight for the flavors to marry.
Serve with crackers and pickled onions, sliced jalapeños and fresh cilantro for garnish.