How to Make Fish Jerky
You can file fish jerky under: “Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.” Our family loves to fish and when you have more fish than you could eat in a lifetime in the freezer, you get tired of the same old grilled fish. So, when I stumbled across some smoked fish jerky in my local grocery store, I knew we just had to try it. And, it was a huge hit! Not only is fish jerky delicious, it is fun to experiment with different techniques and marinades.
Dehydrating the fish really brings out the flavor of it without making it too fishy tasting. There are a wide variety of flavors that you can add to the fish to make interesting snacks all year long – my personal favorites are soy-based Asian marinades and pretty much anything spicy (think habanero…YUM!) I like my fish jerky a little drier so the texture has a wonderful bite that is tender, but not slimy.
There are several different techniques for how to make fish jerky. Of course, if you have a dehydrator, that is the easiest method, but you could also salt cure it or (my favorite) smoke it in a smoker. Check out my tips on how to smoke on my favorite cooker, the Big Green Egg.
Best Fish for Jerky
Typically, fish that is low in fat will be the best to make jerky – fish that are high in oil (like catfish, mackerel, rainbow trout, tuna and shark) tend to spoil quicker than fish lower in fat. I have found that salmon makes a really delicious jerky because of the bold, natural flavor of the fish that can stand up to a spicy marinade. Plus, you won’t have to worry about spoiling because it will get gobbled up immediately!
Some examples of fish that will work well for a jerky preparation are:
Simple Fish Jerky Technique
Salt Cured Fish Jerky
I imagine this is how cavemen ate their fish, but it was a popular method of drying and preserving food into the 1800s. Because the salt kills any microorganisms during the curing process, the fish won’t spoil during and after this process (unless you leave it around for a long time!)
First, you need to cut the fish into pieces, depending on how large you want them. Then, you need to soak the fish in a brine for about 30 minutes. A simple brine is to use is 1 cup salt and 2 quarts of cold water. Make sure you rinse the fish and pat it dry below you continue with the salt cure process.
Put the fish in an airtight container – it is best if the fish pieces don’t touch – and cover with salt and any dry seasonings you wish to add. Store this in the refrigerator for about six hours. Take the fish out of the salt cure, making sure all the excess salt is off the fish, and place in your dehydrator trays. At a temperature of 145 – 155 degrees, it should take about 8-12 hours.
This preparation will be the most fishy because there isn’t a strong marinade or smoke flavor. If you are a fish purist, start with the salt cure method.
Marinated Fish Jerky
The actual technique for drying the fish is no different than the salt cured fish above. In your dehydrator, it should take about 8-12 hours to dry at 145 – 155 degrees.
But, the prep work is a little different in order to impart more flavor in the fish. Something with a little sweet tang like teriyaki sauce works as a beautiful marinade for pretty much any fish you have. Make sure to marinade it for at least 24 hours in the fridge to let those flavors develop in the fish.
Smoked Fish Jerky
If you find salmon jerky, it will most likely be smoked because the rich flavor complements the sturdy fish very well. But, feel free to experiment with any type of white fish you have as well. This is my absolute favorite technique for fish jerky because of the depth of flavor (and, let’s be honest, it’s just super fun to smoke things!)
Start by cutting your fish into small strips – maybe 1-inch wide – and marinating them in a concoction of your choice. Like I said before, I like a soy-based marinade with ginger, garlic and brown sugar, but use your favorite. Marinate the fish in an airtight container or even in a plastic zip-top bag for about 4-8 hours.
Be sure to pat the jerky dry and then place on your smoker skin side down. I like to use something a little fruity like an applewood, or mild like a pecan instead of a robust wood like a mesquite or hickory for this fish technique. Then, sit back and let your smoker do its job. In about 6-8 hours, you will have a delicious smoked fish jerky that your family will love.
Oven Dried Fish Jerky
If you don’t have a dehydrator or a smoker, what kind of cook are you? Just kidding! There is a simple way to make fish jerky in your home oven!
Cut the fish into strips like you would with the rest of the techniques and marinade them with your favorite marinade. I would recommend about 4-8 hours for an ultimate flavor punch.
Place your marinated fish on a regular cookie sheet, make sure they aren’t touching and set your oven at the lowest possible temperature – probably somewhere between 150-170 degrees. At that temperature, it should take about 12 hours to dehydrate. I would recommend keeping the over door slightly open to let moisture escape and checking on the fish so you can pat off any moisture coming up on the surface while it is drying.
Quick Storage Tip: Make sure you pat off any moisture or fat that may have come to the surface during the cooking process. The jerky must be completely cooled before you put it in an airtight container for storage. Some methods call for refrigeration, but you should be able to store your jerky in a cool, dry place like a pantry.