Smoking fish (Arctic Char) in Greenland

In my last post, I talked about drying fish (Arctic Char) as a way to preserve your latest catch if your freezer is already full of musk-ox, reindeer, and frozen vegetables. Dried fish is extremely popular in Nordic countries and Greenlanders have a long history of drying their catches in this traditional manner.

As an alternate preservation technique, and for a completely different flavour, they also smoke fish. Agathe took us through the entire process on our weekend with West Greenland Wildlife at Sassannguit.

The process of smoking fish (Arctic Char)

While smoking fish is a little more involved than drying it, it is still fairly straightforward:

  1. It kind of starts off the same way – cleaning and semi-filleting to remove most of the bones of the fish. However, in this case, you need to:
    • leave some of the bones near the tail
    • not remove the portion of skin/meat that would be the belly of the fish. You must leave it whole
    • not slice the meat
  2. Next, you salt it for several hours/overnight to really bring out the flavour
salting arctic char - an important part of smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland
  1. After that time, thoroughly wash off the salt.
washing the salt off before smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland
  1. The next step is to pin the fish open so that it is smoked evenly. The way Agathe showed us was to use small, flat bits of wood inserted into small slits made in the skin.
Pinning the fillet before smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland
  1. Tie tough string around the part of the tail with the bones still intact, and hang pinned fillets for about 15 minutes while the fire is prepared.
hanging the fillet before smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland

A traditional Greenlandic smoking pit

Leif and Agathe have several smoking pits scattered around their camp at Sassannguit. There are overgrown ones built by their grandparents and both large and small newer ones that are currently in use.

The design is wonderfully simple.

It consists of a large pit that is further built up with peat and stone in the traditional manner of an Inuit winter house. This is covered with hessian and linked by a long chimney to a small, covered fire located a short distance away.

Traditional Greenlandic arrangement for smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland

A covered fire pit (lower-left) is linked by a long chimney to a large smoking chamber (top-right) covered by hessian

The smoke is created by burning peat, which is collected near the camp. Agathe explained that the best peat is well packed and not crumbly.

peat - used for burning in Greenland

A section of peat. You can see it gets crumbly towards the bottom.

  1. With the peat now smoking, it is time to place the fish into the smoking chamber. Long poles with the fish tied underneath are laid over the top of the pit and then covered with the hessian. Its best to orient the fish so that the meat is facing away from the chimney that links the smoking pit from the fire source. This is to minimise the potential for ash to settle on the meat.
transporting the fish to the smoking pit - Sassannguit - Greenland
covering the fish in the smoking pit - Sassannguit - Greenland

The smoking process takes about 3 days. During this time, Agathe tries to keep the peat smoking as much as possible by tending the fire.

preparing the fire in the traditional smoking pit for drying fish and meat - Sassannguit - Greenland

Agathe tending the fire for smoking the fish

At the end – perfectly smoked fish!

Arctic Char - smoking fish - Sassannguit - Greenland

Fish hanging in the pit in the process of being smoked. You can see the chimney (bottom left) which leads to the smouldering peat.

And, just as with the fresh and the dried fish – super delicious 😋 Actually, I like it even better than the dried fish as it has a much stronger flavour. Love it!

dried and smoked arctic char - Greenland

Smoked (top) and dried (bottom) Arctic Char. You can see how the smoke tints the usually pink meat of the Char.

Read more about Sassannguit

If this post has piqued your curiosity about our experiences in Sassannguit in Greenland, read about the rest of my adventure:

Sassannguit is located just south of Greenland’s second-largest city, Sisimiut. If you are planning to visit Sisimiut – make sure you read my Ultimate Travel Guide to Sisimiut over at Guide to Greenland.

Discover more about Greenland

I have a large number of blog posts about Greenland, so feel free to read more about my experiences here on my blog or on my Greenland-specific blog at Guide to Greenland.

For more information about Greenland, the best websites are Guide to Greenland (which is also a one-stop-shop for many of the tours available), and Visit Greenland, the Government tourism site.

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