Smoked fish dip is the little black dress of dinner parties — of such impeccable taste that it often shows up in several variations, however informal the setting.
But to pinpoint the origins of smoked fish dips is a slippery business — Eastern Europe? Scandinavia? Deep South? Atlantic Coast?
Hunter Lewis, executive editor at Southern Living magazine, remembers his grandmother in Asheville, N.C., serving smoked salmon or trout dips.
“For me, any fish that has a little natural oil and a little fat to it — mackerel, bluefish, mullet — works really well in these fish dips,” Lewis said. “You can whip that with mayo and lemon juice, chives, salt and pepper and horseradish, and I think the best thing in the world to have with that is a Saltine, with a dab of Tabasco, like oysters.”
Even in landlocked states, smoked fish dips are popular, says Sara Foster, author of “Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen.”
“We have so many great smoked fish options right now,” Foster said, citing canned smoked trout available at some Trader Joe’s stores, which not only has a longer shelf life but also spares a cook the tedium of peeling off skin and picking bones. Foster recently used it in a fish dip experiment, replacing the typical cream cheese or mayo with Greek yogurt and a bit of buttermilk. She liked the lighter, thinner consistency. “You get more of the true fish flavor that way,” she said.
Foster is partial to hot-smoked fish, such as trout, bluefish or shellfish, for a smoother texture and a smokier flavor. But at a restaurant, she recently had a denser smoked bluefish dip, served with pickled vegetables, caramelized onion relish and spiced, pickled peaches, accompanied by crostini.
“It had that salty-sweet-tart thing going on,” she said. “Sometimes the condiments and what you serve with it makes it.”