Most writing about seafood these days (here, here, and here) is concerned with issues of conservation, and rightly so. As one of the only types of food that are harvested in large quantities from wild stocks (we've managed to domesticate just about everything else, from wheat to geese), seafood is uniquely vulnerable to environmental threats that could erase tuna, salmon, and countless others from our menus for good.*
In furtherance of this talk of conservation, I would like to expound on the value of preservation. Smoking and curing fish were formerly the only tools that enabled fish to be enjoyed more than a few miles inland from a body of befished water. No longer dictated by necessity, because we can freeze fish or fly it across the planet in its fresh, or in some cases live form, they are still one of the best ways I know to make good use of the tastiest varieties of the sea's food.
Today, many conscientious people are making dietary edits in acknowledgment of the preciousness of larger varieties of sea life, by focusing on the merits of creatures lower on the food chain, including sardines, smelts, sprats, and the like. As we do this, it's worth noting that our occasional indulgence in the tasty large fish can be made more special by employing these time-tested methods of preservation. In other words, if you're going to minimize your consumption of the big fish, you may as well maximize your enjoyment of each bite.
Smoking deepens the already-rich flavors of salmon, sturgeon, albacore and yellow fin tuna. Anyone familiar with cold-smoked salmon knows that just a tiny bite, whether perched on a cracker with crème fraiche and a sprig of dill, or simply flaked with a fork and devoured on its own, can convey as much complexity of flavor as an entire serving of the fresh stuff.
Hot-smoked salmon, on the other hand, as I recently discovered at the Creekside Smokehouse in Half Moon Bay, California, is another matter entirely. The dark ruby-colored product that results from this method is dryer, firmer, and imbued with a more sinister smokiness, redolent of campfires but still enshrouding the original character of the fish. Crumbled onto a few leaves of butter lettuce and drizzled with a light vinaigrette, it's like a pescetarian bacon bit, and an ideal way to savor a rare treat from the sea.
A welcome sign outside Creekhouse Smokehouse
Mermaids are always a good sign.
Get more information about Creekside Smokehouse here.
*For more information about sustainable seafood and ways to smarten up your seafood choices, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch page is a good place to start. Making a visit to the aquarium itself is also a good way to educate yourself about the fish that we eat. Seeing an majestic 7-foot yellowfin tuna gliding through a tank, with a sharp line of glowing bright yellow fins along its back changed the way I think about so-called 'tunafish'.