March 13, 2013

Salt-Free Smoked Sole

Usually, during Salt Awareness Week, I would warn you to stay clear of foods accompanied by words “brined,” “pickled,” “cured,” and “smoked.”

But today, as a part of Salt Awareness Week (and Kidney Health Month), I’m changing the tune a bit. And I’m gonna tell you to get ready to prove that warning wrong. Because, with a little creativity, you can approximate foods that are usually brined, pickled, cured, and  SMOKED all without salt or high-sodium ingredients.

For a while now, people have been asking for a salt-free’d, low-sodium salmon spread and I too have been craving that luscious husky flavor of smoked fish. And while I’ve experienced wood-smoked fish at restaurants, I wasn’t quite sure how to do it at home. Without a wood-fire oven. Or burning my house down. That is, until I dug out some hickory chips my sweet sis-in-law had given to me as well as an amazingly simple recipe I found in the Southern Comfort cookbook.

Which brings me to Salt Awareness Week Lesson Number One: Always explore cool cooking utensils and ALL cookbooks, even those that use salt. You never know what you’ll learn. Or what will inspire you.

With this quick tutorial, I took out a tall, heavy bottomed pot. My steamer basket. My hickory chips. And my fish filet (I used sole but you can use anything you want).

And it turns out, smoking fish at home is super easy and will leave your home smelling like a cozy winter evening (not like a burned down building). Not to mention, give you a beautifully bronzed piece of fish ready for any number of culinary concoctions.

Which brings me to Salt Awareness Week Lesson Number Two: Go for it. Experiment. Try something new. And have both dust buster, cleaners, and fire extinguishers on hand.

Once you have your low-sodium, salt-free piece of smoked fish, you can seriously do anything. And I mean anything.

Make it into a dressing for a kale or brocoli salad by blending with with oil and lemon juice.

Turn it into a “tunafish” with a little low-sodium mayo.

Throw it over a Sunday morning hash.

Or make it into a spread with some chives, smoked paprika, low-sodium Greek yogurt, and salt-free crackers (which you can make on your own by altering this recipe with other spices in place of salt).

Which brings me to Salt Awareness Week Lesson Number Three: With a little at-home trickery, even the salties foods can be unsalted while still containing tons of impressive, DIY flavor.

So this weekend, no matter what you’re celebrating (the Derby, St. Patty’s Day, or Kidney Awareness Month), catch a bite of this smoked fish.

And chow on.


adapted from the Southern Comfort cookbook


  • 1/2 cup hickory chips
  • 1 pound red or white fish fillets, skinned, boned, and cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 cup low-sodium Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle spice (optional)


Place your hickory chips in the center of the bottom of a large part (large enough for your steamer basket or metal colander) and then place your steamer basket or colander on top*. Arrange the fish chunks on the steamer basket or colander and then close the pot tightly with a lid or foil. Then, place the pot on the stove  and cook over high heat until there is a steady stream of smoke coming from the pot, about 5-8 minutes. Decrease the heat to low and cook for five more minutes.

To make the spread, mix the smoked fish, the 1 cup of yogurt, and the chives in a small bowl, using the fork to break up the fish chunks until everything is well combined. Add the extra 1/2 cup of yogurt as needed to obtain your desired fish-spreadiness. Then, sprinkle the top with smoked paprika and chipotle spice. Refrigerate until your ready to serve.

*NOTE: Full disclosure, heating the hickory chips this way will most likely mark up the bottom of your pot, so use an old pot that can stand to earn some smoking war wounds.

+ Sodium Count: check out the National Nutrient Database for the sodium count in your chosen fish (most fish land well below 100mg per 3oz)

Waiwa March 13, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Looks fantastic!

Elizabeth March 16, 2013 at 12:44 am

Hi! Have just bought your book but haven’t completed reading [Yeah, I’m one of THOSE people who READ cookbooks ;-] it yet.

