Catch of the Day: North Fork Smoked Fish Co.

shore You might say fresh fish is in Phil Karlin’s blood. The tugboat captain-turned-entrepreneur is gearing up to expand his smoked fish enterprise and credits his work with his father for a part of it.

Having grown up in a commercial fishing family, Karlin learned the ropes alongside his dad on the waters off the North Fork and eventually became a tugboat captain himself. About five years ago, he was tapped to run a wind farm program project on Nantucket and was all set to leave when the BP oil spill occurred. Karlin packed his bags and headed down to Galveston, Texas, where he worked on a first responder vessel, an assignment that lasted the better part of a year. “No one was very happy in the Karlin house that year,” he says.

After he returned home, finding a harbor job proved difficult, so he went back to fishing and began accompanying his dad to farmers markets in New York City. Karlin began smoking fish to supplement his income and picked up some wholesale customers, including the Westside Market NYC, a grocery store with five locations in Manhattan. Once he acquired a steady business, North Fork Smoked Fish Co. was born; this past March marked its fifth year in business.

The distinct taste of Karlin’s smoked fish is the result of a blend of local hickory and oak wood chips. Rather than using a traditional smoker, he opts for a smaller, stainless steel meat smoker he says keeps the moisture in. “Older smokers use a lot of wood, but with these smokers,” he says, “you get a product that’s less caustic and it keeps water-based salt content to a minimum.”

This summer, fish lovers can expect an array of locally caught swordfish, blue fish filets and scallops from Greenport, Shinnecock Bay and other points off the East End. (The only fish that isn’t from Long Island waters is a Norwegian salmon, imported from an Atlantic deep-water farm.) A line of pâtés includes blue fish, haddock and Caribbean-smoked marlin made with swordfish, tropical spices and lime.

But perhaps the season’s most popular selection is the grill-ready line of fresh frozen Snappa burgers. Available in two varieties (blue fish and salmon), these all-natural, gluten-free burgers have won rave reviews from Karlin’s customers. “People who say they never eat blue fish try them, and are hooked,” he says. “We catch the fish and prepare them within two hours.” To enhance that fresh flavor, Karlin uses sweet yellow peppers from his mother’s garden in Riverhead. “Everything we do is all natural,” he adds. Karlin sold 400 burgers in two days at last year’s Maritime Festival.

Luckily, fish lovers need not wait for an annual festival to get a taste of Karlin’s smoked fish. His product is available at a fish market in Greenport, IGA supermarkets in Greenport and Southold and Cor-J Seafood Market in Hampton Bays and Westhampton Beach. The North Fork Smoked Fish Co. is also represented at farmers markets in Westhampton on Saturdays, Montauk on Thursdays and New York City’s Union Square Green Market and West Side Market on Saturdays and Mondays.

If this isn’t enough, North Fork Smoked Fish Co. just opened its own retail outlet at 414 First Street in Greenport. “We couldn’t be more excited to finally open our own doors,” says Karlin.