Please give me some feedback if possible. I’ve got an electric smoker and have the following options: Grilling w/o steaming and smoking; Grilling w/steaming and smoking; Grilling w/only one [steaming or smoking].

My understanding is that I can ‘smoke’ anything without adding sodium because I only use wood chips to smoke the food. There are no nitrates/nitrites/chemicals used other than the smoke from the chips. Is this correct?

I hope so because I’ve been smoking salmon, tuna and other fish for years and thinking that I’m preparing it in a healthy way.

Hope you can help me with this question.

Many thanks!

anna March 17, 2013 at 5:08 am

this recipe looks amazing, i have to try this recipe, ingredients are healthy too. i’m sure i will enjoy this. very good website. love the way it looks.

Yolan March 18, 2013 at 2:14 am

Don’t really like sole, so i’ll consider trying it with another kind of fish. Maybe salmon. Looks delicious though 🙂

Katie March 21, 2013 at 4:45 am

Absolutely love sole and all smoked fish come to that! Looks delicious and really healthy, must try it out on the family, thanks for the great recipe!

Manny March 21, 2013 at 11:11 am

Good looking recipe… can I ask – do you take your own pictures? They’re really good.

jessg23 March 29, 2013 at 8:15 am

Yep! My own snap and shoot camera has treated me well. ALthough it is time for a new one!

swati March 25, 2013 at 4:55 am

Thanks for this recipe. Fish is a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

Erin Krupp March 25, 2013 at 6:14 pm

I love fish fillet, and it’s good to know that you’ve come up with a low salt or unsalted recipe for this one. Also, love the way that you smoked it, the color is so brown, so smooth and looks yummy! Thanks for sharing this recipe of yours! Will definitely try it, I would also love to make an experiment just like what you did, exploring too many options and making my meal into a healthier one.

Carol Finch March 26, 2013 at 5:55 pm

I will try this with haddock as soon as possible. I can’t believer that you only ‘smoke’ it for only 10-13 minutes. I thought this is much more complicated.

Lynda Watson March 27, 2013 at 5:17 am

This is truly an amazing technique. It is really hard to get that kind of taste so thanks for sharing this to all of us. I really like smoked fish, particularly Salmon. This is really a healthy recipe especially now that a lot of people are using too much salt daily and that is very bad for our health.

Jane March 27, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I have never tried smoking fish in the house, it seems like it would be very well… smoky! But, this is a really interesting recipe that I will have to try out. I love the idea of making the fish into a spread and serving with crackers. Did you make those or are those Rye crackers?

jessg23 March 29, 2013 at 8:13 am

I bought them at Whole Foods. I’ve started noticing a few brands with 30mg of sodium or less per LARGE cracker!

mekiaussie234 April 3, 2013 at 1:08 am

I was surprised to learn the same about your blog— I loved it.I am a big fan of your blog.i am so excited by read of your blog’s content.really great post.Thanks for sharing.
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Jennifer April 3, 2013 at 5:41 am

I would have never thought to use hickory chips in the bottom of a pot like this. I always to use them on the grill. I will have to try this recipe on Saturday.

Rosemary April 8, 2013 at 4:36 am

I can’t believe how easy this is! I did it with cod and it was so delicious. I love fish. As you said, it’s good to use an old pot, but it’s worth keeping one just for this!

Dave April 22, 2013 at 10:32 am

I have been looking for easy ways to cook salmon or even tallapia. I have tried cooking with hickory chips with a steamer, but I did not have a lot of success with that flavoring (and it might have been because of the hickory chips I was using). I like the idea of smoked paprika. I will definitely give this recipe a try. Thanks for posting this recipe.

razvan April 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

looks delicious – and healthy too

exotic travels and vacations June 24, 2013 at 12:41 am

Thanks for sharing the recipe on how to make salt free smoke fish. I will try making this at home.

ultrasonic jewelry cleaner July 3, 2013 at 8:34 am

There is definately a great deal to find out about this topic.
I like all the points you have made.

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